Psychology

Why Do I Feel Like a Failure?

Research shows that failure to make progress toward personal goals can lead to negative affective states, such as depression and anxiety. What is more, 8 out of 10 people experience imposter syndrome.

This is an alarming statistic but the main question is why do we feel like a failure in the first place?

Failure occupies our thoughts and emotions throughout life. It is scary and is something that we try to avoid at all costs.

For most people, however, exactly what counts as a failure, and where’s the border between failure and success, are not well-defined. 

Negative feelings are a part of our life

It’s hard to deal with all the stress and everyday challenges when all you can see around are happy and successful people on social media.

When we take a look at ourselves, at our life up until this point, and feel like a failure, it feels incredibly disheartening. Feeling like a failure tends to have this snowball effect. 

To some, that snowball can grow large enough that we can get lost in it and become depressed. But if you ever got hit by a snowball, you know it’s also prone to breaking.

The good news is that feeling like a failure, too, is something that can be broken. 

It’s time to take a step back and re-examine our perception of ourselves, of what constitutes failure and success, and the feeling of failure itself.

What causes the feeling of failure?

The feeling of failure is caused by not meeting our own expectations of ourselves. These could be not being pretty, smart, popular, or not having enough money, enough friends, a big enough house (or a house at all), a loving partner and family, a career path that gives us a sense of meaning, and many others. 

Exactly why we have those expectations is rarely clear. We often assimilate them from the greater cultural environment around us while growing up, without ever stopping to think of the things we are told to want are things we actually want. 

How to know if you are successful?

learn from failure

We also rarely stop to define where failure ends and success begins. How much money do we actually need to make to feel successful? Identify your goals and what is happiness to you personally. Forget all the things that you’ve been told in the past. The goal is important but we need to focus on the process as well.

Self-acceptance is a very important part of growing up. In other words, we have to stay positive even when times are hard and we feel stuck.

Feeling like a failure does not mean we are a failure. It just means our expectations don’t align with reality, and that, maybe, our view of ourselves is more negative than it should be.

To deal with that feeling, we must then tackle our expectations and self-perception – two very intertwined facets of our personality.

The pitfall of comparing ourselves with others

What we expect of ourselves and how we perceive ourselves are the result of several different things. One of them is comparing ourselves to other people. That’s normal as we are social beings.

Since failure and success are subjective concepts in nature, this helps our minds put them in context and see where on the hypothetical Fail-Succeed scale of humanity we rank at any given moment.

This makes sense in theory but becomes very dangerous very quickly. We need to realize that we aren’t comparing ourselves to everyone – we subconsciously curate the context in which we evaluate our successes and failures.

When you feel like you aren’t making enough money, who are you comparing yourself to? Is it all people in this wide world? Is it everyone you know? Or perhaps just people whom you know make more money than you?

Why comparing yourself to others doesn’t make sense

Comparing ourselves to people who seem ahead of us, while ignoring people beside or behind us, creates a very skewed view of where we rank on that Fail-Succeed scale. We could be above average just by owning a house, but since we are only compared with people who have bigger, nicer houses than us, we feel as though we are at the bottom. 

Be honest, do you often compare yourself to people whom you find unattractive or dumb?

What about people who are homeless or unemployed?

What about ones going through a painful breakup? 

If you answer “no”, now that just doesn’t sound very fair, does it?

Stepping stone is to see our life from a different perspective. It’s better to spend time thinking about how we can improve ourselves and be better than competing with people who probably don’t even know that we exist.

The curated reality of social media

The blame of skewed comparison should not all be placed on us, though. In this day and age, social media has transformed how each person presents themselves to the world, and so our view of others becomes distorted without our control.

When people share snippets of their lives on social media, what they choose to show you is very curated, even without any malicious intent. An influencer may take 100 selfies at the beach, but you only get to see the best one, where they look the most attractive, happy, and successful.

Everybody has their ups and downs

What you don’t get to see are the other 99 pictures of them looking less attractive, less happy, or at less exciting places. They usually don’t make stories when they are having a tough time or feeling pain.

People share happy moments of their life instead of ones of boredom, self-doubt, and stress, but it does not mean they don’t have such moments. They still do, but since those are less visible, it is easy to forget that. 

When you feel hopeless or have negative thoughts, it can feel like you are all alone, and so you must be doing something wrong.

The only thing you’re doing wrong is comparing yourself to a curated presentation of highlights, rather than to reality itself. Take a deep breath.

It’s useful to remember that the prettiest, smartest, most successful people still sit down on the toilet, still look weird when sneezing, and have embarrassing memories from their job or the past, even if we don’t usually get to see it. 

People are more alike than different, and that includes all those imperfections. Focus on yourself.

feeling of failure

The complicated “success” of others

We are only able to compare ourselves to others this way because we know which criteria to look for. Wealth, attractiveness, influence, and intelligence are among the key things that seem to matter. 

But why is that?

Is a rich person inherently happier than someone with an average income? Is someone with a high IQ and a PhD in Theoretical Physics really doing better in life than a farmer? Is someone with kids always going to sleep more satisfied than someone without?

Let’s talk about reality

In reality, rich people can feel like a failure when they struggle to maintain relationships, and married people can feel bad because they didn’t get their dream job.

When we look at the person who seems successful, we should keep in mind that they may not see themselves this way, and they may have doubts we aren’t aware of. We all have our challenges.

On the other hand, nobody deserves to feel pain. Mental health issues are very common nowadays and if you feel like you are not finding success and happiness search for practical ways to feel good again.

For example, try therapy: talk about your problems and share your feelings in a safe space. A support group might be helpful as well.

How therapy helps break the feeling of failure

When people think of psychotherapy, they think of mental disorders like depression and anxiety.

While there is definitely a big overlap between these two and feeling like a failure, therapy is still recommended when you’re not feeling anxious or depressed. Other feelings are important too and it’s important to identify why you are feeling that way.

Find your support

A therapist has the expertise to help you navigate your biased thoughts, clearly define what failure and success mean to you, and establish fair, realistic expectations for yourself at the same time.

This, in turn, will help you improve your confidence and self-esteem, which might help to achieve things that you want in life.

But starting therapy can be daunting. How do you know which therapist to choose? Are you going to feel connected with him at all? What is the process? Do you have the time to get to and from their office, if it’s even nearby?

There is always a silver lining.

A word from our RD

There are a lot of factors that impact our mental well-being: lack of sleep, constant stress, comparison game which we are playing with each other, and much more. Feeling like a failure is one of them as well.

Failure is a big part of our life as we are learning and growing. However, nobody likes to feel like a failure, and constantly feeling like one can lead to depression, anxiety, and other issues.

How to cope with this feeling? Get some sleep, figure out the source of your negative feelings, and don’t hesitate to seek help.

I think it’s important to mention that you have to avoid drugs, alcohol, and other bad habits while healing. Self-care is very important in this process so take a bubble bath, grab a good book and turn off your phone!

What is DoMental and how this app could be helpful?

DoMental is an online therapy app that solves all these issues. You can have weekly video sessions with a licensed therapist, as well as daily chats with them via text and audio messages. With this app, anonymity, security, and convenience are at their maximum.

This online therapy service is the most affordable on the market, making therapy more accessible to people with tighter budgets.

It’s also very quick and easy to start with – you fill in a short mental health survey, get matched with a therapist suitable to your kind of problems, and you’re good to go. 

Bottom Line

Feeling like a failure is the result of our expectations of ourselves, and how we view ourselves compared to others.

Getting professional help through therapy is a way to tackle the complexities of expectations and self-acceptance. A good therapist also could help you see things differently and boost your confidence.

When it comes to failures, one thing is certain: reaching out to help or moral support is not a form of failure, but the recognition that success rarely happens when you’re on your own.

It happens when you are willing to accept help and feel happier with your life as a result.

Kinjal Kanani, MD
Kinjal Kanani is a medical doctor who graduated in 2015 from the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences and has been working in her profession since then. Kinjal’s goal is to increase health awareness and help people improve their health through nutrition and lifestyle changes.
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