*(The examples provided below are composite cases, synthesizing disguised information and not any patient in particular)*

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. From living up to the demands of our careers, body images, etc., we feel that we have a lot to live up to. In my experience, clients feel that what they’re doing is inadequate. Throughout their lives, they face pressure from their parents, partners, or peers to do more. They feel that the only way to make themselves and others happy is to achieve grand results. What often happens is that the standards that they set for themselves are so difficult to reach, it makes it impossible for them to achieve these goals. As a result, they take their disappointment out on themselves.  

I want to introduce you to a client named Mike. Mike is in his 30s and works in the engineering field. Mike was recently up for a promotion that could help in achieving his goal of earning a leadership position like his father before he turned 40. Unfortunately, after a few rounds of interviews, Mike did not receive the promotion. During sessions, Mike would describe himself as feeling like he wasn’t good enough, that he was a failure, and would never achieve his goals.  Additionally, Mike felt that he was letting his father down by not getting the promotion.  What Mike didn’t realize was that at the time, he was not only struggling with not getting the promotion and disappointing his father, but he was also beating himself up. In essence, Mike was compounding the results of him not getting the promotion. He was equating the fact that he was passed up to his self-worth, making it that much harder to move on.  

Are we allowed to feel sad when things don’t work out in our way? Of course. But when we take the news out on ourselves, it lays the foundation for negative coping skills (which in Mike’s case was negative self-talk). However, if we’re able to approach our goals with a healthy strategy, we can cope with things in a far more efficient manner. So, what do we do?

  1. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself questions: Is the goal I’m setting for myself realistic? Can I do this? Etc. 
  2. Understand why you’re setting these goals. Is the goal you’re setting something you want to do? Or is it an attempt to please others? If so, please look at step 3.
  3. Set boundaries. If we’re looking to achieve things solely to please others, it can turn into an extremely toxic relationship. Where the individual you’re looking to please controls how it is you’re feeling. As a result, you find yourself constantly seeking validation from this individual. By saying to yourself that I’m setting this goal for myself and not to please others, gives you autonomy over what it is that you’re doing. 
  4. Acknowledge what you currently have. When we’re faced with setbacks, we tend to look at only the negatives. But when we’re focused on the positive aspects of our lives, it gives us the ability to show gratitude for what we have and helps us move forward.

When Mike was able to incorporate the steps listed above, he was able to see how much he was trying to gain validation from his father. Additionally, by focusing solely on the negatives of not getting the promotion and beating himself up, Mike was unable to acknowledge the fact that he was already in a secure and well-paying position. Not only that, but Mike would also be eligible for the exact or similar promotion in the next 1-2 years. Once Mike gained this perspective, he was able to move forward and handle his disappointment in a much healthier manner.  

Mubeen Qureshi, MSW therapist wellness psychotherapy

Author: Mubeen Qureshi, MSW, LLMSW

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