I am such a total failure.
I can’t do anything right.
No friends. No job. No skills. I’m a total failure.
My own family hates me. How could I be more of a failure?
There is no escape from my failures in life. I might as well be dead.
Why do people feel like failures even when those on the outside can see potential? And why can’t more of us laugh at our failures? By the way, if you need to lighten up read the book, Confessions of a Domestic Failure.
Everyone fails (more often than we realize) but what causes chronic feelings of failure?
Feelings of failure can be so overwhelming that many cannot imagine a way out. In some cases, people believe they would need to magically turn into someone else before being capable of positive feelings.
Eventually, failure can become inseparable from who you are. Turning things around so that you feel more successful would mean becoming someone you are not. Worse, feeling like a failure yesterday and today leads to predicting failure in the future.
What’s the point? I always screw things up.
I’d look for a job if I weren’t going to get fired in the first two weeks.
I’d go to the party, but no one would like me anyway.
I feel like a failure and always will. Why bother trying to succeed at anything?
A cloud of failure colors your world like a pair of dark glasses you can’t remove. Often people don’t realize they are perceiving the world through a personal paradigm which makes feelings of failure inevitable – a self-limiting belief system that guarantees a sense of ongoing helplessness and apathy.
A productive path forward requires understanding the following:
There is a difference between feeling like a failure and actually failing at something.
Here are two statements:
- I feel like a failure because I didn’t complete my to-do list.
- I failed to complete my to-do list.
Feeling like a failure comes from your interpretation of who you are. On the other hand, failing is just failing. It’s a plain fact that you did not do something you meant to do. It’s not necessarily a statement about who you are. This is about being vs. doing.
Failing is common: Not getting things done, misunderstanding directions, failing to remember where you put the car keys, cooking eggs badly! Failing is a normal and unavoidable part of everyday living. No one is immune.
Some people are immune to feeling like chronic failures. How?
Feeling like a failure when an actual failure occurs happens when you also believe something negative about yourself. In other words, you feel like a failure when you believe you are a failure. That’s it.
But this isn’t inevitable. Not everyone takes failure so personally. In fact, some people would do well to stop feeling like such successes, if you can imagine. It’s possible to feel like an uber-success even when your actual performance doesn’t warrant such grandiose sentiment. Can you think of anyone like this? Feeling successful is not necessarily connected to actual success.
On the other hand, there are those who do quite well in life but don’t give themselves credit. They feel like failures even when outperforming everyone else. Given this, we can safely say self-limiting beliefs are the primary cause of chronically feeling like a failure. This is why feeling like a chronic failure is so difficult to overcome. Changing self-limiting beliefs isn’t like changing your clothes, although some personal development enthusiasts claim otherwise.
Personally held beliefs are among the most enduring phenomena associated with being human. There is no magic wand to cast aside your negative beliefs. No spiffy self-help technique that “works every time.” No guru who can change your beliefs with the latest self-improvement breakthrough.
I speak as one who has practiced the healing arts for 25 years, including mental health counseling, neuro-linguistic programming, hypnosis, EMDR, emotional freedom technique, and so many more methods that I’ve lost track.
When someone tells you to snap out of it – that you only feel like a failure because you believe it – you can politely respond:
I believe it, which is why it’s so hard to snap out.
You can follow with: How, specifically, do I change a belief that I’ve had since childhood?
I wonder what they’d suggest. If the issue has perplexed you too, don’t feel bad. A consistently reliable method to change negative beliefs has eluded experts who have studied belief change for a lifetime.
Any honest researcher or practitioner will tell you: While belief change is possible and worth pursuing, there is no standard method to get results.
A humorous aside: Can you imagine the snake-oil salesman? Step right up! Get your beliefs changed in an instant! Just use the keypad to punch in your limiting belief, followed by the empowering belief you’d like to order. Then hop into the belief-o-matic chamber. Presto! Your old belief has vanished; the new one installed! Only $99.95. That’s right, folks! And we can change your entire self-concept, too! That’s the platinum package…
Now, back to reality.
Research has demonstrated hundreds of times that most people tend to stand firm in their existing beliefs even when the hard facts disagree. As Elizabeth Kolbert so eloquently proved in a recent New Yorker piece, facts don’t change minds.
This uniquely human phenomenon also applies to self-limiting beliefs, unfortunately. This might be a twist on self-affirmation theory, which suggests people are driven to maintain integrity by defending their positive self-concept when challenged.
Yet, if your self-concept includes an overwhelming sense of failure and worthlessness, then you would also defend this when challenged, right? In this case, if you claimed such a person were not a failure, but capable of success, he would argue with evidence that he is indeed a failure. Does this sound familiar?
Nobody has a final solution to this one. Beliefs are powerful and highly resistant to change, in spite of being mere ideas in our head. Still, working to alter limiting beliefs is worth doing. It’s your very best option. Aligning your expectations and taking a grounded approach is the most effective way to proceed.
Here are 10 facts about transforming self-limiting beliefs:
1. There is no one way to change a negative belief that works consistently. Don’t fall for such promises when you run into them. (Don’t be closed-minded, either).
2. Belief change is a process, not a single intervention. Ironically, when beliefs do change, it often happens in a moment, a grand “Aha!” However, getting to that moment is not exactly predictable. Engaging in the process of inner work often leads to that moment, but no one (not even you) can predict when the shift in perspective will occur.
3. The process begins with increased self-awareness – recognizing your limiting beliefs as subjective and separate from the external facts surrounding your actual failures (what you did or didn’t do).
4. The process cannot continue successfully until you accept the limiting beliefs as your own in the present day, even when you were taught to see yourself in a negative light by the actions or inactions of others in the past. Limiting mindsets may have been handed to you when you were not capable of rejecting them, but they are yours now.
5. You should understand the self-fulfilling nature of your limiting beliefs – how they lead directly to feeling like a failure and how you would and not feel like a failure without them, in spite of your actual failures.
6. You must come to see the self-fulfilling cycle of negative beliefs as self-sabotage.
7. You should recognize the self-sabotage and resulting feelings as a familiar angst in your life – and understand the nearly irresistible pull of familiarity. Familiarity is the emotional equivalent of safety. When misery is familiar, misery is safe. When success and fulfillment are foreign, they appear unsafe.
8. You must be patient and honest and truthful about all of the above, looking for manifestations of the self-sabotage in your life and owning it each time you experience it.
9. Once you have owned the cycle of self-sabotage, then you are (usually) ready to let go of your self-limiting beliefs around failure and replace them with more empowering beliefs.
10. At this point, various belief-change interventions may work for you over time.
To explore how hanging onto a negative self-concept is an example of self-sabotage, watch the free and enlightening video about how self-sabotage works in the psyche and how to overcome it.