efforts in spite of setbacks. I-want-to-look-smart thinkers focus mainly
on polishing their image. Hopeless-thinkers re-live how awful the
failure/crisis has been without carefully considering possible solutions.
In summary, through no fault of their own, some people in childhood
learn to emphasize the awfulness of the problem and/or their own
badness, while others optimistically increase their efforts to solve a
problem when things go wrong and/or put it behind them. If the self-
defeating attitudes are learned, they surely be unlearned.
Freud spoke of the "success neuroses" consisting of four motives:
a need to achieve, a fear of success, a fear of failure, and a desire to
fail. The fear of failure can cause us to be nervous (and not do well) or
to give up; it can also cause us to work very hard, just like the need to
achieve. You may doubt that there is a fear of success and a desire to
fail. Some women report feeling reluctant to beat males at tennis or to
appear too smart. Supposedly men's egos are fragile; they are thought
to dislike losing to women. Tresemer (1974) found about 50% of both
men and women exhibited negative feelings toward achievement--or
assumed other people had such feelings. As you can see, the fear of
success and the desire to fail get all confused with (a) opposition to
the traditional pressure to succeed and (b) reluctance to accept
additional responsibilities following success.
Clinicians frequently see people who have an acceptable record in
school or on the job and are ready to graduate or be promoted but
then they mess it up or drop out. Carl Menninger (1956) wrote a book,
Man Against Himself, about such self-defeating behavior. Cudney
(1981) suggests that self-defeating behavior is caused by our
reluctance to face reality. By failing (while pretending to be trying to
succeed) we deny our responsibility for what is happening. That way
our goof-ups can continue but "they aren't my fault."
If you are working on a task you really don't want to do (e.g. a
college major that was pushed on you by a parent), it seems plausible
that your resentment might result in your failing. Failure can serve
other purposes: keep you dependent, get sympathy, frustrate or
disappoint others, and confirm your belief that you aren't any good at
Because we try to hide our self-doubts, it is not easy to tell what
others feel or even what we feel. Indeed, feelings of adequacy and
inadequacy may co-exist or change frequently. Gilmer (1975) lists six
signs of inferiority: (1) over-reaction to criticism, (2) tendency to feel
criticized, (3) avoidance of others, (4) an excessively positive response
to flattery, (5) inability to lose graciously, and (6) urges to put down
others. Perhaps these will help you identify your feeling more clearly.
A hallmark of depression is pessimism and self-criticism. If you
expect to fail, that increases the chances you will fail or not even try.
But the depressed person's self-appraisals are frequently too low. They
were found in one study of problem-solving ability (dealing with
interpersonal, intrapersonal, and emotional problems) to be more