Jonah Complex: How to stop running away from the fears that are holding us back

 “Why is it that we are all born with limitless potential, yet few people fulfill those possibilities?” – Maslow

Have you ever found yourself avoiding opportunities where you had the potential to shine?

Alternatively have you found yourself procrastinating over applying for a new job, or starting your own business?

What was holding you back?

May be you were suffering from what Abraham Maslow calls the “Jonah Complex.”

What is Jonah Complex?

The psychologist Abraham Maslow was deeply fascinated by the way humans typically suppress healthy ambition thereby limiting potential success due to subconscious fears relating to growth.

Maslow offered the “Jonah complex” as a way to better understand the concept of fear of our own success.

He took inspiration from a passage in the holy bible about the biblical prophet Jonah. The story describes how the prophet made numerous attempts to run away from his fate.

He was chosen by God to perform a life-changing mission of redemption and salvation to a city that had lost its way. Rather than honor God’s will, Jonah chooses to run walk away from his destiny.

Maslow’s theory relating to Jonah

Maslow believed humans walk away from their responsibilities like Jonah.

Maslow observed that we fear success as much as we fear failure.

Maslow suggests:

So often we run away from the responsibilities dictated (or rather suggested) by nature, by fate, even sometimes by accident, just as Jonah tried—in vain—to run away from his fate“.

We all have those moments when we see our own greatness in our minds. “And yet,” Maslow noted, “we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe and fear before these very same possibilities.”

Maslow regularly asked his students; “Which of you intends to become President?” or “Which of you will become an inspirational moral leader?”

Maslow constantly requested of his students to look beyond accepting mediocrity in life.

What causes the Jonah Complex?

The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.” – Sven Goran Eriksson

The “Jonah complex” can be related to any situation or challenge faced in life where decisions need to be made. Typically this could be associated with career changes, or commitments in life.

It becomes ironic how we can dream about the possibilities of success, yet, at the same time, we fear those things becoming a reality.

To succeed means everything will change. For some this feels uncomfortable, thus we actively sabotage our efforts to avoid success.

The fear of success is very similar in many ways to the fear of failure. However there is a unique important difference. 

People who are afraid of success are often fearful that they will not be able to perform at the level required to be successful in their new role or career path.

Uncertainty, and the fears associated with it, can be a very scary place. Typically most people will choose a place of unhappiness over uncertainty.

This generally plays out in reality by holding back from chasing opportunities. People will tend to prioritise comfort over growth.

Possibly it seems too frightening to have a mission in life.

What drives Procrastination Fears?

To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” – Bertrand Russell

 Many will avoid setting goals. They will keep procrastinating until it finally reaches a point where it no longer holds any meaning or value.

What fear drives that procrastination?

How you perceive fear will determine how you respond to it.

A number of fears contribute to procrastination.

Here are 5 of the biggest fears in life that may be holding you back from success:

  1. Fear of failure – Not wanting to try something in case you fail.
  2. Imposture syndrome – Afraid of being exposed as a “fraud” even when the evidence suggests otherwise. It’s a persistent collection of feelings of inadequacy and chronic self-doubt.
  3. Perfectionism – Having to make sure everything is perfect.
  4. Fear of the unknown — the task is not familiar to you, so you don’t know what to do or where to start.
  5. Fear of the uncomfortable. It’s easy to do things we’re comfortable with. However doing new things is uncomfortable so we put them off.

Typically, most fears originate from a uniquely common source.

The fear of not being good enough.

“I’m not good enough” is a self-destructive belief

There are numerous ways our thinking and actions are influenced by our belief we are not good enough. It’s our deepest and most common fear that plays out in a number of ways:

  • Crave approval and validation from others
  • Fear criticism and take everything personally
  • Say “it’s nothing” or “it was luck” when you’re acknowledged
  • Feel like you have to prove something
  • Want to be everything to everyone and look like you’ve got it all together
  • Put things off until everything else is in place
  • Doubt yourself by worrying and feeling stressed about making a mistake
  • Compare yourself to others in way that puts you down
  • Hide in being busy or by trying to hide your weaknesses and flaws.

What would our lives be like if we didn’t have fear holding us back?

How to overcome the fear that is holding you back

Fear is natural human emotion that is there to protect us.

To overcome the fear of success, one must realize is that it is a basic emotion. Do not resist it. Make sure you keep applying yourself to your work and never stop taking actions.

The reality of the situation is our self-created irrational fears in life are perceived from assumptions we have about the future. They hold us back from living the empowered life we want to live.

Fears will always be there in the shadows whether we acknowledge them or not.

Ultimately, you have a choice whether you allow these fears to impact you and sabotage your life.

You have the power to take action and overcome the self-doubt.

Here’s 11 ways that can possibly help you combat the fear of success.

11 ways How to overcome the fear of success:

  1. Take small steps. Once you get a taste of some success, it will fuel your ability to handle more.
  2. Understand your strengths, be honest about your weaknesses and let go of perfectionism. When you stop comparing yourself to others, you stop judging yourself so harshly and the fear of not being good enough diminishes.
  3. Become aware of the fear. When you are struggling be aware that fear is limiting you moving forward.
  4. Accept the fear. Don’t feel bad about it. It’s a part of you. It’s a part of life. Accept it.
  5. Seek support. Everyone needs help: recognise that you can seek support. You don’t have to do everything on your own. This will give you a good reality check and help you talk things through.
  6. Be kind to yourself. Remember that you are entitled to make small mistakes occasionally. Forgive yourself.
  7. Observe how the fear is hurting you. Notice how that hurt is self-inflicted. Let go of the suffering by letting go of the fear.
  8. Think rationally about the fear. Consider the worst-case scenario? Would you basically be OK? -The answer is almost regularly yes!
  9. No matter what you do in life, criticism is inevitable.  When you shift from an agenda of caring what others think to being concerned with your own choices, the fear of humiliation goes away.
  10. Don’t focus solely on the potential downside of action. It is equally important to measure the cost of inaction. If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years?
  11. Embrace change. Understand that growth in life requires sacrifice for something good to become something great.

Take home message…

Hopefully some of these ideas can help you overcome Jonan Complex and the fear of success.

Fear generally stems from not wanting to get out of our comfort zone. However, when you start to become purposeful in your actions and undertake to do something each and every day fear has no chance of remaining an obstacle in your life.

The moment you step out of your safe zone, you truly start to live life fully and move purposely towards your destiny.  

Has fear held you back in life?

If you need help to overcome self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back please reach out.

I’m here to help.

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