Sick of Feeling Like a Failure? Here’s What to Do About It - Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

No matter how successful some men become they still often find themselves stuck feeling like a failure. It’s hard to wrap your head around if you haven’t been there. We’ve all heard the celebrity stories of low self-esteem and we have a hard time feeling sorry for that person. But it’s weird how easy it can be to look at ourselves and feel dissatisfied. Or worse.

How do you manage this if it’s a pattern of yours? Do you have a re-start up plan? Do you wait for it to pass while you indulge in addictive behaviors or just stay in bed?

In this post, we’re going to try to get underneath this feeling. Even though I know it’s a different story for everyone, we’ll explore some common threads and find new ways to approach whatever you’ve been doing that hasn’t been working.

Self-Judgment & Self-Sabotage

An understandable impulse for yourself or someone else who is feeling like a failure is to counteract it with facts.

  • You’re married to a great woman
  • You have a good paying job
  • Your children are healthy

This is where people mix up gratitude lists with positive thinking.

When you’re in this rut of feeling like a failure you’re usually not helped by hearing about the awesome things you should be happy about, because that “should be happy about” is one more thing keeping you down because it’s all self-judgment. “How dare you feel so down—you have these great things and now you should be punished because you’re ungrateful!”

What else is causing you to see beyond all the good in your life and focusing on this idea of yourself as a failure?

Getting stuck in the “Imposter Syndrome” could be one place. Many of us go through life with a cloud of anxiety just waiting for someone to pop up and say, “I knew it! You were faking the whole time!” We feel like at any moment we’ll be caught out. Maybe it’ll be tomorrow’s presentation. Perhaps it’s when the next client falls through.

This comes up in relationships as well. Men who just can’t believe that their partner is going to stay so they begin to screw things up. They find fault in the other person or start treating them in a way that causes the partner to argue a lot or even end the relationship. And then they get blamed for doing that while you remain the victim. Until it all starts up again, possibly with someone new.

When we don’t think we’re worthy of success we’ll do anything to not have it, even when it’s handed to us.

Deadly Comparison or Inspiration?

One thing that is a sure-fire way to keep you feeling like a failure is comparison.

I don’t want to get this too mixed up with competition, but there is some overlap. If you’re in a good place, competition can be great. It can even be a motivator factor for you. But if you’re already feeling down, it’s going to bring you down further. Seeing someone else’s success is going to make it difficult for you to dig down and do better—or even feel good and content about what you already have.

Because you want to get back into the place where you can enjoy what you have. The part of you that can see something someone else is doing and feel inspired by it.

I’m talking a matter of a mood shift. What’s getting in the way and how do you climb out of it?

Tips to Shift Your Mood & Stop Feeling Like a Failure

  • Get Out of Your Head: Sometimes it’s a matter of allowing time to pass. Maybe you need a break. Take a walk, talk to a friend, journal, even watch a few episodes of your favorite show. Whatever you need to stop you from thinking in the same direction, because you’re probably headed down a long, endless rabbit hole.
  • Stop the Argument: Look into who it is you’re trying to impress. A parent, a colleague, a brother, your overly competitive friend, whoever—locate the competition you’re actually in. Then you can decide whether to remain in it (and it’s usually a losing one, to be honest) or to let it go. Yeah, sometimes it’s that easy—depending on the long-standing-ness of this argument.
  • Feel It: Here’s the deal: “feeling like a failure” isn’t actually a feeling. What is it you’re feeling? Maybe it’s anger that you’re in this same place again. Maybe it’s hopelessness for the same reason. Maybe you’re sad or, you’re scared it’ll never happen. Whatever, I always encourage guys to get out of the “head” part of this because that’s where we get stuck. We get stuck on figuring out the “problem” because that’s what we’ve been told we’re good at since, well, since we got here. The next step is the uncomfortable one, though. Next you feel that feeling. Not all the stuff we pile on top of the feeling to not feel vulnerable, scared, sad, whatever. It’s not going to last because feelings don’t work like that. It’s not about avoiding the feeling so you don’t get stuck in it. You get stuck when you don’t allow yourself to feel it. Then it comes out in stomach or headaches, high blood pressure, or general irritability. And we’re back down the rabbit hole…

Feeling like a failure doesn’t do you any good. It zaps away the energy that it takes to motivate you to do better or to see the great stuff that’s already happened. If you’re struggling with this and can’t seem to escape the pattern please don’t hesitate to contact me and we’ll set up a free 15-minute phone consultation to see what you need to get out of that rut.

Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert. He practices counseling in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.