The Complex We All Suffer From

The Fear of Ones Own Greatness

Also known as the Jonah Complex (or syndrome). It’s defined as the fear of success which prevents self-actualization, or the realization of one’s potential. It is the fear of one’s own greatness, the evasion of one’s destiny, or the avoidance of exercising one’s talents.

I only heard about it for the first time when reading The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker however it’s an idea that was presented by Abraham Maslow, a famous american psychologist that is known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.


There are moments where you vision yourself in a perfect moment, you tell yourself “this is what the perfect life would be, this is what I would like to achieve.” But when it comes time to actually take a step towards that vision, we start to shiver, we get this weakness. This weakness is the doubt, the “realism” or pessimism, when your brain tells you there’s no way I can, or no way it’s viable. No way I can achieve that.

In short, that’s what the Jonah Complex is.

So Why Does it Happen?

A complex is usually a self-defense mechanism that your mind creates in order to deal with certain events and that’s exactly what happens with the Jonah Complex. You create a self-defense mechanism because of the fear of failure and every hypothetical negative that could come along with it such as loss of pride, the fear of being mocked at or ridiculed and mainly; self-crippling. 

In other words it’s a problem of courage, a natural feeling of inferiority. It’s a fear.

Obviously not everyone suffers from this complex, but a large majority do. I personally highly doubt that arrogant people experience this complex because they have this ability to ignore what anyone tells them.

It happens because when you are creating, you feel an overwhelming awe which turns into fear.

Here’s a good example to depict what I mean.

You tell yourself “I will become a great writer” and “I will achieve XYZ through my writing and reach the level of some of the great writers”, but then you get a moment where you’re dumb struck and say to yourself “who? ME? What kind of crazy fantasy am I imagining. It could fail, it will most likely fail, I’m better off doing something safer, something stable…”. You see yourself as a delusional weirdo that should get his mind in check and go do something that has meaning (yeah right).

What We Don’t Realize is

These very same people you either look up too or try to reach their level, they more than likely thought the same exact thing, the difference is that they did not stop there, regardless of how negatively they were thinking, they kept going.

Other people also simply did not have a choice, so they went all in with the only plan that was available to them, and never gave up because it was a question of survival.

In both cases we see a similarity, the similarity is that whether you have a choice or not, giving up is not an option. The first step in not giving up is understanding that you are great and so is everyone else.

You can achieve what you want in life, but there are many challenges to overcome and what makes these challenges so hard is that they are mainly mental, it’s all in your mind and if you can’t control them, then you will be at your own mercy. So whenever you’re questioning your ambitions, remind yourself:

If not you, then who else?

Like Maslow himself said:

“Generally, everybody starts giggling, blushing, and squirming until I ask, if not you, then who else?” Which of course is the truth…If you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be deeply unhappy for the rest of your life. You will be evading your own capacities, your own possibilities.”  (The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, Abraham Maslow)



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Comments (4)

  • Squean 2 years ago Reply

    Great post! Really inspiring!

    Paul 2 years ago Reply

    Thank you!

  • King Arthur the Great 2 years ago Reply

    Being great, I have no fear of my own success! 🙂 Seriously nothing is black and white, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has more to do with material needs verses happiness. Everyone fears their future to some degree, is how one deals with it. I would say arrogant people are the most prone to this fear, they use their arrogance to hide their own insecurities. Confident and humble people have no need for arrogance! Great Blog!

    Paul 2 years ago Reply

    I totally agree Arthur,

    Indeed arrogance could be a self-defense mechanism created to deny ones own insecurities.

    Thank you for the comment!

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