As a psychotherapist, I see many high achievers in my therapy office. And it's clear that success doesn't provide immunity against depression, emotional issues, relationship troubles, parenting problems, or anxiety disorders.
While high achievers are susceptible to many of the same mental health problems other people experience, they also face some unique challenges of their own. Here are the five most common reasons highly successful people seek therapy:
1. Impostor Syndrome
Although impostor syndrome isn't an official diagnosis that appears in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the persistent feeling of not being good enough can be just as problematic as a diagnosable condition.
People with impostor syndrome feel unworthy of their success. They attribute their success to luck--rather than inherent ability--and they constantly feel like frauds.
People with impostor syndrome often present to a therapist's office for a specific problem, like anxiety or depression. They usually don't want to acknowledge their underlying feelings of inadequacy, even to a therapist.
Impostor syndrome often emerges after a few therapy sessions. Successful treatment brings the person's thinking in-line with the facts about her achievement so she can feel more authentic.
2. The Underlying Reason Behind Their Drive
Successful people are driven. They usually work harder, persevere longer, and bounce back from adversity faster than others.
While some high achievers may be natural go-getters, the drive for achievement sometimes stems from hurt and pain. Someone who grew up feeling as though she's not good enough may find success temporarily helps her feel better. Or someone who felt rejected by his parents may hope high levels of achievement will finally gain him the parental approval he desperately seeks.
Success may temporarily mask heartache, but anguish lurks just beneath the surface. Therapy can help people discover how to heal their past wounds so they can be even more effective as they move forward.
3. Fear of Losing Everything
The more someone has, the more he has to lose. And the fear of losing everything causes some successful people to experience chronic anxiety and fear.
They worry they're just one decision away from ruining everything. Or they fear they'll somehow squander the opportunities they have been given.
Therapy can help successful people learn to give themselves permission to relax and recharge their batteries. And sometimes, therapists help high achievers recognize that their net worth isn't the same as their self-worth. Treatment may also help successful people find healthy ways to cope with anxiety and self-doubt.
4. It's Lonely At the Top
High achievement may ostracize successful people from family members and friends. Additionally, successful people are often placed in high-level management positions where it may be inappropriate to befriend subordinates, leaving them with fewer opportunities to socialize.
Therapists often help successful people address feelings of alienation. Therapy may also encourage finding ways to replace professional networking with casual opportunities to form genuine friendships.
5. Guilt That Stems from Success
While there's a common notion that successful people feel entitled, many of them also feel guilty. In fact, the first thing many high achievers say when entering my therapy office is, "I probably shouldn't be here. There are people with a lot bigger problems who need your time more than I do."
They may also question whether they deserve a new car, or they may feel guilty about going away on a vacation. This can be especially true for individuals who have experienced poverty in the past.
Therapy often focuses on helping people change their self-limiting beliefs so they can live their best lives. Treatment may involve helping high achievers recognize how their success affords them an opportunity to have a bigger impact on the world.
Be Willing to Ask for Help
Talk therapy can address a multitude of problems that may be holding you back. And quite often, just a handful of therapy sessions may be all you need to feel better.
If there's something holding you back or keeping you stuck, contact a therapist or talk to your doctor. Building mental strength could help you reach your greatest potential, even when you're already wildly successful.