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I Failed, But I'm Not A Failure

Over the past two weeks, we learned about why Alison and Max negatively reacted to losing a client. In today’s blog, we’re going to check-in with Dave. As a reminder, after losing the client, Dave thought to himself, “I’m a complete failure for not being able to sign this client.” He then felt so ashamed about his performance that he went home early to binge watch Game of Thrones. If you’re curious, I’m told that he finally caught up on the series! (Yay!...I guess??).

In REBT speak, Dave is demonstrating a type of thinking called Self-Downing, which is a type of thinking that is characterized by making global negative evaluations about oneself. In other words, Self-Downing involves putting yourself down, or making negative judgments about yourself. Sometimes we also engage in Life-Downing and Other-Downing, because we aren’t only hard on ourselves, but also on life and other people too. As we learned in previous blogs, Self-Downing is a type of Irrational Belief. As a reminder, Irrational Beliefs are defined as being rigid, illogical, and not based in reality. Why do Self-Downing beliefs fall into this category? Let’s take a look at Dave as an example:

When Dave’s team failed to sign the client, he equated this failure at work as meaning that he is a complete (100%) failure. Dave thought that since he failed at signing a client that he is a failure in life. This type of thinking is not only illogical, but also not based in reality! We are complex creatures, who do good things (and sometimes bad things), who have positive qualities (and also some negative ones)- but the bad doesn’t cancel out the good. Just because Dave failed to sign the client, it doesn’t mean that he’s a 100% complete failure in life. Over the course of his career, Dave has signed numerous clients, spent weekends volunteering at a local animal shelter, and mentored new employees at the company. All three of these behaviors are the opposite of how we would define a failure. So, it doesn’t make sense logically to evaluate himself as a complete failure of a person just because Dave failed to sign one client.

When we globally rate ourselves, we are saying that if we do “good” things, then we are a “good” person and then we feel happy. However, the moment we evaluate something that we do as “bad,” then we label ourselves as a “bad” person and we feel ashamed, depressed, anxious, etc. If you maintain this perspective, the view you have of yourself is constantly changing from one extreme to the next. Basically, you’re sending yourself on an emotional roller coaster. Think about it this way- if the sink in your apartment breaks, do you say that the whole building should be condemned? Of course not! You fix the sink! If you do something not so great, does it make sense to condemn yourself as a complete failure of a human being? Nope!!

In life, we sometimes do bad things and sometimes we do good things. However, in REBT, we avoid making an overgeneralization that what we do equates to our worth or value as a person. The alternative to Self-Downing is a Rational Belief called Self-Acceptance. In REBT, acceptance refers to accepting the things that you cannot change (i.e., the fact that you lost a client) and working to change what is in your control (i.e., trying to improve upon your pitch), such as how we behave or react to situations. Acceptance doesn’t mean liking or condoning- I don’t expect Dave to think positively or feel happy about losing a client. However, if Dave can accept that he lost the client, and also recognize that, “Just because I lost a client, that doesn’t mean I’m a 100% failure in life, it just means that I failed at signing a client,” he would feel less ashamed. As a result, he’d be much more motivated to find a solution to remediate this dilemma, instead of just avoiding work.

What does this all mean? When you engage in Self-Downing, you are defining yourself by one negative behavior or characteristic. Defining your value or worth based on one quality, or one behavior, leads to unhelpful and self-defeating emotions (i.e., shame). Since we are comprised of infinite “good” and “bad” characteristics/behaviors, it is impossible to define yourself by just one! The more we believe in these negative evaluations, the more upset and distraught we become, and the more helpless we may feel about changing (i.e., if you really believe that you’re complete failure, why would you even try to succeed?). As a result, Self-Downing beliefs often hamper our motivation to change the things that are within our control, such as how we react in the face of adversity. It is much more helpful to: recognize that we aren’t our behaviors, to accept what is outside of our control, and work toward changing those behaviors or characteristics that are getting in the way of success and progress.

I’ll see you back her next Wednesday where we tackle the last of the remaining Irrational Beliefs and meet a new friend along the way.

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