PREPARING FOR SUCCESS AND FAILURE
As we noted in our post of 2/16, success and failure are the two great imposters in life. Success would have you believe you are better than you really are; failure would have you believe you are worse than you really are. Success fosters arrogance, narcissism, and lack of perseverance. Failure fosters low self-esteem, bullying, and social withdrawal.
Parents like to insure success for their kids, believing that the more success they experience, the more confidence and self-esteem they will have as adults. Thus we see “helicopter parents” hover over their kids keeping a watchful eye and working to shield them from failure and having to face the consequences of bad decisions.
The fact is, children who only experience success actually develop low self-esteem and a low tolerance for frustration. They believe they are above rules and rationalize their failures as the fault of others.
A student was fired from his work study position as a cashier in the university cafeteria. Seems someone saw him pilfering cash from the register. The kid was also suspended from the university for a semester. He appealed and he and his father showed up in the Dean’s office to make their case. The kid denied everything, claiming someone was out to get him. Dad said, “I believe my boy!”
The Dean played security camera footage for them, clearly showing the boy swiping the money. Incredibly, the father said, “OK, he took some money because he was a little short. But he intended to pay it back.” Are you kidding us dad? Seriously?
The Dean replied, “Your appeal is denied. Young man you are suspended for one semester. Considerate yourself fortunate that we will not press charges with the police.”
Sheltering yourself and others from failure does not foster psychological growth. Virtually all people who experience a psychological disorder spend a lot of time trying to avoid unpleasant events, which gets them into a lot of trouble, psychologically speaking. Avoidance of challenges and issues facing you will lead to ineffective coping.
One reason you can get into self-defeating avoidance actions is because when you’re faced with conflict, your fears and anxieties are aroused. These negative emotions are very discomforting and it is natural to want to avoid them. Who wants to experience negative things? Positive things are much more fun! The ironic thing, however, is that negative experiences have more powerful effects on you than positive experiences. Simply put, you learn more from negative than from positive events.
Consider some of these research results:
—-It is more devastating to lose $1,000 than it is pleasant to gain $1,000.
—-Quality of a marriage is linked more strongly to negative actions than to positive ones.
—-Sexual problems have a greater effect on marital satisfaction than good sexual functioning.
—-The bad effects of negative social interactions with others are stronger and last longer than the good effects of positive social interactions.
—-Poor health has a strong negative impact on life satisfaction; good health has little influence on how happy we feel.
Trying to avoid unpleasant events can be counterproductive because you can potentially learn a lot more from these events than from events in your comfort zone. For instance, you may be more comfortable avoiding a stressful job interview, but in the long run that interview may teach you a lot about yourself.
Avoidance of psychological pain is at the core of most psychological problems. Furthermore, people who suffer from chronic psychological conditions try to change or control others to avoid pain. The only reasonable alternative is accepting the reality of life while choosing life paths that have meaning and purpose. Many life problems have no perfect solution. Your best option is to accept life, yourself, and others even when these things can be unpleasant. It is important to remember, however, that this type of acceptance does not mean giving up or quitting; it means taking a realistic orientation to life that is focused on what you can directly control: your thoughts and behavior.
Nancy, a middle-aged woman, came to counseling saying she was depressed and her marriage was failing. She complained about her pessimistic outlook on life, and dependency on many psychiatric medications. Nancy said her life was pretty stable until ten years earlier, when one of her children was burned in a house fire. Both her in-laws died in the fire. During this time her husband also had periods of unemployment.
Nancy began seeing both psychologists and psychiatrists. The latter prescribed a “cocktail” of prescription medicines including Trazadone, Celexa, Klonopin, and Seroquel. The psychological counseling encouraged Nancy to understand that she had been engaging in a futile effort to escape and avoid her difficulties.
She began to accept both her past and present psychological suffering, and to realize that her life was pretty good overall. She saw that her guilt over making her family suffer was adding to her burden, and she needed to forgive herself. She worked to develop a clearer sense of her personal values, and decide what was important to her now. She realized she was choosing to be depressed and pessimistic, instead of appreciating her husband, children and other positive things in her life.
Nancy decided to become more positive and accepting in her life. Just because she had suffered some personal traumas, she could not expect the corners of her world to be padded for her. She was mired in self-pity and was dependent on medications. As she became more accepting of her life and focused on her values and priorities, her husband and children began to spend more time with her. The entire family became mutually involved in everyday activities, discussion, and planning. Eventually she was weaned off all her medications, and she said she felt more alert and more emotionally focused than she had in years.