How to Deal with Feeling Like a Failure in 3 Steps
Few things are more difficult to process than falling short of achieving your goals after working hard and giving it your all. But what can make that experience even harder to deal with is an unhealthy attitude towards failure, which many people struggle with. I’m not even talking about serious issues, but mostly those typical, small daily hiccups. Just think about it:
What’s your automatic reaction when running late to a meeting?
How do you deal with missing your bus/train?
Do you comfort yourself or engage in negative self-talk after a failed exam?
Does everyday failure seem to hit home harder than it should?
If you can relate, it’s highly likely that when things don’t work out as hoped, you’re more prone to falling into the trap of negativity bias, ruminating on past mistakes, and feeding the dysfunctional belief that you’re a failure, and you’ll never amount to anything. Such relentless self-attack sooner or later leads to developing further unhelpful habits like social comparison or listening to your inner critic and facing significant mental health issues, i.e., low self-esteem, perfectionism, chronic stress, anxiety, or even depression.
In this article, we delve into the topic of feeling like a failure, where it comes from, and how it can wreak havoc on your life. Then, we share healthy ways to cope with that issue and change your attitude towards making mistakes for the better. Reclaiming positivity, confidence, and joy in your life is within your reach, and here’s how to start.
Characteristics of Feeling Like a Failure
When tackling a psychological issue, I noticed that people often prefer to focus on counteracting the symptoms without reaching deeper to identify the root cause of their suffering.
Let’s take feeling like a failure as an example:
- Imagine you’re struggling with social anxiety, and you direct your efforts and attention to managing it as you believe it’ll eradicate the problem.
- You learn breathing techniques and grounding strategies, yet you still get paralyzed before doing a presentation at work or avoid going out with your friends.
- Since feeling like a failure is what fuels your social anxiety, without addressing the former, you won’t be able to prevent the latter.
So where does feeling like a failure come from?
Exploring Root Causes
No single trigger causes people to feel like they’re a failure. It’s usually a consequence of many different factors that come to play, such as:
- Repeatedly experiencing abuse as a child, whether physical or verbal, can significantly decrease your sense of self-worth.
- Growing up with emotionally immature parents can leave wounds we carry into adulthood.
- If your parent was emotionally unavailable, held you to their unrelenting standards, or constantly criticized you, chances are you might be dealing with intense emotions like shame, guilt, or feeling not good enough / inadequate.
- If your trauma revolves around your failure, it’s natural to focus your energy on avoiding similar situations in the future.
- You might be scared, anxious, and self-judgmental in situations linked to making mistakes, like a driving license test, a presentation at work, or an important exam.
- Living in a society that glorifies success stories and looks down on failure only adds salt to injury, making us scared of ever misstepping and making a mistake, leading us to compare our unique situations to the life of other people to ensure how good we’re doing in life.
- It’s so easy to fall into this habit, especially in the age of social media and carefully curated content posted online by others that create an illusion of achieving the dream life.
- As a result, rather than appreciating the good things in your life, i.e., your health or your career, you might be prone to feeling as if you failed since you haven’t started a family, didn’t go on a fancy holiday, or still use your old car.
- Tightly linked to the habit of social comparison, perfectionism goes a step further, putting unrealistic expectations on you.
- Having ambitious goals is good, yet setting a bar too high will only set you up for failure, fueling painful feelings, unhealthy thoughts, and self-defeating beliefs.
Impact on Mental Health
Feeling like a failure leads to further struggles, such as:
- a negative cycle of self-defeating thoughts, emotions, and behaviors,
- low self-esteem and lack of confidence,
- falling into a pattern of self-sabotage due to fear of failure,
- increased stress,
- imposter syndrome,
- negativity bias,
- painful feelings of shame, guilt, or regret,
- low motivation,
- higher risk of depression and anxiety.
How To Deal With Feeling Like a Failure in 3 Steps
Step 1: Acknowledge Your Thoughts and Emotions
If you’ve been feeling like a failure for a while, you probably tried avoiding, suppressing, or running away from that uncomfortable experience. However, the only way out is through.
So, next time your inner critic wreaks havoc, try this:
- pause to notice your bodily sensations, emotions, thoughts, and actions
- instead of shaming yourself or shutting down, make a conscious choice to open up to these feelings and label them
- allow yourself to feel bad and treat yourself with compassion and gentleness
Step 2: Redefine Failure
Often feeling like a failure stems from your unhelpful beliefs linked to failing. To tackle your issue, it’s crucial to:
- First, identify your thoughts on this topic, i.e.:
- “Failing means that I’m weak, incompetent, and will never achieve success.”
Then, challenge them through, i.e.:
- remembering that your thoughts are not facts,
- finding proof against that belief, like memories of your past wins,
- debunking the belief with rational thinking.
- Finally, replace them with a healthy alternative, i.e.:
- “Each failure is a learning opportunity, bringing me one step closer to achieving my goals.”
- “Failure is a natural and normal part of life. Without making mistakes, we wouldn’t learn and grow.”
- “My failures don’t define who I am.”
Step 3: Face Your Fears
Equipped with this newly gained self-awareness and redefined the concept of failure, you are ready to move forward and face your fears. Rather than jumping into deep waters, you can gradually step out of your comfort zone and engage in activities or projects where failure is possible.
That work might be scary and overwhelming, but receiving assistance from an experienced psychologist along the way can make all the difference, helping you:
- address the emotional discomfort,
- learn techniques to overcome feeling like a failure,
- reach newly set goals with self-confidence and compassion toward yourself.
Don’t wait for things to get better on their own – take action and contact us here.