The Jonah complex is the fear of success which prevents self-actualization, or the realization of one's potential. It is the fear of one's own greatness, the evasion of one's destiny, or the avoidance of exercising one's talents. Just as the fear of achieving a personal worst can motivate personal growth, the fear of achieving a personal best can also hinder achievement.
Although Abraham Maslow is accredited for the term, the name “Jonah complex” was originally suggested by Maslow’s friend, Professor Frank Manuel. The name comes from the Biblical story of Prophet Jonah's evasion of the destiny to prophesy the destruction of Ninevah. 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 our own greatness, talents, potentials
- Fear that an extraordinary life would be 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
It was said by Ken Bado  that people do not fear change - they fear the loss associated with that change. Success comes with additional responsibility (loss of freedom), fame or additional scrutiny (loss of anonymity), difficulty relating to those less successful (loss of friendship or other relationships), general change (loss of stability and security), additional potential for loss/failing (fear of schadenfreude). See: Fear of Success web page.
- Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature
- Department of Cognitive Science, Chris VerWys. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Personality Psychology, Ambraham Maslow
- Haronian, Frank (1967-12-15). "The Repression of the sublime" (PDF). Retrieved 5 October 2011.
- Orig. Hebrew (דָּג (גָּדוֹל.
- "Jonah ch. 2, vv. 1, 2, 11" in many versions (MT (Masoretic Text), LXX (Septuagint), D–R (Douay–Rheims Bible), NAB (New American Bible), NABRE (New American Bible Revised Edition), and others); "Jonah ch. 1, v. 17 and ch. 2, vv. 1, 10" in KJV (King James Version) and many other Protestant translations.
- Eric Dodson's Course Notes for Humanistic Psychology (PSYC 2000)
- Goud, N. (1994). Jonah Complex: The fear of growth. Journal of Humanistic Education & Development, 32(3), 98-111.
- Sumerlin, J. R. and Bundrick, C. M. (1996). Brief index of self-actualization: A measure of Maslow's model. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 11(2), 253-271.