How to Appreciate Success, Even When It's Scary

September 27, 2017 Elizabeth Brico

Success is wonderful, but for those of us with posttraumatic stress disorder, it can also be terrifying. Learn how to appreciate success while living with PTSD.

Do you appreciate your successes, or does pausing to appreciate success scare you? Even though success is a very normal aspiration, feeling happy about a success (or feeling happy for any reason) can be scary for trauma survivors. The definition of success varies greatly between individuals and can even change during different stages of the same person's life. However, for those of us living with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the experience of success is sometimes a little extra complicated, even scary. I'm slowly learning to appreciate success in my life with PTSD.

A Trauma Survivor's Ability To Appreciate Success

A Happiness Aversion

I had the opportunity to speak with clinical trauma specialist Kira Mauseth while I was researching an article I wrote for Vice a while back about my own experiences with cherophobia (the fear of happiness).1 In her observations, about one-quarter to one-third of trauma patients experience an aversion to happiness. That aversion can range from mild to severe, but I think any level of happiness aversion will affect a person's ability to enjoy her success.

Defining Success with PTSD

People are capable of functioning with PTSD as well as any other demographic. Multiple-Grammy award-winning artist Lady Gaga revealed earlier this year that she has PTSD. Winning a Grammy is just about the highest possible level of success in her field. For a number of reasons, however, some people with PTSD may have to define success in less grandiose terms.

For some, success can look like going outside and striking up a conversation with a stranger. It can look like getting out of bed, making an important phone call, or working up the nerve to ask for a raise at work. I certainly consider accomplishing any of those tasks a success.

Success can be an accomplishment that impresses a lot of people, or it can mean completing a simple task that usually gives you trouble. All types of successes are worthy of pride. But what if you're part of that group of trauma survivors who are afraid to feel happy? How does success function in our lives?

I Can Appreciate Success, But It's Still Hard to Do

I've recently had some success with my writing, which is something I have been wanting for several years. I was hired to write for HealthyPlace, and I've also had a number of articles published on other popular sites. That's really exciting and I have every right to feel proud. The problem is, I don't. Or rather, I don't all the time. Every once in a while I will experience a flash of joy, pride, and enthusiasm about this new phase of my life. But most of the time, I just feel numb.

It makes sense. For several years of my life, the majority of my experiences were very painful. Add to that the fact that my abuser often went out of his way to treat me badly shortly after I did something kind for him, and I stopped trusting in goodness. The development of cherophobia--which is not a clinical term, but literally means "fear of happiness"--makes sense. My mind and body were trained by my experiences to distrust and even dissociate from happiness.

Practicing Appreciating Success

I'm practicing enjoying my success. Right now, I devote a few moments each day to appreciating my accomplishments. As a domestic abuse survivor, that's not easy. It's far more likely to nitpick every possible thing I've done wrong throughout the day than to acknowledge what I've achieved.

So, I'm starting small. Sometimes, I will spend a few minutes while I'm cooking dinner or brushing my teeth to appreciate the accomplishments of the day, whether those were having a semi-normal conversation with the nice grocery clerk who gives my kids stickers or seeing a piece of my writing receive positive comments online. Occasionally, I will sit and meditate on my successes for five to 10 minutes. That is especially uncomfortable for me, so I only do it once or twice a week. Even that is a success in my book.

You Can Still Aspire for Success When You Have PTSD

If fearing happiness and success is part of your PTSD, you can still make goals and aim to accomplish them. I recommend taking small steps, especially if your happiness aversion is severe, like mine. Start with a list of simple, self-caring tasks. That can mean spending an hour at a busy park reading a book you love. If you enjoy writing, like me, set a reasonable daily goal, maybe 500 words. What you choose will be personal to you, but by taking small steps toward making yourself happier, you are building your tolerance so that you can appreciate larger successes in the future.

Your Suffering Can Aid Your Ability to Appreciate Success

It may sound odd to practice happiness, but it will help you better process your accomplishments. Allowing yourself to suffer freely will also help you experience positive emotions. In this short video, I talk about one method you can use to teach yourself to suffer in a healthy manner, and how doing that will lead you toward a more satisfactory experience of success.


1 Read the article I mentioned at I Have a Pathological Fear of Being Happy

APA Reference
Brico, E. (2017, September 27). How to Appreciate Success, Even When It's Scary, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Author: Elizabeth Brico

Find Elizabeth on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, her author page, and her blog.

September, 27 2017 at 6:49 am

You are so amazing. This article gives such deep insight on how to live and deal with Ptsd from someone who is living it themselves. I admire your dedication to seek happiness and light in a world full of evil and darkness.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 28 2017 at 6:51 am

Thank you Jeniffer, you are really sweet. I really appreciate the encouragement, thank you for going out of your way to leave this comment.

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