Achievement regulates self-worth

If ‘we are what we achieve’, we only feel we are a good person when we have done something sufficiently well. This is not the same as feeling satisfied we have done a good job, in fact some people can never feel this.

a. Flying upwards – For those of us who can constantly top our achievements, we keep ahead of having to face the sort of person we think we are. We will always feel good, because we always do well.

b. Crashing and burning – If we cannot top our achievements anymore, we can get to a point where we run out of the ability to go on and will ‘crash and burn’.

c. Straight and level –  If we cannot continually meet our own, or others expectations of us, we begin to experience an increasing sense of shame, leading to us feeling worthless. We feel bad about ourselves, so we feel we are bad people. Normally we reach a compromise whereby we put up with where we are, because the struggle to grow further is too challenging. Often we will use the observed limitations of others to justify our own condition. We may not like ourselves much, but we can always find someone worse. We become incapable of change unless sufficiently motivated by events, people or God. Often this is a piecemeal process of change, we will change as little as we can get away with.

Safe places

a. Controlled by the past – When we come up against something we feel we cannot deal with, maybe death, extreme disappointment, some shocking experience, we will most often withdraw to our strongest experience of safety. These ‘safe places’ control how we feel, how we act, and what we expect in our current situation, and relate to the past circumstances that most closely resemble where we currently are.

  • Passivity – if we have learnt that doing nothing means that problems are eventually dealt with by others, then we may become passive
  • Manipulation – if we cannot entertain doing something ourselves, we  may attempt to manipulate others into making what we want to happen.
  • Sickness – as a means of side-stepping seemingly impossible situations, we may actually become sick if we have learnt this gets us what we want.
  • Positive places – because this is an automatic response, we may just as easily go to a positive safe place.

b. Controlling the present – So strong can the sense of shame be that failure in one area often controls our whole outlook on life. It is often the area we feel most incapable in, that we attach the most importance to.


1.    In what areas have we experienced our greatest safety? Parenting, lack of parenting, peer pressure, etc.
2.    Why should we care where we are, as long as we feel safe?

© Paul Wood