Accepting you might fail won’t make you a failure

Nobody likes to fail. All of us, in one area of our lives or another, wants to succeed and do well. Whether it’s at university, work, in our relationship or on the sports field, there’s normally somewhere we want to do well.

This is perfectly natural and to be applauded and encouraged. After all, it’s our determination and desire to achieve our goals that helps us live fulfilled and happy lives. But what happens when ‘wanting to succeed’ turns into ‘I must succeed’, or ‘I must not fail’?

The fear of failure can be very strong. After all, if we fail in the areas that matter to us, we could have no qualifications, no job, no partner and no gold medals to be proud of. And for some people, to put it in the language of Rational Emotional Behavioural Therapy (REBT), that demand to succeed not being met would be awful, unbearable and prove they were a failure.

The REBT view of failure

As an REBT therapist, I encourage my clients with such rigid beliefs to move from demands to preferences: I’d prefer to succeed, but accept I might not. This would be bad, but not awful, uncomfortable but bearable and it would simply mean I am a fallible human being.

This is a much healthier and useful belief to hold. But often, at this point, the ambitious client might ask whether accepting failure means giving up their drive, their goals and the striving for improvement that is such a big part of their lives. Surely if failure is OK, then why should I bother, they ask.

We’ve spoken before about acceptance not being the same as approval (see this blog post), and I always spend time discussing this with clients who raise this concern. I can accept climate change is real, for example, without approving of it. Without accepting its reality, I could never do anything about it.

So equally, we must accept that failure is a very real option in our lives. By accepting that possibility, we can be inspired to work hard and plan for success, exactly the same as before. Except now, because we simply really want to succeed, rather than absolutely have to, we free ourselves of unnecessary pressure and anxiety that comes from believing failure is truly not an option and would be awful and unbearable if it happens.

Who is going to be better able to pick themselves up and try again after failing, as surely they must one day? The person who believes themselves an absolute failure, caught up in depression about what’s just happened and anxious about what might happen next? Or the person who is still very disappointed with failing, but who understands that even though it may seem bad and uncomfortable, it does not mean they are a complete failure, simply fallible?

I know who I’d put my money on…

Nick Jones
REBT Therapist

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It’s Fine to Feel More Than One Emotion at Once – Mixed & Meta Emotions in REBT

Humans are complicated, emotional creatures. We feel lots of different things for lots of different reasons. And sometimes we can feel more than one emotion at once, even about the same events.

Rational Emotional Behavioural Therapy (REBT), the type of CBT we practice here at CCBT, is typical of this type of therapy in that it tends to focus on one problem and goal at a time. That’s not to say the skills we practice can’t be applied to more than one problem, it’s just that it’s much easier for client and therapist to have a clear line of progress in mind when working together.

But one problem or goal doesn’t necessarily mean just one unhealthy negative emotion (you can learn more about healthy and unhealthy negative emotions here). Quite often, clients can be experiencing more than one at once. So what does this look like, and how do we treat them?

Mixed and meta emotions

When more than one emotion is present, we can usually split them into two categories: mixed emotions and meta emotions.

Mixed emotions are when you are experiencing two (or more) emotions about the particular presenting problem you want to work on, or at a particular time in your life. For example, someone who is experiencing difficulties at work may be experiencing anxiety AND depression. They are anxious because their job might seem overwhelming, that they are having trouble coping and they are worried about losing their job and all the problems that come with redundancy. But they also feel depressed because they are telling themselves they are a failure and that they should be able to cope with the pressure.

Or someone may be feeling both jealousy AND hurt when it comes to their relationship with their partner. They may believe that their partner is paying more attention to someone else and that there is a threat to their most important relationship. At the same time, they may be believing that they are being purposefully treated unfairly by their partner who is showing scant regard for their feelings by giving this attention to someone else. (Remember, not all, or in fact any, of the above reasoning by the clients may be rational and true, and REBT will help them reach a clearer understanding of what really is happening).

Meta emotions are when we feel an emotion ABOUT an emotion. A common example of this would be someone who is experiencing depression feeling guilty about it, telling themselves that they really don’t have anything to be down about, lots of other people have it worse around the world and so on. And yet they are still depressed, so they feel like they are at fault.

Or someone may feel shame about their anxiety. They tell themselves they should be able to cope better, to not worry, and to have their anxiety revealed to others would be a sign of weakness. And then this shame in turn leads to maladaptive behaviours trying to maintain a façade of confidence instead of accepting the situation and seeking help.

The REBT approach to mixed and meta emotions

How does Rational Emotional Behavioural Therapy approach the issue of mixed or meta emotions? First of all, we accept things as they are. We accept that feeling different things all at the same time is part of the human condition (we are a rationalist, humanist school of therapy after all).

And then, we quite simply listen to our client. In every therapy session there are two experts. The therapist, guiding the way through the CBT structure, and the client, who is the expert in themselves. We will ask, which emotion is disturbing you the most? Which is impacting your life the most? Which one, if it were better managed, would have the biggest impact on your wellbeing? The path of therapy is then decided by the answer given. This does not mean the other emotions are forgotten or ignored. It simply means we now have a route to take and progress is already being made.

So don’t despair if you feel like you are experiencing several emotions at once. It’s quite common, and never the barrier to emotional balance that some people think it is.

If you’d like to lean more about REBT, either as something you feel would help, or to train to become a therapist yourself, please get in touch at

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Emotional Responsibility: Taking Back Control

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.” – Albert Ellis, founder of REBT

At the heart of Rational Emotional Behavioural Therapy (REBT) is the concept of emotional responsibility. That we are largely responsible for how we feel. This philosophy acknowledges that yes, when adverse things happen to us, it is natural to feel an emotion, negative or otherwise, such as fear, anger, sadness etc. But it is when we become stuck in that emotion, say we still feel depressed and a failure months after failing to get the job we wanted, that it becomes a problem. We are most likely maintaining that unhealthy emotion through what we are telling ourselves, not because of the hiring manager’s decision.

When we find ourselves to be emotionally disturbed, it can seem natural to try and find an external entity to blame. Thus, we say to ourselves things like ‘my mother makes me so angry’, ‘that rude shop assistant has ruined my perfect day’, or ‘it is because of my horrible manager that I have no confidence in big meetings’, and so on and so on.

Not only can this seem natural, it can also seem comforting. If only others had behaved or treated you differently. If only the world wasn’t so unfair. However, REBT, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in general, is not interested in comfort at any cost. We believe in accepting the world as it is, and that taking responsibility for our own emotions is the healthier, if more difficult path to emotional balance.

Emotional responsibility in practice

As an example, let’s take one of the hypothetical situations mentioned above. Say someone had a bullying or unsupportive boss who treated them poorly. Because of this treatment, this person may have experienced the belief that this boss was horrible to them because they were bad at their job, and that they were in fact incompetent and a failure. If only their boss had been nicer, they could have helped them improve! These beliefs lead to self-damning consequences (I am no good), hurt (I have been treated unfairly by my boss), depression (I am a failure at my job) and lack of self-confidence.

But if it were true that your ex-boss made you feel this way, wouldn’t they make everyone feel that way, if they truly had the power to control other people’s emotions? So how is that another colleague, who also experienced similar behaviour from this manager, might have instead chosen to believe that they were in fact good at their job, that their manager was just a bully with poor people skills, and that if they weren’t going to be supported, they would go and work elsewhere? This colleague might be blaming the manager for their poor behaviour (and rightly so), but they are not allowing the manager to dictate how they feel, think or behave, or blaming them for their own emotional state.

Choosing the second option above might take more work. It involves acknowledging someone else’s behaviour can have an impact on how we feel, but that we can also choose to go beyond the quick and easy blame game to instead take responsibility for ourselves.

So, our first hypothetical colleague could instead put time and mental effort into thinking: I am actually good at my job, my boss just treated me like I wasn’t, I have a realistic view of my own competency. My boss definitely treated me unfairly, but there is no rule that says they absolutely have to be fair. That is their decision, whether I like it or not. Instead of being hurt, I am simply disappointed in them. I am sad they chose to treat me this way, but it does not affect my confidence in my abilities. Maybe I’ll go and find another job too!

As the quote from Albert Ellis above implies, choosing emotional responsibility can be the start of a whole new way of thinking and living. It is at once the most liberating idea in REBT, but also, in some ways, the most challenging. You can no longer blame everyone else. You have to look honestly and unflinchingly at yourself and your long-held beliefs and accept some of them are neither true nor helpful. You have to be prepared to tolerate a certain amount of discomfort as you change your beliefs and behaviours.

But do you know what? Taking back control of how you feel for yourself, instead of giving it to others is totally worth it.

Nick Jones
REBT / CBT therapist

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