Core Fear: Being Attacked & Rejected for Failing
Strategy: You believe that you will fail – that is just the way it works. However, in order to prevent someone else from attacking you when you fail, you have to ensure that the other person cannot expect anything from you. Therefore, you will apologies for failing before you even try!
Power Game: My failure is control over others: By destroying another person’s expectations of you, you prevent that person from hurting me. Being wrong is the only way you can feel right. Your self-esteem = being a constant loser: “You see, I was right”!
Key Problem: You say that you want to be happy and be successful. However, success and ‘good things’ create enormous anxiety for you, because you fundamentally expect things not to work out. You are only comfortable when things are not working out for you – at least you can deal with that. To succeed is to be anxious.
Body Impact: You tend to try and avoid calling attention to yourself and what you say. It is not uncommon for you to cover your mouth when speaking, and to look downwards to avoid contact with other people. You may even dress, talk, and act in a way that puts yourself down, just so that people do not expect much from you.
Outcome: When you insist that you are not good enough for long enough, people start to believe you, particularly when you sabotage any success that comes your way. As a result, you are rejected for being exactly what you say you are: A failure.
Development & Decisions
The development of this Shadow follows almost exactly the same process as described in
the Arrogance Shadow, including the criticism from one parent, and being told that you
are somehow ‘special’. Please note that being told that you are special does not mean
that you feel special.
Before you acquired the Unworthy Shadow, you had developed the Arrogance Shadow.
However, at some point the expectations or standards you were striving towards in order
to be ‘perfect’, became too much. This was either due to unrelenting criticism –
regardless of how hard you tried to be perfect – or the standards set by your parents were
very vague, too high, or changed all the time. Alternatively, you did or said something
that destroyed any illusion of being ‘good’ or ‘perfect’. Therefore, at some point, you
decided that “No matter what I do, now matter how hard I try, I fail. There is nothing I
can do to prevent failing in their eyes”. It was at this point that your Arrogant Shadow
converted into the Unworthy Shadow.
It was at this point that you began developing a rather clever method for dealing with the
situation: If you can’t win with mother/father because their expectations were too high,
then the obvious thing to do is to destroy those expectations of you. Instead of trying to
obtain their approval – which you believed you could not obtain – the next best thing to
do was to avoid their disapproval for failing. How? The solution was simple: Tell them
that you are a failure – apologies for it – and prove it. This forces them to lift the burden
of expectations from your shoulders. After all, if you can’t win their love by being
perfect, at least you can force them to look after you by being helpless. Where you used
to believe that you need to be perfect to be special, you now base your ‘special-ness’
upon your inadequacies. You now demand attention for being obviously imperfect!
Therefore, you have to avoid success at all costs. “If I succeed, then other people will
expect more, which I will fail at. I can’t keep up with the success. I had better not start”.
This is how the fear of success develops.
You learn that you can be ‘right’ about being a loser, and that this identity can
manipulate others. Thus develops an internal reward for failing and not trying, and you
begin to avoid leadership, strive for mediocrity, and find ways to hide: I can’t do it and
I’ll predict my failure ahead of time, then at least I can be right about that”. Part of this
new identity is to learn to criticize yourself. Your self-talk is a constant put-down: “I am
stupid …”, “I can’t do anything right … I should never have been born…”, or “If I can’t
beat them, I’ll join them in being critical of me. I despise me too”.
Then you learn how to make yourself small and hide, in order to avoid negative attention
or criticism. You begin to physically breathe shallowly, shrink you head down into your
shoulders, look down with your eyes, curve your shoulders forward and down, and fold
your arms over your solar plexus to protect yourself. Your voice gets quieter, and you
begin to move quietly without being noticed. You try to become invisible: “If I am
small, no-one will expect anything from me”.
Consequences in Adulthood
One of the more damaging aspects of this Shadow is in relationships: Often a person
with this Shadow will get involved with abusive or self-destructive people because they
do not believe they deserve anything better. Also, you may literally ‘need’ someone to
be abusive of you – how else are you going to avoid success and being happy?
Another possibility is total obedience to authority figures, doing everything you are told
to do without question, and accepting any unfairness to yourself or others, because ‘that
is what they deserve’. You may view unfair labour practices, such as lower wages for
women, without question, simply because that is the way it is, or should be.
Another possibility is that you may readily accept abuse of your body by others, or even
by yourself. You may also put yourself down, such as degrading yourself in front of
others in terms of making jokes about your baldness, weight, breast or penis size. The
whole point of this is to make a point of pointing out your imperfections so that other
people do not point it out first. An interesting aspect of this is an obsession with details:
You work hard to do something, and then you go over the details, checking and rechecking.
The reason is because, in your gut, you know that there must be a mistake
somewhere – it’s the way it always is. You waste an enormous amount of time on such
detail, and consequently fail to meet deadlines.
Most people with the Shadow can attest to having the feeling of tremendous anxiety –
even panic for no apparent reason. This is referred to as ‘Free Floating Anxiety’. No
matter how hard you try to find the cause, there just isn’t one! Ironically, the cause of
the anxiety is the fact that NOTHING is wrong! The fact that your life is OK – which is
completely contrary to what you believe it should be (failure), creates a sense of “When is
the other shoe going to drop – this can’t last – nothing good lasts – it’s not natural!”
And when something does go wrong, there is an enormous sense of relief: “At least this
is the way it should be – I can deal with this”.
At another level, you may rush around seeking answers to the meaning of life from
‘experts’, simply because you do not feel that your own thoughts and feelings are worth
anything. You may allow other people to run the show, take leadership positions, even
when they are not capable, simply because you do not feel that you can speak out, nor are
you capable of leadership. Then you beat yourself up for being such a coward for
allowing this to happen. Even if you have a highly developed value system, you may
allow maniacs to run the show, because you lack confidence in your own leadership
Health: Suppressed anger weakens the immune system. Neglect of body and health – why bother?
Creativity: Energy wasted on depression and self-hatred leaves little energy for creativity.
Presence: You will not hear compliments, so the other person feels unheard. A compliment is experienced as fearful, not pleasure. Where’s the catch?
Relationships: Devastating effects on relationships. You are passive, and your insistence upon your inadequacy leads to the exhaustion of your partner in trying to support your esteem. Loss of respect by partner.
Spiritual Life: You turn religion into a self-destroying weapon. You believe that you are not worth saving, nor worth attention, not worth listening to – you are an absolute, hopeless sinner who can not be saved. You confuse humility (all equally worthy) with unworthiness (I am less than others).
How to Deal With the Unworthy Shadow
Your primary task is to reveal your true ‘special ness’
At some point you need to recognize that there is no such thing as ‘always’ or
‘everything’ or ‘never’, to describe yourself. You may have failed in specific instances;
however, there are plenty of successes which you totally ignore. So what if you do not
measure up to someone else’s picture of perfection – even your own! Are you going to
remain stuck in past, obsessing only about the ‘bad’ things?
Has it ever occurred to you that you that the person who hurts you the most is yourself?
Whose attention and sympathy do you get when you put yourself down? If you do not
love and forgive yourself, no matter what, is it possible that you can love someone else?
You cannot give what you do not have. Get some self-respect and self-love before you
even consider loving someone else.
- Stop apologizing – immediately! Take responsibility (responsibility = the ability to respond) for your own actions, good and bad. Stop wallowing in self-abuse and self-pity. Not only is it not very attractive, but it is totally unproductive, and serves no-one, including yourself.
- When you are given a compliment, say ‘Thank you’, no matter what the compliment is, or whether you believe it to be true or not.
- When things go well, simply be grateful. Enjoy these gifts of happiness.
- List your accomplishments, no matter how big or small. Then ask yourself: “Do I always fail?’ Check the facts.
- Lift your head up, and straighten you back. Pull back your shoulders. Speak up. So what if someone does not approve! A job half done is better than a job not done at all.
- Stop – Look – Acknowledge what works – Correct only what doesn’t work – Act again. Failure is only incomplete success.