All around me I see fear of failure and shame associated with failed attempts. Whether its careers, dreams, loves, or talents, I watch as people fail to step out or shrink into despair, all because of shame at “failures” or the potential for “failure.” I certainly have experienced this in my own life. I’ve seen how it held me back from living and I have witnessed the crippling effect it has had on many of my clients.
When did we forget how to walk? Our early years were spent failing in a flurry of persistence and a belief that we could! Now failure is tied to shame, we linger and remain sitting for fear that we will fall again and be ridiculed by our internal judges or the outer ones. It is no accident that psychologists, regardless of theoretical background, view two years of age as critical in development. It is around this time that we learn to walk. One psychologist referred to this period as being a crisis between autonomy and shame. How are his or her acts of independence handled? How are his or her failures? Is there anxiety or anger? The ability to overcome shame can be cemented or destroyed during this time.
I remember one client who was riddled with shame and fear of failure. Making a mistake was an incredibly shaming experience for him. One session we were talking about his moving out of the house and he recounted how years ago he had wanted to move out and his mother told him that she wasn’t sure he was ready and if he did move out, he could never move back in. He said this with pride, demonstrating the wisdom of his parents. I was horrified at the message and saw echoes of his entire childhood in that moment. “You aren’t ready and if you fail you are no longer part of this family.” It was never said out right, but make no mistake, that is how his heart heard it and his heart believed it to be right because it came from his loving parents. It is always amazing to me how many messages we receive and accept as true without question.
That statement was the equivalent of telling a two year old that he can get out of the chair and try to walk but if he falls he will never be carried again. It is crippling. The result- he never walks, never learns, and lives in fear and shame. He believes he should be able to walk without failure and knowing he can’t he is reminded forever that he is not good enough.
I paint this picture because we often live this way. Experiences in our lives have cost us one of the greatest truths- failure must be embraced. We have forgotten what it took to walk and as a result we have been unable to fly.