What To Do When You’re Feeling Like A Failure

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Self-criticism is a common theme among people who experience setbacks and difficulties in jobs, college, or relationships. Sometimes this self-criticism leads to a common problem—feelings of failure. Nearly everyone feels that way at one time or another. However, sometimes the feeling is persistent and leads to an overall lack of self-worth and self-acceptance. When a person lacks a general sense of self-acceptance and self-worth, then the failure feeling may become ever-present and serious intervention is necessary. 

Setbacks, relationship issues, and other problems are always a possibility in life, and understanding how to psychologically bounce back can lead to fewer feelings of failure and more self-acceptance. Learning how to change unhelpful thought patterns and discovering methods of building your self-confidence can help improve your mental well-being and the way you feel about yourself.

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A lack of self-compassion can make you feel like a failure

List your successes

Often, people get into the habit of focusing on their failures. It makes sense to a certain degree, because by paying attention to things that didn't go well, you can determine what went wrong, and you can make a new plan to do better next time.

On the other hand, if you focus too much on your failures without acknowledging when you have succeeded, you can end up feeling incompetent. When you feel that way, make a list of your successes. Creating that list will help you realize how distorted your thinking has become.

Stop comparing yourself to others

It is believed that Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Sometimes people judge themselves as a failure because they have not accomplished what they believe others have accomplished

If this describes your thinking, consider stepping back and reminding yourself that you are a unique individual with your own talents and skills to offer the world. You might not be able to do exactly what others do, but by the same token, others might not be able to do what you're capable of doing either.

Take care of your physical needs

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo

Don't discount your need for a healthy diet, a good night's sleep, and adequate exercise. When you don't take care of your physical needs, everything can begin to look dismal. By taking care of yourself, you can feel better quickly, and your thoughts will naturally turn in a positive direction.

Engage in self compassion

Finding ways to be nice to yourself can help limit thoughts of failure. Learn ways to refrain from over-identifying with your negative thoughts. Through over-identifying with thoughts—which are not facts, but opinions—individuals who consistently experience a sense of failure tend to focus on negative thoughts.

Perhaps finding ways to experience good thoughts and change the bad thoughts to good thoughts may help. This might be achieved through cognitive behavioral therapy, which aims to redirect negative thought patterns and encourage critical analysis of negative thinking.

Watch for signs of depression

The feeling of being a failure can be one signal that your mood is dipping toward depression. So, it's imperative that you pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and physical condition. If you notice any of the following signs of depression, you may benefit from discussing your feelings with a licensed professional, such as a therapist.

  • Always feeling sad or empty

  • Feeling tired

  • Feeling guilty

  • Insomnia or sleeping too much

  • No appetite or overeating

  • Loss of interest in the things that usually make you happy

  • Feeling irritable or restless

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Difficulty making decisions

  • Thinking about suicide

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.

Find social support

Individuals who struggle with feelings of failure and inadequacy might find it helpful to identify truly supportive friends and family who express unconditional positive regard. Choose one of these individuals and ask them what they truly value about you. Then think about what they tell you. Allow yourself to really take in the positive messages you receive—and while you may feel uncomfortable accepting their message, remind yourself that they really do see you in this way, and that they care about your well-being.

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A lack of self-compassion can make you feel like a failure

Having the thought, "Why am I such a failure?" doesn't mean that it's true. Only when you stop experiencing emotionally painful feelings can you begin to enjoy your life. As a bonus, you can build off your past successes to accomplish even more than you have in the past. Counselors are available to talk to you right now at BetterHelp.

In addition to being convenient, online therapy is proven by research to be an equally effective form of treatment for several different mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, and more, when compared to face-to-face options.

Takeaway

Feelings of failure or inadequacy do not need to dictate your life. They are common, understandable, and the process of working through them provides an opportunity to grow as an individual. Through steps such as highlighting your successes, disregarding negative thoughts of comparison to others, and engaging in self-compassion, you can instead focus on what is most important—your holistic health and happiness.

You are deserving of positive self-esteem

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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