Fear of Self-Promotion: How It Could Be Hurting You

Learn How to Promote Yourself at Work and In Your Personal Life

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If you're afraid to highlight your own positive traits, you could be suffering from a fear of self-promotion. Although the fear of self-promotion does not have an official phobia name, it's a devastating yet common fear that can wreak havoc on your daily life. People who are afraid to self-promote could be passed over for job promotions, miss opportunities to connect with potential dates and avoid possibly fulfilling hobbies. So it's worthwhile to ease this fear in yourself.

Imposter Syndrome

A fear of self-promotion is related to imposter syndrome, an unofficial but heavily researched psychological issue. Both men and women can suffer from imposter syndrome, although men may be less likely to own up to it. If you suffer from this disorder, you hold a deep-seated belief that no matter how good your achievements, you will ultimately be discovered as a fraud. 

There are a variety of ways in which this fear might present itself. You might intentionally or subconsciously downplay your achievements. You might look to others to validate your own sense of self-worth as an intelligent, competent human being. You may be reluctant to subject yourself to scrutiny. In fact, you may be hypersensitive to criticism, seeing it as proof of your incompetence.

How a Fear of Self-Promotion Can Hurt You

The effects of the fear of self-promotion depend largely on your individual circumstances. Singers, actors, musicians, writers and other artists must constantly self-promote, convincing agents and audiences of their talent.

Virtually any career can be derailed by the fear of self-promotion.

Whether you are climbing a corporate ladder or contemplating going into business for yourself, marketing is a key component of success. People with the fear of self-promotion tend to self-select into low-level jobs that reward conformity and discourage ambition, even if they find the work boring or unfulfilling.

Fear of self-promotion can also wreak havoc on your personal life. Confidence is an important quality in a potential mate, whether male or female. First dates require a delicate balance: presenting your best self while avoiding sounding like you're bragging. Even landing that first date can be challenging if you're afraid of letting others know what's unique or special about you.

Fears of Failure and Success

The fear of self-promotion is often intertwined with the twin fears of failure and success. To promote yourself is to take a risk, putting yourself out there for others to judge. That first step often leads to one of two outcomes: success or failure.

The fears of failure and success sometimes exist in one person at the same time. When coupled with a fear of self-promotion, virtually every decision that you make must be carefully measured. It's easy to find yourself literally frozen, unable to make even the smallest decisions on your own.

Treating the Fear of Self-Promotion

The fear of self-promotion, like most fears, seems to respond well to cognitive-behavioral techniques. Exploratory or psychodynamic psychotherapy may also be helpful in understanding possible underlying conflicts leading to this issue.

Affirmations are simple but powerful statements that can help change your thinking. Here are a few examples that might help you overcome a fear of self-promotion:

  • I have something unique to offer.
  • I am talented, intelligent and capable.
  • I am no better or worse than the person I need to impress. We are both human beings.

You can also write your own affirmations. If your fear hinges on a particular self-doubt or a particular situation, write an affirmation that addresses your situation.

Read or recite your affirmations at least once a day, preferably more. Looking at yourself in the mirror can help the affirmation sink in. The goal is to replace your negative self-talk with positive messages and repeat those messages until you genuinely believe them.

Sometimes the fear of self-promotion is deeply rooted in other fears or beliefs about yourself. If your fear is limiting your life, or you are unable to work through it on your own, consider seeking treatment. A therapist can help you sort out the issues involved in your fear and develop a treatment plan to overcome them.

The fear of self-promotion can be challenging, but with hard work and a bit of help, there is no reason that you should continue to suffer.

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By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.