Losses accumulate over a lifetime. It is said that people worry about finances and finding the right relationship more than anything else. This article presupposes that you have a goal, a plan, and steps to reach it, but you shy away from the work to be done like a horse refusing a jump in a steeplechase.
Perhaps the work to be done looks scary. Maybe you worry about trying and failing. Equally bad, you worry that if you fail once more, you will have to give up the dream of eventual success.
Apart from the disappointment and pain old losses cause us, they remind us that we are powerless in some respects. The first line of defense is to focus on what you can control, such as some resources, some aspects of your circumstances, and your attitude or outlook. Certain habits of mind can help.
- Don’t give up. You haven’t failed as long as you are still trying.
- Remember that failed attempts almost always precede noteworthy successes.
- Be patient. Don’t take no for an answer.
- Encourage yourself. Surround yourself with supportive people.
- Think positive. Look for opportunities that may be just waiting for you to seize them.
Now, you may complain that you have tried all of these things to no avail. You still make no headway on the challenge in question.
Perhaps you procrastinate. Or when you sit down to plan, your mind goes blank. When you start learning a new skill to advance the effort, your brains seem to scramble, so that you can’t absorb or can’t remember what you need to do. You sabotage yourself.
To deal with these problems you need a process. The one described below is your important second line of defense.
- Be healthy, and take good care of the physical plant
- Accept and love yourself
- Establish your values, your goals, and your priorities
- Create a detailed vision of the good life
If you’ve done all of these things and you’re still stuck, take stock of your past experiences. Look for roadblocks that might be costing you time, effort, and money.
Loss-based trauma. Do you browbeat yourself about things that are over and done with? Perhaps you tell yourself, “If only that hadn’t happened, my life would be so much better today!” You know that there are no do-overs, but you can’t seem to move beyond your grief either.
Betrayal or abandonment. You may be haunted by the memory of being deceived or manipulated or simply let down. You may even have cooperated in bringing about the disaster. Your anger is intense.
Traumatic failure to achieve. Do you remember a time when you had your heart set on something? You worked fanatically hard to achieve it. You were confident of success. The universe was going to hand this victory to you! And then it didn’t happen. The loss was so painful that now you are afraid to try again.
The negative emotions associated with these types of trauma hold you captive and prevent you from devoting your energy wholeheartedly to moving forward. Before you can free yourself, you must first find and sit with these emotions.
You may have felt sadness, anger, disappointment, or shame. Did you judge yourself harshly after the fact? Perhaps you blamed yourself. Or maybe you were angry that you ever got your hopes up in the first place. You thought: I should have known better. I don’t deserve to succeed.
An effective way of uncovering the underlying feelings is to visualize the loss. Close your eyes. Picture the moment when your worst fears were being realized.
Where were you? What were you wearing? Who was there with you? When the bad news came down, how did the other people react? What did they say? How did they behave?
As you describe your mental image, it’s especially important to notice the reactions of the other people present. Your interpretation of them suggests not just their responses but your fears about how you looked. What did you say? How did you feel?
Visualizing the scene you may scold yourself constantly. My mistake was unforgivable! you tell yourself and anyone else who will listen. You review the experience again and again in a vain attempt to master it, to take out the sting. Since no one can change the past, you are banging your head against a wall.
At some point, mired in your anger, you must acknowledge the need to let go of the loss. If you step back into the pictured memory, the older and wiser you can reach out to your earlier self with compassion.
Can you see that you did the best you could in that awful moment? Can you see that your knowledge then was limited as compared with what you know now? Can you name the lessons you learned? Can you honor both the suffering and the learning?
Once you have honored the feelings and absorbed the things this negative incident taught you, ask yourself: do you still need the criticism? Shouldn’t you be able to trust yourself more now, given the learning process that you went through?
However bad it was, the situation has a flip side. You got through it. You picked yourself up and dusted yourself off. You exhibited courage and determination. You are a survivor.
There is probably also a positive lesson for you to take away. To find it, ask yourself what your sadness and sense of loss were telling you to do. Do you need to reach out to someone? To take steps to protect yourself better? To approach the challenge once again from a different angle?
In working through this process, making peace with the losses that underlie your fear of failure, it helps to use some of the new mind/body techniques, which interrupt the brain’s response of fear and allow you to proceed more calmly.
Meditation lets you notice and accept things that trouble you instead of running away from your inner distress. Tapping (Emotional Freedom Techniques, or EFT) helps you reprogram your response to emotionally laden events in your past. Yoga and tai chi also promote self-acceptance and the flow of energy.
As you come to terms with past trauma and prepare to move forward, honor yourself and your values. Remember that we always do the best we can all of the time, though in hindsight our best appears better at some times than at others. Treat your younger self with kindness and love. Remind yourself look for ways to act in your own best interest.