Have you ever heard of the Oscar Curse? Neither had I until I read an article about how many actors’ careers are plagued after winning the golden statuette.
What!? Wouldn’t logic dictate otherwise? Curious, I Googled around and found many other articles, everywhere from Vogue to the New York Post, confirming this theory. (Halle Berry and Adrien Brody are two often-cited examples.) How can this be?
After more research, I made a connection to a popular self-help theory: Self-sabotage is most common when life is at its best. In The Big Leap, best-selling author Gay Hendricks calls this the “upper-limit problem.”
What this means is we only feel comfortable with things going really well in our lives for a certain period of time. When we hit our set threshold of happiness, something inside of us says, You don’t deserve to be this happy, and we do something—entirely subconsciously—that cools our bliss and halts our forward trajectory.
Here are a few common examples:
- A successful entrepreneur sells a company at profit and then announces he’s getting a divorce.
- A woman falls in love and gets married but experiences drama with family or close friends.
- A politician finally hits career milestone and then binges on drugs or alcohol, or has an affair.
This isn’t intentional. Most people don’t mean to screw things up on purpose. But sometimes, our sneaky, fundamental human fears get in the way. Hendricks says this type of self-sabotage is rooted in four hidden barriers that prevent us from fully enjoying success.
- Feeling fundamentally flawed: This belief tells you to play it safe because you don’t deserve to be rich/happy/successful. This way, if you fail at something, you fail small.
- Disloyalty and abandonment: This belief prevents you from reaching your full potential because it causes you to feel disloyal to your roots. Guilt over leaving behind people from your past or—despite being successful—failing to meet the expectations of your parents causes you hit the brakes and hold yourself back.
- Believing success brings a bigger burden: Whenever you have a positive breakthrough, the feeling that your success is a burden upon others dampens it.
- The crime of outshining: This barrier is common among gifted and talented children and continues into adulthood. Innate skills are accompanied by a feeling of, “Don’t shine too much—you’ll make other people feel bad or look bad.”
Do any of these feel familiar? Do you ever experience guilt for “doing better” than your parents, outshining a sibling or friend, or feel scared when things are going too well because deep down you may not “deserve it”? Knowledge of these fundamental fears allows us to help release their power over us.
Next time life is going swimmingly for you, but suddenly the upper-limit problem creeps up, ask yourself:
- How am I getting in my own way right now?
- How much love/success/happiness am I willing to let myself experience?
- What harmful belief(s) can I release in this moment?
This theory of the upper-limit problem has manifested in my own life more than once (now that I am aware of it). When my business is going great, I realize that I tend to initiate fights with my husband. Whenever I get great news, I tend to overindulge—in partying, shopping, or eating sugary stuff.
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Now, I’m able to recognize the feeling of This is too good to be true—it can’t last! and the inner pull to bring myself back to a familiar emotional set point of good instead of great. I try to identify my self-sabotaging tendencies as evidence of things going right, not wrong, in my life. This can provide a huge sense of relief!
Where can you increase your happiness tolerance right now? What part of your life can benefit from you kicking off the artificial lid of how good things can be? Understanding that we have limited ourselves can release a new energy in us. We view opportunities differently. We can see the present moment more clearly. We allow (and welcome) the flow of good feelings more fully.
Transcending your upper limits is possible. You can choose an upward spiral. Your very own big leap awaits.
Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!