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I'm a loser

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I was just reading through some previous post on this thread and I'm going to be more specific about my issues in hopes is will make cognitive restructuring work...

About a week ago a former boss of mine e-mailed me with a possible lead for a job. When I read the e-mail I was flattered and happy, but also very afraid because I didn't want the job, but I felt a moral obligation to try to get it, even if I don't want it.

It's even more complicated than that. The possible job was a position of a person who I was friendly with when I worked in that office and she was moved to another department, so I would have felt even worse about trying to get the job.

Anyway, about 2-3 days after I got the e-mail I noticed that someone had called me from my old work, I wasn't sure when. I have been afraid to check my voice mail.

When I first got the e-mail, I had every intention of responding and almost did immediately, but then I didn't. I wanted to wait for some reason, I wanted to think up a tactful way to say thank you, but no thank you. But I couldn't think of a good way to say no thank you. Then I just forgot to respond. Then I forgot again and then it was too late, then I was afraid he would be upset that I didn't respond. I have been avoiding my e-mail and my voicmail for a week. Now, I have dug myself in a big hole. I feel so bad and ashamed and stupid, and I don't knwo what to do. By the way, I have avoided people before and I feel horrible for it, and I know the mature thing is to just be strong and honest and tell people how I feel, but I just can't sometimes, I just can't say no, I worry that people will get mad at a me. I even know I am just making things worse for myself. I do this on both an subconscious level and sometimes a conscious level. I put it off consciously, then forget subconsciously.

OK, so there is my very long winded issue. Thoughts about avoiding these e-mails and voicemails...

My former boss is going to hate me when I do finally respond because I took so long, it's rude. Now I feel so bad and I have no excuse.

I'm too embarassed to respond so late, I don't know what to say, nothing I say can really make up for my lack of timely response.

My former boss will be hurt, angry and offended if I told him the job he suggested is not a good fit. And/or he would press me for specifics about why I didn't want it and I'm afraid to say no.

I'm a coward, a huge coward. The strong mature behavior would have just been to respond to the e-mail when I got it. I should NEVER have put off responding even for a day and I did and now I have made a very teenee tiny issue into this overblown thing.

Everyone would think I'm a loser if they only knew that I turned down any possibility of a job with the finacial shape I am in.

I am a bad person for not pursuing that job lead.

I am a bad person for not responding to e-mails when I get them.

If I say the wrong thing to my boss he will think I'm a jerk.

I'm a jerk because I didn't respond to the e-mail.

I'm a nutjob for obsessing about this relatively minor issue. Any normal person would have just responded and been done with it.

I will never get over these immature avoidance patterns.

I am more selfish than anything else because I knew that it was rude not to reply, but I put my anxiety above this social obligation. I should have found the gumption to push myself through my anxiety and replied to the e-mail and then I wouldn't be typing this right now. :confused:

I'm just a loser.

When I do listen to my voicmail, I will feel very, very anxious and bad.

I'm a loser because sometimes I don't even want to work.

I'm a loser because I am a chronic underachiever, I have a history of procrastination. I have stopped procrastinating at times, for long periods, but now I have slipped back into this habit again and I'm afraid I'm ruining my life with avoidance behaviors.

I'm mad at myself. I'm an avoidance jerk.

Sorry it's redundant, that's about it. Even a tiny bit of restructuring attempt is appreciated. :o

Edited by zoomzoom
Editted post to be more specific
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Yeah, zoom,

I think you already did a pretty good job of this, based on your response to jamiecake. Maybe you should try to respond to your own post, since I bet it's more effective if you tell yourself where the mistakes are, rather than have us tell you.

That said, I'll still give it a shot.

First off, be suspicious of absolutes like "always" and "never". After all, we all know that absolutes are never true! ;-)

Anyway, I can definitely imagine myself doing exactly what you did. Right down to persuading yourself that there's no way out, now.

But there is, and it's the one you've already thought of: just tell them what happened. I doubt that your old boss would feel insulted if you said you just didn't feel comfortable in the position, that you hesitated telling them because you do need a job and because you didn't want to hurt their feelings. Most bosses would rather hear that than hire someone who won't fit in, and then maybe have to let them go and do the whole thing over again. You've never heard "better late than never"?

However, that's not the answer this exercise calls for.


  • You think you know how your boss will feel.
    Sorry, if you can predict other people's feelings, you shouldn't have any trouble getting a job as a fortune-teller.
  • You are a jerk or a bad person or a nutjob or a loser. There is no extra credit for creativity in name-calling. ;-)
    Well, are you? Based on this "teeny tiny" incident?
  • You will never get over this pattern.
    "Never", eh? :-)
  • You think you can predict how you will feel (anxious and bad to listen to your voice-mail.)
    Okay, now you might have some idea how you will feel about some things. But are you sure you won't feel any relief, if you get this over with? No satisfaction if you listen, find out the true size of the problem, and come up with an appropriate response? Sure, it might make you anxious for some period of time, but can you bear that in exchange for the chance to do something about it?

Okay, I probably didn't stick to the letter of how this is supposed to be done, and I didn't try to match your level of detail. But I think you already had the idea, and maybe this response is a start? :-)

Good luck.

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You are most certainly not a loser - I read what you've put down here and see someone who is ambivalent and who perhaps is struggling with assertion and duty issues. that's not a loser - that's just a human.

On the one hand, you feel an obligation to be a "good employee" which seems to mean (more or less) blindly doing what is asked of you without being too critical about it. On the other hand, you have a sharp critical mind and you are able to discriminate between stuff you like and stuff you don't like and what is on offer is for whatever reason something you don't like. Which is really a good skill to have - without being able to make such discriminations in advance, you have no basis for steering yourself towards happiness.

These two positions are in conflict due to the demands of the situation. You cannot enact the obligation to be the good worker, without throwing into sharp relief your own distaste for what is being asked.

Interestingly, what you do is to get paralyzed, but the outcome of that paralysis is that the part of yourself which doesn't want to do the thing "wins". So - what you've accomplished without intending to do so is to have steered yourself away from the thing you didn't want to do - it was not a graceful way to do it - but you did protect yourself from unhappiness in that manner, and I believe this is a good survivial ability functioning as it should be functioning.

But by avoiding the job offer it cast into sharp relief that you are now a "bad worker" - so you continue to be in dissonance and that is painful.

Your self-talk seems to be very much a reflection of this part of you which is experiencing the failure to comply from the perspective of the "boss". You've acted socially ungracefully and that looks bad to those people you've snubbed (that much is accurate I bet) but it is really interesting that your own perspective is through what you would look like to them rather than how you've protected yourself. If you are a "loser" it is from the perspective of the person who offered you a job - not from your own perspective. But your own perspective has become confused with that of the job offering person. It would be good to unconfuse those two perspectives. I think part of what may be operating here is shame and I encourage you to read my essay about the nature of shame for further information on how it works.

Part of what reframing is about is learning to see the situation from different angles - kind of like it is hard to see "magic eye" pictures until you've learned how to cross your eyes just so but once you can see them, your brain reorganizes what was a mess before into a newly coherent picture. So - here is a different perspective you can shift to I suggest. Your own perspective. Which is very much a valid perspective!

Now - you have indeed allowed your avoidance to create a socially awkward situation and hurt feelings may have been created. You may have also lessened your chances of future employement with this former boss. So what is left to you now if you want to do it is to work on learning how to cope better with this situation as it continues to play out here and in the future and similar future sitautions. I suggest that you read up on the concept of assertiveness. You took up what is essentially a passive position with regard to your boss (completely consistent with your desire to be a good worker) and that way of looking at yourself did not leave room for you to say no. But it is completely legitimate for you to have said "no, thank you!", and in fact, if you had felt comfortable saying that, it is likely that your boss would have maintained a positive view of you. Heck - saying no might have even enhanced his view of you. People are always attracted to what they cannot have.

There is potentially still time for you to create a repair here. I don't know how comfortable you might be with this former boss, but it is not out of the question necessarly for you to be able to communicate to him, "hey- I wanted to thank you for the offer. I decided that I was not interested in this particular offer, but I didn't know how to tell you this; I wanted to do right by you and there didn't seem to be room for me to be able to do that, so I ended up not saying anything and that didn't help things. So I'm giving you some explanation now so that you can better understand what happened. I'm interested in this kind of work (describe) but not this kind of work (describe). If you have anything for me of the kind I am interested in, I'd be very happy to take you up on a job offer. Thank you very much anyway for thinking of me". Something like that perhaps (adjusted for what is realistic to say which depends on how well you know this person). At the very least you can say that you are sorry for not responding sooner, but that you are not interested in this particular position but are nevertheless grateful for the offer.

I've written about assertiveness in Psychological Self-Tools so that is a good place to start reading - (the section on assertiveness and boundaries starts here) but I suggest that you check some books on the subject out of the library and read them too and perhaps zero in on this issue of self-assertion with a therapist.

Edited by Mark
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Hello Mark,

I had to reread this a couple times, but I was immediately struck by the realization that I did not accept my perspective as valid. There are various reasons I felt like I didn't want the job, but I also felt like none of my reasons were acceptable. In the face of this conflict I became like you said paralyzed and passive, and subsequently full of regret and shame.

However, if I had believed that my perspective was ok, that not wanting the job was totally justifiable and ok, I think I would have felt confident in telling my old boss politely that it just wasn't for me, although I appreciate the thought.

I know some of reasons I do this. I think I have some dependancy issues by nature, a kind of passive preference to please others. But I also was very much discouraged to be independant by my family. I can remember many clear instances of my mother telling me how I felt or that what I was feeling was plain wrong.

It frustrates me that after all these years, even though I am aware of these things I find myself getting wrapped up in these dysfunctional behaviors again and again. I still sometimes feel very intensly like I don't have choices even when I know I do. It's times like that when I freeze up, I get anxious or I avoid.

To reframe some of my thinking, I can see now that it's ok that I didn't want that job, it's a valid perspective.

I believe that now, but I still don't totally feel it. When I just wrote that previous sentence I had an almost overwhelming need to try to invalidate my perspective. I know objectively that there might be some other perspectives that would assert that I do need to follow that job lead, but I'm going to try to feel secure in my own perspective, that the job is not a good fit for me right now. Although this is only for my mental benefit, since I kind of defaulted on the offer last week anyway.

From here I am going to e-mail an apology tonight. This is hard.

Thank you so much Mark and Malign. I am very scared that my former boss is angry/hurt/annoyed, but I will try to keep in mind that I can't know for sure what he will think or feel and that everyone makes mistakes. The best thing I can do now is to own up to it.

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So - it sounds like this particular instance of acting passively in the face of someone you want to please but don't want to accomodate is a very old pattern dating back to your childhood and early emotional socialization. These patterns get laid down and then we re-enact them later on in life during situations that feel similar. It's transference, really.

The essential problem (in as much as I have a handle on it) seems to be one that is well captured by the assertiveness concept so I would encourage you to push hard to learn about that stuff and work on exercises that will help you gain comfort with asserting yourself. The rules for how one adult talks to another adult are very different than how the rules were when you were a child talking to your (seemingly invalidating) parents, loving though they may have been in other contexts. It's really okay for you to promote and defend your own welfare so long as it is not at the unfair expense of others.

Assertiveness is a behavioral sort of concept - but these issues may also be very profitably explored in the context of a psychodynamic psychotherapy which is very focused upon relationships (past and present) and how they impact on mental health. Still another way to go would be to to seek out a Schema therapist - schema therapy is one of the post-cognitive therapies which tries to integrate the proven mood uplifting techniques from cognitive behavioral psychotherapy with the focus on understanding and undoing repetative dysfunctional relationship patterns such as the one you seem to keep enacting. There isnt' any medication that can touch this sort of stuff. Therapy and other sorts of work that help you build up a sense of self as competent, worthy and thus worthy of self-assertion (not aggression but assertion) are the way to go.

I think the last thought I have for now on this sort of thing is - don't take it too seriously. It's easy to "wake up" and find yourself sleepwalking in this sort of manner. These interpersonal patterns are very old and enduring. Hard to break out of. It doesn't help to struggle against them. Better to recognize them and be amused if you can. "there I go again!". See them clearly and then see the way out of having to re-enact them - which will generally involve experiencing and learning to tolerate the fears you are trying to avoid feeling with the avoidance that keeps this thing going. The more you can tolerate the feeling of discomfort that drives you towards passivity the more free you will become.


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This post really helped me. Thank you Malign and Mark. I sent the e-mail, although I was going to send it last night, I didn't send it until just now. I have a little lump in my throat, but I think I finally did the right thing.

I can get myself so worked up about things, I get a little lost sometimes. I like that analogy about sleepwalking, I guess I might have a neurotic disposition. For now I feel ok about things.

I have realized that I avoid more than just people, sometimes I avoid anything that makes me anxious, even a little. Like if my bank account is low, instead of checking the balance, I avoid thinking about it, I avoid the bank, I just don't do what I know is the responsible thing. I feel bad about this, horrible, but I still do it sometimes. Then I get myself all wrapped up in this embarassment and shame.

However, I have also gone through long periods in my life when I'm responsible and I feel confident and capable to do whatever adult task I need to. I haven't been that way for a while now. I haven't felt in charge of my life and I want to get that back. I think some of it has to do with my rollercoaster relationship with my now fiance. I'm not blaming him. It's just that I act kind of dependant now, when I met him I was in charge of my life. I don't feel in charge of my life anymore. I want to be in this relationship, but I also want to feel independant and in charge of my life.

I do not want to go on and on with this, but just some thoughts about my issue.

Oh, and it was definitely transference with that former boss. I really could relate to that. I also realized that I have had issues of fear of authority figures most of the time, most of my life. I will work on assertiveness and I will look into schema therapy, I have never heard of it before.


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I got a response from my old boss, I was really afraid he would be angry or just kind of scold me a little or feel bad that I took so long to respond and guilt me, but he didn't. He was happy to hear from me and said that there might still be some work available if I want it.

I'm feeling relieved and confused by this, I'm not sure what to do, but I'm working on it.

Thank you!

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