We all know someone who always seems to win: that individual whose partner is beautiful, whose children are successful, whose business flourishes, and so on. Others, however, seem destined to lose. But are they destined? Or have they simply developed traits that hold them back?
First, there is self-pity. Some people go through their entire adult life in a sulk. And this is reflected in their facial expressions, body language, and passive-aggressive behaviour. Unfortunately for them, no one cares. If you feel cheated or hard done by, join the club! Almost no one’s life works out exactly as planned. In any random street you will find people with grounds for complaint. Maybe their parents were cruel and abusive, or maybe their mother died of cancer when they were young. Others are trapped in unhappy relationships and tormented by thoughts of the man or woman they should have married. Another is happy in their marriage but resentful over their lack of money. The list is endless.
Self-pity eats up time and energy. It also destroys relationships. People grow bitter and look for someone to vent their pain on. Friends then drift away and neighbors avoid them. The sight of a 55-year-old mother of two sulking like a child because her husband is boring, or her house too small, is revolting. And this kind of self-pity leads to paralysis. I am not married to the woman I love, they think, so what’s the point? They then give up and sink into depression.
Those who do badly in life tend to expect and even will it. Negativity surrounds them like a dense, black fog. The world, they decide, is a horrible place. People are shallow and selfish, and life is painful and meaningless. Cognitive therapists call these “core beliefs.” In other words, beliefs so deeply ingrained that we never question them. The problem with negativity is that, like self-pity, it drains you of energy and focus. It also robs you of motivation. For many, negativity becomes the norm. Unless others call their attention to it they remain oblivious. And because they are unaware, their negativity shapes the way they interpret events, and the way they interpret other people’s actions.
It also shapes and influences their behavior, and even what befalls them. If you expect something to go wrong, you will subconsciously arrange things that way. Many self-sabotage. You may have noticed those who mess things up just when they are on the verge of success – beginning a wonderful relationship and then having an affair, or failing an exam they should have breezed through. They seem comfortable only with failure and misery.
Trying Too Hard to Fit in and Please Others
Losers often lack a clear sense of who they are and what they believe. Or they loathe what they are and feel ashamed. That in turn leaves them prey to stronger and more confident personalities. If you don’t know who you are, others will tell you. They will label and treat you in a way that makes them feel good about themselves.
The successful do not waste their time worrying what others think of them. They know who they are, and they like who they are. Thus they don’t need people’s approval. And because they don’t need their approval they aren’t afraid of upsetting them. Losers fear and dread confrontation. They are people pleasers, eager to soothe hurt feelings and unable to say no.
Selfish and unreasonable people, especially bullies, take advantage of this. At the office, for example, the people pleaser sinks under mountains of work. Since they never complain, their boss assumes everything is fine. When they get home, however, they are so stressed and burnt out that they vent their anger on their partner and children. Above all, they care what others think of them. They would never dye their hair, quit their job, divorce their partner, etc., because they fear the disapproval of neighbors and friends. Instead, they grit their teeth and stick it out – anything rather than stir up trouble. Their comfort zone then shrinks and life grows monotonous and grey.
Rigid and Inflexible
The ability to accept and cope with change is invaluable. Life never stays as we want it to: our looks fade, loved ones die, careers fall apart, and so on. Often, we have no choice but to accept this. Many, however, resist. Consciously they recognise that things have changed, but subconsciously they do not. Instead of adapting and finding new ways to cope, they continue to think and act as though things were the same.
This refusal often manifests as nostalgia for a lost golden age. The midlife crisis is characterised by such yearning, and also by the refusal to update and move on. The cliché of the balding forty-something who cashes in his pension and runs away with a 22-year-old is recognisable to everyone. And far from being a comic figure (as he is often depicted) his end is frequently miserable.
This needn’t mean turning into your mother or father by the way! There is a difference between staying young at heart and refusing to grow up. Plenty of people in their 50s and 60s dye their hair and attend rock concerts. But they also accept their age and behave in an emotionally mature way. And they know that just because life changes that doesn’t mean it gets worse. When you were young, you could drink eight or nine bottles of beer and feel fine the next day. Now, you suffer dreadful hangovers. Why not try wine instead? And rather than showing off by drinking the whole bottle, take your time and savor the taste.
No Goals, Passion or Sense of Direction
Happy and successful people usually have a sense of direction. That does not mean they have life mapped out (it would be absurd to try), simply that they know what kind of life will suit them.
Closely related to this you normally find passion, excitement and curiosity. Winners are upbeat and enthusiastic. They see life as a fragile, precious gift, something to make the best of. Losers, on the other hand, forever ask “what’s the point?” or “who cares?” And they constantly whine about being bored. If you are always bored, it’s probably because you are boring. Those with little interest or passion frequently escape into alcohol and drugs – anything to make life more interesting. It is no coincidence that people recovering from addiction are often urged to rediscover their passions – to dust off their guitar, for example, or follow Manchester United again.
The American scholar Joseph Campbell advised his students to “follow your bliss,” by which he meant live an authentic life, doing the things you were brought into the world to do. Follow your bliss, said Campbell, and doors will open. In other words, you will live with such energy, focus and enthusiasm that you will draw good, positive people into your life.
Surrounding yourself with the right people is vital. If you are a miserable, passionless drifter you will attract similar people. You can then sit around together smoking cannabis, drinking beer and moaning about how boring and fake everyone is! Focussed, passionate people give off positive vibes and draw other focussed, passionate people towards them.
Bad at Relationships
Finally, losers tend to be bad at relationships, both romantic and non-romantic. Often, that is because they are so consumed by greed and self-pity they take no interest in anything but themselves. Of course, such a person may still be witty and entertaining. Indeed, they may be popular. But they tend to lack intimacy. How can you be intimate with someone who isn’t interested in you as a person? Someone who sees others as objects there to boost his ego and make him feel good?
Many fear intimacy. At an early age they begin to associate intimacy with danger and shame. Allow someone to get too close and they will expose and humiliate you. Those who were bullied in childhood often retain this fear throughout their lives, dumping and avoiding anyone who gets too close. The essential problem, as so often in life, is ignorance. We all develop certain beliefs and patterns of behavior, then blindly and unthinkingly stick to them for the rest of our lives. Life’s losers not only fear and avoid intimacy they remain unaware what they are doing.
For example, a young woman begins a relationship with a sweet and loving man. For the first time in years she feels happy. She then has an affair with an obnoxious show off and ruins everything. Even she cannot understand why. The real reason is that she had begun to fall in love with her new partner, and the intimacy scared her. As a child she was abused and neglected. She learnt that people are dangerous. When you let them get close, they hurt or betray you. Time and again people will sabotage the best relationship of their life because they simply cannot cope with intimacy.
Some have the opposite problem. They are needy and do not want their partner or friends to abandon them. Obviously, it is perfectly normal and natural to fear losing something you love. To love anyone is to be vulnerable. But you need to trust people and grant them space. If you do not, they will grow to resent you, leading to some kind of crisis. Neediness is not only unattractive, it also eats away at trust and intimacy. The healthiest family unit is one that has established the right balance between love and freedom. In other words, if someone is scared, ill or lonely, the others gather round. But they also have their own lives and their own friends. The parents do not expect the children to keep them company, and everyone has his or her own space.
The word “loser” is an unpleasant one, often used by people who are themselves deeply unpleasant. And yet some people do seem to lose over and over again. Obviously there is no magic solution, but a positive, focussed, passionate attitude is a good start.