Failure is Optimal

As I continue to pursue my dreams, I am often faced with my unconscious beliefs about why it is a horrible idea. Lately, I have spent most of my time, energy and awareness on how those beliefs are holding me back from my plans to live a very different life than my childhood. And I don’t know why I am still surprised to see yet another belief to explore. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting these beliefs alone are stopping progress. But my beliefs fuel my actions and my defenses, so they are having an impact.

(Although I never say never.) They are ingrained in the experiences of trauma. In many ways, they are inseparable. So where do they come from? Let me explain how three of my most detrimental beliefs were formed.


1) Invisibility is safest. I learned this very early in life. If I could stay invisible, I could potentially stay safe. Sometimes this meant literal invisibility that would come from hiding. Sometimes this meant lowering my energetic presence substantially so nobody noticed I was in the room. As a child, I believed this was very effective. As an adult, I now know my parents would have seen me if they had wanted to see me. If they were looking for someone to manipulate, abuse or use, they would have seen me. But they were neglectful, so they chose not to.

And I have learned that I cannot be invisible and successful. Nobody is going to know what I have to offer the world if I don’t tell them or show them. I can’t rely on people to accidentally stumble upon my offerings (although that does occasionally happen at just the right time). I must be visible … in a big way. And my inner child is not so sure that will be safe.

2) Success will lead to happiness, and if I am happy, I will lose what I gained. I grew up in a family that did not encourage genuine happiness and joy. They were suspicious of it. They knew they had created an environment of utter misery, so if a child was happy, it was clear that child was up to something. They could not take that chance. They would attempt to thwart whatever made me feel happy. So I learned to mute my happiness to conceal the source. But most of the time, I was found out.

And what could create more happiness than success in achieving my dreams? What a wonderful thing to lead a purpose-filled life. What a tremendous feeling to know I can accomplish something amazing. But happiness is not for me. If I get positive, optimistic or even dare to be happy, how long will it take to lose it? And my inner child is tired of grieving what she can’t seem to have.

3) When we come face-to-face with the unknown, bad things happen. My children love surprises. They have had so many amazing surprises in their lives. It is so inspiring to watch them get excited over something that isn’t quite clear yet. But that is not me. I hate the unknown. In my family, surprises were ALWAYS bad. There were no exceptions. Hence my defense mechanism of control. I would attempt to control everything, whether or not it was controllable. I exhausted myself by controlling the impossible to control. And if something didn’t turn out like I needed, my reaction was dramatic. It didn’t matter how small it was.

But this type of success requires letting go of the wheel. The uncontrollable is not going to be controlled. And I have to accept that. I have to allow for the process to unfold in the way it must. And 9 times out of 10, it will not be what I thought. But 9 times out of 10, it will be better. That doesn’t make sense to an inner child who developed a keen sense of control over her life. She isn’t so sure about this plan to let go. She votes “no”.

So while success seems like it would be the obvious choice, it doesn’t happen when those inner parts are still objecting. And I have to understand they have valid reasons for their objections. They need evidence and I can’t always give them evidence. But I keep working to show them there is safety now. And while failure may seem optimal, it is not the right choice.


Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW

Failure is Optimal was originally published @ Beating Trauma and has been syndicated with permission.


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  1. ckahniea1 ckahniea1 November 12, 2015

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