Fear of Success—The Traditional View

  • David Ward Tresemer


A pole vaulter routinely cleared 12′6″ in competition. Just as routinely, he failed to clear the next height of 13 feet. His teammates noted that he usually had more than 6 inches of clearance at 12′6″ and therefore reasoned that his inability to make 13 feet was “only mental.” Thus they conspired to “help him.” When his back was toward the take-off, they raised the bar from 12′6″ to 13 feet. Unaware of the bar’s true height, the vaulter made a successful attempt.


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  1. 2.
    For example, “the inability of an otherwise bright child to learn arithmetic, because to do so would have been to compare with an older sibling who was gifted in that particular direction. The self-imposed inhibition on his own intellectual activity protected him from some of the painful feelings arising from his jealous rivalry with his brother” (Brenner, 1955, p. 203).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    The title of the British edition of his famous Escape from Freedom (1941).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Gender differences were unspecified in the article, and were unfortunately lost with the original data (M. L. Haimowitz, personal communication, 1973 ).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Perhaps this is why Goethe said “nothing is harder to bear than a succession of fair days” (quoted in Freud, 1930, p. 23).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Lines 603ff. in the translation by Dodds (1951, p. 50).Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    At other times and in other cultures, the availability of a choice has been absent: “No man, Cyrnus, is responsible for his own ruin or his own success: of both these things the gods are the givers” (Theognis quoted in Dodds, 1951, p. 30).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Ward Tresemer

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