Jonah Complex

Jonah Complex by Yoojin Guak

The Jonah Complex is 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. Just as the fear of achieving a personal worst can motivate personal growth, the fear of achieving a personal best can also hinder progress. Although psychologist Abraham Maslow is accredited for the term, the name was originally suggested by Maslow’s friend, Professor Frank Manuel. The name comes from the Biblical story of Prophet Jonah’s evasion of the destiny to prophesy the destruction of Ninevah. Maslow states, ‘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.’

Any dilemma or challenge faced by an individual may trigger reactions related to the Jonah Complex. These challenges may vary in degree and intensity. Such challenges may include career changes, beginning new stages in life, moving to new locations, interviews or auditions, and undertaking new interpersonal commitments such as marriage. Other causes include: Fear of the sense of responsibility that often attends recognizing our own greatness, talents, potentials; Fear that an extraordinary life would be out of the ordinary, and hence not acceptable to others; Fear of seeming arrogant, self-centered; and Difficulty envisioning oneself as a prominent or authoritative figure.

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