Feel like a constant failure? How to stop being your own worst critic

Failure is an f-word we can all relate to. Even today, as you read this, it’s likely you’ve felt like you failed on some level: Whether it’s work, as a parent, on a health or fitness goal – or even managing to leave the house with tights that don’t have a hole in the toe.

It seems celebrities aren’t immune, either. Recently, singer and presenter (and Strictly star) Frankie Bridge said in an interview with OK! Magazine: “If you ask me today if I think I’m a failure I’d say no, but ask me tomorrow and I might say yes. That could be down to anything. I might feel like a failure in friendships, in relationships, with my kids, as a mum, at work, anything.”

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Well... after all the stressing about turning 30... 🎉turns out I’m actually pretty stoked about it!!! 30 has been well and truly embraced!!! 💃#ootd #birthday #dirty30

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We’d all immediately rush to say Bridge is no failure. Just like our friends would to us – and we would to our friends. So why do we put this badge on ourselves? And now can we try to overcome it?

Bridge has opened up in the past about her struggles with depression – and she’s, by far, not the only woman in the spotlight to have done so.

Former Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton revealed she became very depressed after having to pull out of her Everest attempt, as part of Our Everest Challenge With Ben Fogle & Victoria Pendleton for ITV (Fogle did make the full ascent).

Pendleton’s health had deteriorated dangerously due to hypoxia, and the lack of oxygen can also trigger depression – but her feelings of failure and anger at the situation were clear to see in the show.

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It has been a difficult transition back to normality after Everest. The physical and psychological effects of hypoxia and the extreme environment have left me empty. I was diagnosed with depression and have been suffering from anxiety. I have experienced low times in the past but never to this degree. I have a whole new appreciation and understanding of the debilitating symptoms, and a greater empathy to others. I feel hesitant to say out loud that I’m feeling much better, as I was really caught out by it all and don’t want to find myself in the next moment hijacked again. I will however say this with the upmost confidence, I am incredibly overwhelmed by the love and compassion I have received, from those close to me but also from relative strangers that have noticed I’m struggling and offered their kindness and help. Thank you. I am trying my hardest to feel more like myself and rest assured I will be open and honest about it all in the media and in public. First I have my twin brothers wedding at the end of the week and enjoying that is my number one priority right now. Vx

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Chloe Brotheridge, a hypnotherapist, anxiety expert and author of The Anxiety Solution (calmer-you.com), says it’s completely normal to feel this way. “But we suffer needlessly from it. It comes down to, in parts, perfectionism and feeling like we have these incredibly high standards for ourselves and compare ourselves with the idea of ‘perfect’. There’s also a fear of success, which can almost be as big a problem as fear of failure,” says Brotheridge.

“We worry: What if we can’t keep this up? What if we’re successful and can’t sustain it, will people alienate us? Sometimes that can be in the back of our minds. It’s human nature to compare ourselves, and in modern times, we are constantly exposed to what people are doing. We see their ‘highlight reel’, and it’s not natural for us to know the ins and outs of everyone’s lives.”

Trying not to even let the word ‘failure’ into your mind is something that works for Pamela Sommers (pamelasommers.com), who came across a lot of feelings of failure when she wrote her book, Life Lessons From A 40-something.

“Think of failure as part of a process – that changes the position of it a bit,” Sommers suggests. “Try replacing the word failure with the word mistake. Then it’s not so magnified, as everyone makes mistakes.

“Feeling like a failure can stem from feeling embarrassed and worrying what others think of you,” adds Sommers – something those in the public eye may feel more keenly. “But it’s not going to be there forever, and I’ve come to realise that everybody is busy thinking about themselves, and that takes the pressure off you.”

When it comes to our work lives, failure can be a big deal if you’re considering setting up your own business. “People might think, ‘What if it is successful and I suddenly have staff to handle and I can’t cope with it?’,” says Brotheridge.

Parenting is huge, of course, and what about physical goals, like that 10k PB or nailing that yoga pose? Being perfect isn’t always attainable – and, experts agree, the sooner we realise that, the better it’ll be.

“You have to step into the shoes of a good friend and think what you’d say to them in that position,” advises Brotheridge. “We’d be able to be kind and loving and rational and point out the successes within in the failure, but we’re not able to see that ourselves.”

Jessica Boston (jessicaboston.com), a cognitive hypnotherapist, says she meets clients every day who are battling feelings of failure. But she also nods to that all-important flip side the others speak of: That the biggest fear is often of success.

“We make ourselves small and find ourselves creating the outcome of our failure. Investigate if there is a reason why you’re keeping yourself away from the thing you want?”

Is your fear of failure really a fear of unknown success? (Thinkstock/PA)

Changing vocabulary is important, too. Like saying ‘you’re fat’ or ‘ugly’ to yourself, saying you’re a failure negatively reinforces that view.

“The label, ‘I’m a failure’, needs to go,” says Brotheridge. “A person cannot be a failure. You might have failed at a project or failed at a goal, but that doesn’t mean you are a failure. Ask, ‘What is the lesson?’ – because if you have learned from it, you haven’t lost.”

Boston agrees that how we talk to and about ourselves makes a big difference. “Even in a joke, negative self-talk all goes in, and the unconscious is always listening. If you’re calling yourself a failure, it’ll look for evidence you’re a failure, and keep feeding you that evidence,” she says.

As the well-know poem by Erin Hanson goes: “And you ask: ‘What if I fall?’ Oh but my darling, what if you fly?”

- Press Association

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