The Jonah complex is the fear of success or the fear of being one’s best which prevents self-actualization, or the realization of one’s own potential. It is the fear of one’s own greatness, the evasion of one’s destiny, or the avoidance of exercising one’s talents. As the fear of achieving a personal worst may serve to motivate personal growth, likewise the fear of achieving a personal best may hinder achievement.
Although Abraham Maslow is credited for the term, the name “Jonah complex” was originally suggested by Maslow’s friend, Professor Frank Manuel. The name comes from the story of the Biblical prophet Jonah‘s evasion of the destiny to prophesy the destruction of Nineveh. 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 one’s own greatness, talents, potentials
- Fear that an extraordinary life would be too much out of the ordinary, and hence not acceptable to others
- Fear of seeming arrogant, self-centered, etc.
- Difficulty envisioning oneself as a prominent or authoritative figure