Dealing With The Guilt Of Finally Achieving Success

Everyone loves to root for the underdog.

We see the David and Goliath tropes play out in movies, sports games, and even court cases where we align ourselves with the character least set up for success. It feels good when the disadvantaged finally catches a break. But what happens when their luck is sustained, and they keep winning over and over again? And what happens when that winner is you?

It’s likely that guilt may creep in.

As Psychology Today points out, this concept is explored by Sigmund Freud’s 1925 paper “Those Wrecked By Success,” in which he stated “people occasionally fall ill precisely when a deeply-rooted and long-cherished wish has come to fulfillment. It seems then as though they were not able to tolerate their happiness; for there can be no question that there is a causal connection between their success and their falling ill.” He deduced that the “forces of conscience”–guilt–bring on illness as a result of success. Freud later points out that these successes can be attributed to our inherent psychological tendency to believe fortunate circumstances are “too good to be true.”

If you’ve ever felt a ping of panic after crossing off an accomplished goal from your list, you’re not alone. Particularly if you’re a woman.

A 2010 survey by Stylist Magazine has found that more than 96 percent of women feel guilty at least once a day, even if they’re doing fairly well in life.

So what do you do to quell the guilt that comes after finally getting what you want?

Understand your feelings are valid

Ariane Resnick, CNC of writes, “The first step to getting over any problem is to acknowledge it, and to know that you aren’t alone in it. Guilt can be hard to talk about, and it can lead to a lot of shame.”

She continues: “Understand that feeling guilty about success happens to many other people, not just you. It’s normal, and it’s OK. Guilt is a feeling, and it doesn’t need to take over your entire world. Allow yourself to feel the guilt, rather than trying to fight it nonstop, so that you can begin to move past it.”

Talk it out
It can be extremely disorienting to understand the convoluted feelings of survivor’s remorse, so leaning on someone to help unpack them is crucial.

Talking to a friend or loved one is a great start, but a therapist is even better. A professional can offer the type of support needed to uproot guilt and continue moving forward.

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