As a therapist I see many different ways that people set themselves up for failure. Sometimes they do it intentionally out of fear or because they gain something else by failing. But sometimes they do it unintentionally. They set an expectation or standard for themselves that simply can’t be met.
So if this is done unintentionally, where do those expectations come from? They can come from a lot of places but they seem to end up in one specific place. In our heads. When I work with clients they often start talking about how they have “failed” at some part of life or with some behavior. When we dig deeper one things becomes clear. They have a picture in there head of how “it is supposed to be.”
Actually, we probably all have those pictures. We measure ourselves against those to see how we are doing and where we want to improve. The trouble is when those pictures are unrealistic. That’s what I see too often. The pictures of how things are “supposed to be” are simply not accurate. They expect perfection or they expect a level of performance that is super human. They seem to think that everyone else is achieving those levels.
When someone has those unrealistic pictures then they are constantly “failing” since they can’t really be achieved. It is no wonder that they get down on themselves. They are exhausted from the effort and finally get to the point of why even try?
When clients finally express these pictures out loud it is possible to begin holding up evidence to show how unrealistic they are. Sometimes just saying it out loud is enough for someone to realize that what made so much sense in their head sounds ridiculous when said out loud. Other times it takes repeated efforts to chip away at the pictures, continually presenting evidence that the expectations of “how it should be” are not consistent with how real life works.
Having more realistic pictures allows us to have room for more compassion for ourselves. When we make mistakes or fall all little short our picture tells us that it happens sometimes. We can forgive ourselves and feel good about trying again.
Our society doesn’t always encourage talking and sharing of thoughts and emotions. But by sharing the pictures in your head with other people you can get feedback about how reasonable the pictures are are. You can adjust your pictures to be more realistic. When those pictures are realistic life becomes a lot less overwhelming. Try it and see.