"I feel like a failure"

by Harley Therapy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Have you had an unsuccessful job application? Do you compare your life to that of friends and social media infleuncers? These scenarios and many others could leave you experiencing feelings of failure.

Most of us will quickly bounce back from feelings of failure if we have strong levels of self-esteem and resilience. Those individuals who experience constant feelings of failure, however, may be experiencing a deeper issue.

If you often find your self stating "I feel like a failure" - help is at hand

Are my feelings of failure that serious?

If you are constantly feeling like a failure with little to no relief from negative thoughts, your feelings may be rooted within your self identity and past experiences.

Individuals who experience constant feelings of failure my often find that they remain anxious about failure even when they achieve goals or overcome life challenges. Some may also experience imposter syndrome; the belief that you do not deserve the things you have achieved in life thus far. Constantly feeling like a failure may also lead individuals to frequently compare their life with those of others, often believing that everyone else has it better.

Individuals may also experience largely negative patterns of thinking, which can result in recurring low moods or even depressive episodes.

Those who constantly experience feelings of failure may struggle with ‘self-help’ solutions to their negative thoughts, with reflecting on achievements or focusing on ways to improve on mistakes unable to relieve anxieties surrounding failure.

Why do I feel like a failure?

Feelings of failure may have their origins in our childhood development. As we progress through childhood, we begin to develop ‘core beliefs.’ These core beliefs tend to be assumptions that we then believe to be fact. If an individual begins to assume that they cannot win during childhood, this assumption can then be carried on through to adulthood and be viewed as fact.

Individuals who have experienced trauma or abuse in childhood may be prone to feelings of failure, with physical, emotional, or sexual abuse eroding self-esteem. Children who were bullied during their school years may also feel a sense of failure if their experience has resulted in depression, anxiety, or a panic disorder.

However, individuals who did not experience difficulties during their childhood can still develop a tendency for constant self criticism and feelings of failure.

This may stem from well-meant criticism from an adult in your life that has established a pattern of critical thinking within you that has carried through to adulthood. Children who were well supported but had hidden high expectations placed upon them by a parent may also develop feelings of failure later in life.

Children whose parents did everything for them, known as ‘helicopter parenting,’ may also experience feelings of failure in adulthood when faced with a life challenge that is difficult to overcome. Being overly rewarded by a parent for good behaviour may also lead to high self-criticism later in life, sourcing their sense of value from meeting the needs of other people.

If an individual grew up with a parent who themselves expressed constant feelings of failure, they may have also taken these feelings on board through observational learning in childhood. Those who did not have a strong attachment or emotional bond with their parents as a child may also struggled to develop relationships in adulthood, leading to feelings of failure.

How can I move past feelings of failure?

It may be worth trying various self-help techniques to help improve constant feelings of failure. There are a number of excellent self-help books that point individuals towards the development of resilience and high self-esteem through gradual dismantlement of negative thought spirals.

However, psychotherapy has been shown to be a particularly effective tool to help individuals overcome feelings of failure. As feelings of failure are often accompanied by other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, therapy can address the majority of these deep rooted issues within a safe and confidential environment.

Psychotherapy can help individuals discover the root cause of core beliefs that may be leading to feelings of failure. A therapist can work with the client to process experiences from the past and move towards more positive thought patterns that promote healthy self-esteem and resilience.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is particularly useful in helping to identify and challenge negative thoughts as they occur, replacing them with more positive outlooks. Psychodynamic therapy has also proved useful, helping individuals to reengage with past experiences and understand how these experiences have led to current patterns of thinking.

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