“I am Achieving Success but Experiencing Failure”

These were the words of a client today when I was working with him. How many of us have felt this at some point in our lives? To the outside world we may be most successful but deep inside we feel like a failure? Nothing seems to be as good or great as others see it from outside and while logically we have all the reasons to feel successful – and that success should have made us feel joyful, exuberant, happy, proud and accomplished, we are actually feeling unhappy, helpless, frustrated and let down by our own selves, our work or our families ?

This happens when our outer world and inner worlds are not in sync. The outer world is the world we create for others to see – our behavior, our achievements, our accomplishments and everything that is defined as success – from the worlds point of view.  The outer world is also our logical, judgmental, rational mind that also compares and evaluates – we have all the logical reasons to feel we happiness and we have everything working for us, but…….

The inner world is our own world of our deep-rooted emotions, feelings and thoughts about ourselves and our experiences. When we have strong inner critics or judges within us, we have voices in our head that say we will never be good enough, when we have beliefs like “I have to always be perfect in order to be loved” or ‘Nothing is good enough for me” or “I have to do something extraordinary in order to be accepted” then these cause our inner worlds be filled with shame, guilt, low self-esteem, and a perpetual dissatisfaction with ourselves. In order to fill the void of being unloved or unaccepted, we strive to constantly seek perfection, to keep getting better, we compare, we fall short, we keep trying harder and it never ends!

Often times we achieve things to prove that we are not stupid, or inadequate or insignificant – because if we didn’t, we would be made to feel so! In such cases also achievement and success are just a means to cope and rebel against a belief that we want to prove wrong. It comes from polarization. This too, is not the real achievement but one created in a polarization in order to cope.

This has its roots in childhood. Growing up in an environment with highly critical and judgmental or disciplinarian parents/caretakers can be the beginning of shame and guilt based inner conditioning. When child is constantly compared, always appreciation upon achievements (and not otherwise) or constantly corrected and made to feel he/she needs to keep improving, then the child learns non-acceptance of self from early age. These critical judgmental words that were the parents, now get internalized and become the inner voice of the child and the adult.

Children growing up with such inner or outer voices of harsh judgements or criticisms often grow up as high achievers, perfectionists and highly driven people – hard on others and harder on themselves! Nothing satisfies them, nothing is up to their standard – not even their own accomplishments! They often carry forward this legacy and pass it on their children – who also grow up associating their self-worth with their achievements – and these are never enough.

In the beginning this strife for perfection and achievements give good results – child feels loved, appreciated, proud, confident etc. but the all this is done for that acceptance or love that the child deserves anyways! When the root of the behavior is a coping structure, it seldom lasts forever in its positive format – and soon enough the same attitude that gave results will now become a burden. It will be the very basis for dissatisfaction and depression! What starts out as a coping structure to feel loved, appreciated and accepted now becomes the noose around the neck – and soon the price paid overweighs the payoffs received.

This is when moving into acceptance helps. Acceptance of our own little selves who were not perfect, not always good, not always achieving. Accepting and appreciating that child within us, without any expectation or conditions attached, frees up the child from the burden of being perfect. When the child within us is free, we are free too! Thus, we bring the inner world and the outer world in sync, in harmony! Recognizing our REAL SELVES, the innocent, vibrant, vivacious, curious, fun loving parts of ours that were suppressed by the harsh critical over achieving parts – need to be reclaimed! We need to learn how to connect with our TRUE SELVES – devoid of our successes and achievements.

Often times I ask clients “what would you be, if you didn’t have all this money, fame or position? Would you still love yourself?” “Can you love that part of you that may not really want to do anything great, who just wants to be ordinary and still be happy?” “Will it take for you to love and accept that part of you which may not be perfect, intelligent or smart, which may be sloppy or happy go lucky and shy?” That really brings out their deepest fears, insecurities and coping structures created around these fears – and then we are able to gently heal them and bring them into acceptance!

I had a client who had constantly strived to achieve everything to prove to his parents that he was worthy of being the son of a famous father – and all along the child part of him that was really not such an achiever was neglected. He reached point in life when whatever he had achieved didn’t make any sense to him, he felt blocked, disillusioned and depressed. When he realized that he had done all this only to be loved and accepted as a child, he realized the futility of it all. When he loves and accepted his own inner child for who he truly was – a simple, unambitious happy go lucky little boy who just wanted to lead a simple life – he found peace. Then onwards whatever he chose to do or not do came from his true being, and not the one created in order to be loved and accepted. Then whatever he achieved from that space, however insignificant, he was able to ‘experience’ it fully!

Experiencing success means feeling joyful, happy, vivacious, proud and genuinely happy about whatever we have done – from within! And this has nothing to do with what the outer world believes!

Riri G Trivedi

Therapist, Trainer & Life Coach