My brilliant Weight Watchers (WW) group leader Melvin has brought up fear of success twice this year. The first time was in early spring. He mentioned that a member in his other group had lost more than 50 pounds and was struggling with her fear of success. She was very uncomfortable with all the attention and compliments her weight loss brought her, and she missed the invisibility she had had as a fat person. He asked if anybody in the room could relate, but nobody did. The woman sitting next to me and I laughed and said we loved the compliments.
I did not share that earlier in my life I had felt like this woman. I have joined Weight Watchers more times than I can remember. The last time I reached size 12, it was 1996 or 1997. I lived in Nashville and went to WW meetings regularly there. I can clearly remember one day looking in the mirror and noticing how thin and pretty my face looked. It freaked me out.
This did not make sense to me. Just 3 or so years earlier, I’d been a very healthy 135/140. Why would I be scared of getting thin or prettier? I brought up this fear in a meeting. The group leader really did try to help me find answers, but I don’t think I was in a place to hear or feel what she was saying. Within a month, I’d dropped out and started gaining the weight back. I never got close to a size 12 again until this fall.
I really did leave that meeting in early 2009 believing that fear of success was not an issue for me anymore. I was very proud that I had done the necessary inner work that needed to be done so I could succeed at my efforts to finally lose all the weight I needed to lose to be healthy. I did not want that invisibility anymore. I was not going to be more comfortable as a fat person than as a thin person.
Fast forward to early October 2009. Melvin, my brilliant leader, brought up fear of success again. He asked if anyone was confronting that or was it too soon. The guy behind me said he was. This was the third time he had reached 67 pounds down. He’d been bouncing around the same 10 pound range for months. Another woman said this was the third time she’d reached her goal weight. She could lose the 20 pounds easily, but she couldn’t keep them off.
Something in my face must have given me away because Melvin challenged me on this fear. Earlier in the meeting, I had joked with a woman sitting next to me about fliers that were on all the chairs. The handouts invited members who were at or close to their goal weight to sign up to be receptionists. The gist of my joke was how I was so not qualified. He had called me on that statement, and I had responded with the fact that I was more than 30 pounds away from even being eligible for goal. He circled back to that conversation and said what if the real issue was that I am ONLY 30 pounds away from goal. Was that frightening me?
People, the waters practically parted. I had one of the strongest visceral responses of my life. My whole body tingled, and it was like I was looking down a tunnel at Melvin, and I could barely hear him. Everyone else blurred. I’ve no recollection of what I said, but it was enough that he started talking to someone else.
This was such an oh crap moment. I really thought that fear of success was no longer an issue for me – at least in terms of weight loss. I no longer subconsciously wanted to be fat or felt more comfortable being fat. I thought I was over that. I have been told many times that fear of success was an issue in terms of my writing. That completely resonates, but I’ve yet to figure out how to deal with it. If I’m completely honest, I can come up with arguments for how fear of success has affected me in other areas of my life. I was stunned how much this was still an issue in several areas and had no idea what to do.
I started to listen intensely to what everybody else had to stay. A couple of ladies both complained that they were being told online that they were losing weigh too quickly. Both of them said they took that subconsciously as permission TO EAT and subsequently had gained more than 2 pounds the past week. A couple of other folks shared experiences of self-sabotage. In these stories, there were no answers to how one could stop this self-sabotage, so I asked Melvin.
He said something that I did not get at all. I came back with, so you are saying that you have to work out the emotions that are convincing you to do this. He said, yes, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. I wanted to say, no this is not obvious. Assume I know nothing. You need to break it down step by step. I’ve no idea how to combat this, and I now know this is still a huge issue for me.
So, I left that meeting with the knowledge that fear of success is still a big issue for me, and I needed to work it out. Great. Where did I start? I didn’t know, and I gained weight the next week. Things were not getting better.
I decided I’d work it out by blogging about it. I started a word file for this piece in early October. It’s now late December. I still have no great answer. I know I need to work it out. One of my big goals for 2010 will be to figure out ways to get a handle on my fear of success. I was able to get a handle on one of my other big issues in 2009 – emotional eating – so I know it’s possible to make progress.
I’m aware of the issue. Now I can start working on how and why it’s an issue. Can I figure out and address the underlying concerns? Can I develop coping strategies? Can I figure out ways I can break it down into addressable pieces? Can I figure out ways I can make forward progress on this and promise myself to try to do them? Can I be aware of what I’m doing so that I can learn to recognize when I’m self-sabotaging and get to the point where I can stop those attempts?
I think I can. That’s a start.
Do any of you have fear of success? Have you figured out how to address it? I’d love any and all tips.