Sunday, March 29, 2009

Failure Schema

The author of "Emotional Alchemy" says that the FAILURE schema is characterized by "that feeling of being deficient despite our accomplishments". Common roots of the failure schema include "overly critical parents, who make a child feel inept ... constant put-downs ... and constant negative comparisons between (the child) and other children or highly successful parents ... The hallmark of this pattern is feeling like a failure underneath it all, no matter how successful you are. A typical thought is you're just not good enough to succeed at this. Typical emotional reactions to such thoughts are "deep self doubt and anxious sadness ... (This schema) centers on feeling that ones successes are undeserved or one can't succeed at anything, no matter how hard one tries ... (Those feelings) can lead to pushing oneself very hard to do well, despite the constant fear of failure."

"The failure schema can be a self-fulfilling prophecy ... some people to behave in a way that ensures they will not succeed." They may "take an avoidant path--too leery of trying out new skills or taking on the new chalenges that might allow them to succeed. Or they put things off until it's too late, or they manufacture a ready excuse for the failure they anticipate."

(Although) this schema can lead to the thought that you can never succeed, "mindfulnes can help you identify and challenge the internal put-downs that so easily take over your mind, so you can more accurately assess your actual talents and abilities, or accept that your accomplishments are truly deserved."

I only recently realized I have a 'failure' schema. Previously I thought I had a 'perfectionist' schema and pushed myself to perform perfectly. However, I recall that my parents never praised 'perfect' work, but they criticized anything short of perfection and discounted any success as unimportant. So I feared failure more than I strived for perfection.

A week ago I had been working on a garment, which I created from a pattern that was too large for my body. I had altered the pattern somewhat, then sewed the garment, tried on the garment and then altered the garment. After again trying it on, I realized not only did the garment not fit, but my alterations had not addressed the real problem. Furthermore, my alterations made the garment too small. I contemplated altering the pattern to correct the problems I discovered while altering the garment. However, even looking at the garment reminded me that I FAILED AGAIN. That was my second 'failed' garment out of the last 3 garments I attempted. Nevertheless, I didn't realize those 'failure' thoughts until AFTER I binged, an attempt to procrastinate facing my 'failure'. After the binge, I considered why my sewing project triggered 'failure thoughts' and painful emotions.

Then I remembered that every time I brought home a sewing project (from home ec class), my mom would criticize my work, rip out my stitches and resew the project. She also critized how I practiced the piano and would often 'show me' how to play a piece correctly. She discounted my academic success by telling me that I may be good at school but I didn't have any common sense so I would never succeed in life. No matter how much I succeeded she reminded me that my cousin and/or brother were successful in other, more important areas. Even years later whenever I had difficulty with any project, I could hear her criticizing me and telling me I would never succeed at anything important. I feared even a tiny 'failure' would mean she was right, that I would never succeed.

In retrospect I recall that I often binged while working on difficult projects, which I feared I would fail to complete correctly, if at all. Sometimes I worked on projects while I was bingeing, which numbed my fears of failure enough to work on the projects. At other times I used bingeing to procrastinate continuing projects which I believed were doomed to failure. At still other times I would not even attempt projects or activities which I believed I might fail. For example, people often compliment my writing skills and ask why I don't write a book. I remind them that writers endure lots of rejection from publishers before their manuscripts are accepted and published. For me rejection seems like failure.

I have lowered my former perfectionist standards. However the fear of 'failure' still looms over any sewing project I begin. So I try to remind myself that I really don't need any new clothes, but I want to learn to sew. If I complete a garment which doesn't fit well, I at least have learned many new sewing and/or altering techniques. The only failure is failure to try.

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