We’ve all felt like failures at some point in our lives. Failing at a test, at living up to certain standards, such as being a good parent, friend, employee – or even a failure at life. We know failure happens because we’re human, but yet there can be incredible amounts of shame associated with it. This shame literally kills you. Not only does it increase inflammation markers and your risk of diseases such as heart disease, it also slowly and consistently kills your life spark. That spark that gives you hope, happiness, and a sense of wonder and excitement about the future – things that you have plenty of when you’re a kid.
To me, it’s this loss of spark that’s the most devastating symptom of shame. Without it you lose hope, and with that, there’s no possibility of change, nor is there possibility of happiness or peace. You end up in a place of learned helplessness…a place where you stop trying because you believe you’re a failure and you accept defeat because you feel defeated.
So what can we do? How can you NOT feel shame?
I think the first thing to realize is that who you are is much more than your successes/failures. When we tie our self-worth and self-identity to our goals and achievements, we become slaves to them. This is something that has helped me through some tough times. Who are you other than a graduate of a good school and a manager at work? Are you caring? Are you fun? Are you creative? What do you do to support these characteristics, and do you do them often enough to feel like they’re tied to your identity? For example, if you’re creative, but you haven’t done anything artsy in 10 years, then your creativity isn’t tied to your identity or self-worth. Start investing in other aspects of your self-identity that aren’t linked to your failures or goals you haven’t achieved.
Another important thing to realize is that success and failure are not polar opposites, but rather tightly intertwined. You truly don’t attain one without the other. And as I sit here writing this, I’m realizing that as I view them closer, it becomes ambiguous as to which is which because each success can bring with it difficulty and tragedy, and each failure can bring strength, self-worth and prosperity. What we have to remind ourselves is that success and failure are not linear, but circular. What we have to do is change our attitude to this process.
Dr. Rahim Kanji
Dr. Rahim Kanji is a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Toronto, Canada. He has a passion for evidence-based natural medicine, specifically empowering his patients to make nutritional changes which create dramatic impacts to their health. For more information, visit his website at www.rahimkanjind.com.