Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

What to Do When You Feel Like a Failure

Believe in yourself and your failures won’t feel so big.

Key points

  • When people hold a negative perception of themselves, they may feel quickly defeated when faced with challenges.
  • Reflecting on one’s “true self” can provide a greater sense of well-being.
  • Relationships can offer support in both practical and emotional ways.
Source: Pexels

The result is always the same: Every time you fall short of achieving your goal, you fall back to being self-critical. Then it’s difficult, if not impossible, to let go of all that negativity, which is a serious drain on your motivation. As I mentioned in my last post, Want to Better Yourself? Start Here, getting to know yourself well can not only inform you about what you need to do to change, but it can also open you up to approaching yourself in a more positive way. Sometimes, though, people need to do more to help boost their morale. They need to directly build self-acceptance.

When people hold a negative perception of themselves, it is not surprising that they feel quickly defeated when faced with challenges. Each obstacle, mistake, or failure can seem like proof of what they already know – that they won’t succeed and that they are not okay. If this describes you, it is important that you prioritize learning to value yourself.

Focus on valuing who you are, not what you do. When people look to their accomplishments to validate that they are worthy, their sense of feeling good about themselves rides on those accomplishments. So, if you perform well, you will feel good about yourself. If you perform poorly, your will feel less worthy. But you are more than your accomplishments. Just as every infant is born into this world as a worthy human being, you are worthy just for being you.

You can achieve this sense of self-acceptance by looking both within yourself and to your relationships:

The power within you. Research has shown that when people reflect upon their “true selves” (including traits they believe they have even if they don’t show them), they gain a greater sense of well-being and perceive more meaning in their lives.

You can test this out by arranging for some undisturbed time to think about your values and those traits that you feel characterize “the real you.” When you imagine expressing them, they will feel “right.” After some time thinking about this, reflect on how you feel about yourself. (You might even want to pause and do this right now.) You will most likely find that you feel good about yourself. This is the feeling you want to nurture.

Make a daily practice of doing this exercise in benign and positive circumstances – not in the middle of an emotional crisis. With time, you will find that you feel better about yourself (that you have greater self-acceptance) even when life is not working out as planned.

The power of relationships. People are social creatures and relationships offer us support in both practical and emotional ways. In healthy relationships, others generally view you positively – even though they might have different opinions than you or be upset with you about specific situations. By being open to their positive ways of perceiving you and their good feelings about you, you are nurturing a greater sense of self-acceptance.

You might find it helpful to identify truly supportive and compassionate friends – those who express a positive regard for you. Pick one person and think about what they seem to value about you. If you don’t know, consider asking that person directly. As you think about this, allow yourself to really take in the positive messages. If you find yourself rejecting the message, remind yourself that they really do see you in these ways. Then, once again, practice allowing yourself to take in the positive feedback. Once you can let it sink in, go through this process for each friend.

You may find this exercise surprisingly difficult to do. But stick with it. Practice it regularly until you feel more comfortable with being seen in a positive light…until you also can see yourself positively.

As your sense of self-acceptance grows stronger, you will be more likely to take setbacks as momentary problems, not proof that you are inadequate. This can help you to get back up and try again. With such persistence, no matter what your goals are, you will increase your chances of achieving them.

NOTE: So very many people have responded to this article because they are in a great deal of pain. They have expressed that this article does not hold true for them because they feel too stuck in their pain or painful situation. If you can relate to this response, keep in mind that the focus of this post is to point to one way of approaching life struggles and the feeling of failure. If it is not helpful and your pain is overwhelming, please consider seeking professional help. If you have tried therapy and it didn’t help, you might want to try it again with another therapist. I hope you discover the right therapist for you – one who you connect with and who can work with you in successfully finding a way to ease your pain and re-discover (or discover for the first time) happiness, joy, and/or deep inner contentment in your life.

Even since originally leaving this note, I continued to receive comments about it in the comments section, as well as personally (especially more positive ones). If you find this article does not go deep enough or would like to learn more about struggles that can lead to feeling like a failure, you may find it helpful to read another article that I've just posted, Withstanding the Pain of Feeling Inadequate. You may also find it helpful to watch the related short video, Learning the Truth: You are Worthy.

Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.