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Overcoming the Trap of Surrendering to Failure

We all face a point at which giving up seems like the only option. But it's not.

The greatest fear of any general on the battlefield is to surrender, as this leaves scars long after those incurred in the war have healed. To surrender makes us victims of ourselves, others, or the world at large. To give up on a business proposition, surrender a research project because it’s not developing quickly enough, or stop a new fitness regime because you don’t think yourself capable enough to see it through can leave a scar and victimize us. A line from a 1980s management book has stuck with me: ‘How come every time I’m stabbed in the back my fingerprints are on the knife?’

To feel insecure about ourselves and our capabilities is one thing, but to wholly and fully confirm that by giving up is another. The modern era of social media and the culture of comparison also exacerbates this. Many of our patients doubt themselves, fall victim to this mental trap, and even spend hours online looking at others' perfections, only to begin to doubt their own abilities and then seal the deal by giving up on their proposed idea or event. This refusal to set their doubts to one side and work hard and move through difficulties is also a consequence of our defeatist thinking and even the outcome of an overprotective society.

Scars of Rejection, Scars of Failure

The pattern of giving up at critical stages in the process acts in a way to confirm the individual’s greatest fears. If they feel incapable and then doubt themselves to the extent that they give up, then they create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Their greatest fear becomes real, not because it was inevitable, but because it was brought into reality by their own behaviour. The prophecy of the event leads to the event of the prophecy.

We can also have the experience of being turned down for a job or a role in a movie or being dumped by a girlfriend or boyfriend, leaving us 'licking our wounds' and questioning ourselves. It can also lead to obsessing about it and then acting as though it were true, making it become true, often leading to very complicated forms of depression and anxiety. There’s no need to be a fearless risk taker or a naïve entrepreneur, nor is it useful to deceive ourselves with arrogance, as these behaviours will only bring about the same painful outcome as giving up. Few things worth doing come in a painless package and we should accept this reality. However, as Albert Einstein once said, ‘Life is a process of ongoing and continual problem-solving.’ There’s no harm in the old saying that it is good for a child to ‘have a little hunger in their heart, a little dirt under their fingernails and a little problem to solve daily.’

Overcoming the Trap of Surrendering

Rather than give up and give in, you should wait and see if there are any other possible solutions. For example, do you fear failure? Do you feel you’re not capable? Do you doubt your own resources? Have you taken on too much and expected too much of yourself? Have you thought about asking for a bit of help or support?

If so, here are a few ideas:

  • Try seeking assistance.
  • Try taking a break.
  • Test and see how much more of the project you can proceed with.
  • Bring yourself to fear surrendering because of belief, rather than the fact that your situation is insurmountable.
  • Break the problem down into as many small parts as possible and work slowly from the smallest to the biggest.


Gibson, P (2022). Escaping the Anxiety Trap. Strategic Science Books.

About the Author

Padraic Gibson, D.Psych, is a Consultant Clinical Psychotherapist and is the Clinical Director of The OCD Clinic®, and director of Training and Organization Consultation at The Coaching Clinic®, Dublin. He is senior research associate at Dublin City University.

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