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Why are some people ashamed to prove themselves?


In a world in which narcissism and exhibitionism seem to be winning the battle, where to wear hearts of palm, swell curriculum or swagger of their own real abilities.

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In a world in which narcissism and exhibitionism seem to be winning the battle, where to wear palm hearts, swell curriculum or strutting out of one's own real or supposed abilities seems like a new sport ("tell me what you presume and I will tell you what you lack"), sentence our proverb) and where having thousands of 'likes' is the last of the value, it is almost strange to meet human beings who inhabit the 'planet humility '.

The quality that these Martians possess, also called modesty, contrary to what it may seem, helps to make life more pleasant, because "personal aspirations, successes and defeats are of no importance ... it is an open window to your interior ", in the words of Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology, who considers modesty one of the 24 human strengths . In short, a measured person does not need to be the center of attention , nor does his life revolve around success and recognition, which in itself is a great vital achievement and a huge source of tranquility.

However, this humble planet also has its dark face and is called 'Jonah's complex', in reference to the Hebrew prophet who swallowed by a big fish spent three days in his belly praying and repenting, to be returned to earth and fulfill the huge mission that God had entrusted to him: to save Nineveh, the corrupt and pagan city.

This term was coined by the American psychologist Abraham Maslow, father of humanistic psychology, to describe the fear of success , to show one's talent, to develop our full potential. He designed the famous 'Maslow Pyramid' hierarchizing human needs from the most basic to the most complex in this order: 1. physiological; 2. security; 3 . membership; 4. recognition; 5. self-realization. The 'Jonah complex' would be framed within the difficulties of self-realization, as a form of self-sabotage in the face of the possibilities that unfold in life .


Who can best describe this complex is Belén (fictional name of a real person), a brilliant 40-year-old chemist, who almost spreads the deep unease he feels when he receives admiration or is the center of positive attention from others, something difficult to avoid because she really is a woman with a lot of talent and a great inner and outer beauty.

The worst part of her problem is when she closes the doors of her deserved success with sabotage behaviors like when she picked up a beggar in her car - a good Samaritan behavior - if it wasn't because it was the day of her last examination of the career, to which he arrived late, begging to be accepted and in a state of severe anxiety or when he heard how they pronounced his name to receive a diploma for school merits, but he was not able to pick it up, not because of shyness, but because he thought he did not deserved.

The fear of being rejected and the desire to fit in and not be the odd one, the nerd, makes boys and girls prefer not to call attention to their notes or not raise their hands in class to answer a question and thus not encourage envy of his classmates. The counter-assessment to be highlighted may favor the follow-up and self-sabotage of this complex.

The suspicion to be successful is detected when it is difficult to talk about your achievements, if you avoid projects that could give a boost to your life, if you compromise your objectives to avoid conflicts, if you feel that you do not deserve the awards or if you have a negative attitude in As for sustaining that success in the future.

There is also a deep shame and desire to run away when someone praises you and you feel discomfort at the deserved applause. The feeling of guilt can also be activated because you have the impression that you are going to shade others who do not achieve your success, or in Bethlehem's words "they do not have the same fate" (forgetting their many hours of effort). The punishment for this fault translates into a feeling of unworthiness, a part of you believes that you do not deserve to enjoy life. This is the reason why many affected people often choose to postpone things instead of simply doing what they know they should do.


Being able to highlight, shine and squeeze our potential sounds great. Why wouldn't someone want that? In many cases, these people were educated not to shine. Bethlehem remembers how his teacher asked him not to stand out so much so as not to activate the jealousy of his insecure (and lazy) sister or how he heard his father say that he did not flatter her "so that she would not believe it" (of course she achieved her goal) and for that he used sarcastic jokes to mess with her that only made him funny how much damage these attacks disguised as humor do to self-esteem!

Other times the reasons are in the fear that produces fighting for what is desired because it scares the possibility of suffering, the overload of responsibility and the excess of work that entails success. Others is our brightness scares us. As Alexander Lowen expresses in his book "Fear of Life", our fear makes us keep busy so as not to feel.

On the other hand, we know that people who stand out can be the target of envy and criticism by the less talented. Being admired can be enjoyable and raise self-esteem, but being envied can be dangerous. Creating a path of your own is always more difficult than following that of others because we lose the security of the group, we are afraid that success will bring loneliness.

Greatness implies assuming fear and moving forward with it. It means tolerating uncertainty and accepting that uneasiness can be part of the journey. Faced with this situation we can ask ourselves if we have what it takes to get to fruition. Won't it be safer to settle for a quieter life? Isn't committing to the search for our potential always negative? Can we not then choose to be mediocre if we wish so?

Maslow is blunt when he expresses his opinion on this matter: "If you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, I warn you that you will be deeply unhappy for the rest of your days." From a theoretical point of view the choice of not developing our full potential would be respectable and healthy if it is made from freedom. The question that remains is whether a free person would choose this option.

Strategies to lose the fear of shining

Drop down

The previous step to shine and find our growth as individuals implies stopping and being aware of what we crave and our unfulfilled desires.

1. Reflect on what you want. Think about feasibility and why it is important to you. What is the best thing that will happen if I achieve it? And the worst? How will my life change later? How will people who care about me live it? Am I motivated to face difficulties? Do I feel that I deserve it? Am I sabotaging approaching the target?

2. Use other successful experiences of your life. If you remember other successful experiences, ask yourself this. How did your relationship with the world change? Do you regret anything? Did something bad happen after shining? How did you maintain the determination to achieve it throughout the process?

3. Establish a plan to enjoy success. If you expect that achieving something very good may have some undesirable consequences, think of strategies that minimize the negative impact and possible solutions to use if something does not flow as you expected.

4. Do not let the envy of others influence you too much. Everyone's liking is impossible and you have to decide if our path will be determined by ourselves or by what certain people who probably do not want our good think.

Isabel Serrano-Rosa is a psychologist and director of EnPositivoSí.

According to the criteria of The Trust Project

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