Written by Shannon,
7 Minute Read
Medically reviewed by:
Erin O'Callaghan, PHD
Director of Therapy
10 Minute Read
*Content warning: This article mentions self-destructive behaviors including self-injury.
A missed deadline. A bad grade. An argument with a friend. These are just a few of many different stressors that can easily make you feel self-critical. It’s easy to beat yourself up over every little thing, but this negative perception can have equally negative effects.
When people are self-critical about their short-term failures, they can become anxious about future goals, work performances, and social interactions. All of which can negatively affect their well-being.
So, what do you do when you’re feeling like a failure? The first step is to acknowledge the why’s and underlying issues.
Why Do I Feel Like a Failure?
We’ve all made a mistake and talk ourselves down by our own inner voice.
“How could I be so stupid?”
“I’m such a loser”
“I can’t do anything right.”
If any of those statements sound familiar, you may have a critical inner voice.
A critical inner voice is a series of negative thoughts and attitudes towards oneself. It’s those thoughts that discourage you from acting in your own best interest. They may stem from an isolated event, such as losing a job or messing up on a project. However, they may also stem from mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.
Why is Being Self-Critical Harmful?
If you constantly reprimand yourself with intrusive, negative, and hurtful thoughts, you may begin engaging in maladaptive behaviors. These can stop you from adapting to new or difficult circumstances, often leading to a self-destructive pattern.
One of the most common maladaptive behaviors is avoidance. For example, if you perform poorly on a test and make yourself feel angry and defeated, you may call in sick for the next one. While this seems like a logical way to relieve anxiety, this can actually cause a lot more stress down the road, as the repercussions of missing that test may be significant.
However, being continually self-critical may also lead to self-destructive behaviors such as self-injury, eating disorders, or substance abuse. Self-harmful behaviors can be difficult to understand, but they are typically used to stop negative emotions from intensifying and punish onesful for perceived badness.
Drinking, using drugs, over-eating, or self-injuring oneself are dangerous ways to cope with feelings of failure. It is important to help switch your perception and behaviors towards positivity. Overdrinking or eating, for example, are ways in which people “numb” or avoid coping with negative emotions such as anxiety and depression. Engaging in these avoidant coping strategies are unhealthy and are a sign that you need professional mental health treatment.
How To Stop Feeling Like a Failure
The first thing to know is that your feelings are valid. You should never be ashamed, embarrassed, or angry at yourself because of the way you feel.
The emotional and physical toll that self-criticism can have on your body can be intense. Try using some of these simple techniques to remind yourself how amazing you really are.
Value Who You Are
Making mistakes is a part of life and everyone makes them. But those isolated instances are not representative of who you are as a whole. It’s important to focus on who you are rather than what you do.
Take some time to focus on the traits about yourself that make you feel like “you.” Think about the positive traits that have made you so attractive to other people. Maybe it’s your determination, sense of humor, glimmering smile, organization, or trustworthiness. Make a list on paper to physically see all of the things about yourself that make you stand out.
When you reflect on these traits, the chances are that you’ll want to exemplify and nurture them. Keep the list nearby for times when you’re feeling like a failure to remind yourself that you are anything but.
Practice an Attitude of Gratitude
Your perceptions can have a direct influence on your behaviors and outward persona. When you act negatively towards yourself, you may start to look at the world around you in a darker light as well. It may start to feel like nothing is going right, or you may start to feel hopeless.
Having an attitude of gratitude can help you focus on everything that you do have, allowing you to switch your perception. For example, instead of thinking about how a bad grade will ruin your school trajectory, switch the lens.
Think about how you now know what to do to perform better next time around. You may also want to meet with your professor, which can help you build a stronger relationship that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Changing the perception is key to ensuring that you don’t fall into a spiral of self-critique. It will allow you to keep moving forward, improving your productivity and reducing your feelings of stress later on.
When you’re feeling like a failure, it’s tough to shake those emotions. They can become inundating, causing you to focus on your stressors rather than your tasks at hand. A way to help knock those emotions is to get your mind off of them for a while.
Exercise is proven to be beneficial to your mental health because it can stimulate nerve connection, increase the availability of neurotransmitters, and release endorphins that enhance your sense of wellbeing. But on top of that, it will help distract you from the stressors that are causing you to feel like a failure in the first place.
Going for a brisk walk, jog, bike ride, or hike are healthy ways to improve your body inside out while also giving you some time to let your negative feelings subside. Chances are by the end of your routine, you’ll be feeling good as new.
Spend Some Time With Others
Humans are social creatures that feed off of the energy of one another. Surrounding yourself with a positive support system is a wonderful way to remind yourself of how amazing you really are.
When you can look around and see the people who genuinely love to be around you, it can help show that you are not a failure in any sense. Not to mention, social interaction can help take your mind off of your intrusive thoughts and let you feel a much needed reprieve for a little while.
Seek Professional Help
Sometimes, feeling like a failure has underlying causes beyond lifestyle habits like a lack of exercise or not spending enough time with others.
Depression and anxiety are two mental health conditions that can lead to negative thinking patterns where an individual feels like they are a failure or that they’re not good enough. When this is the case, seeking professional help from a therapist can be beneficial — cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular involves implementing strategies to fight negative thoughts.
Feeling like a failure is a common byproduct of having a critical inner voice. While beating yourself up over mistakes is normal, it’s important to diminish those feelings before they develop into self-destructive behaviors like avoidance or self-harm.
To reduce your intrusive thoughts, it’s important to value who you are rather than what you do. Furthermore, try practicing an attitude of gratitude to keep your eyes on everything that is most important to you. You can also try exercising for fast relief from these sensations, or maybe try spending some time with friends or family.
It’s important to note that these tips are just a few ways to try to alleviate your inner critical voice. If you experience feelings of hopelessness or guilt that are persistent and inundating, it may be a sign of something more serious, and it may be time to seek professional help.
Taking the step towards recovery is hard, but we’re here for you every step of the way.
Click here to start your free assessment — we’ll recommend a personalized treatment recommendation and pair you with an expert provider to help address your symptoms and help you get back to feeling like you again.