Caroline West-Meads: ‘Why do I fail at everything I do?’

Ask Caroline

Q. I am a woman in my 50s and I’ve recently been made redundant. I’ve never had much confidence and this has been a further blow to my self-esteem. I was never much good at anything at school and, though my career was all right, I didn’t find it particularly fulfilling. My sisters and parents are all high achievers, and I have felt a failure in comparison. But I have always loved reading and have often felt that I could write, too. After losing my job I saw it as an opportunity to try my hand at creative writing and embarked on a course. But although my tutors and the other students have been extremely supportive, it has had the effect of making me feel even more inadequate because I realise that I am just not good enough and nor will I ever be. Some people’s work on the course has been amazing, while I’ve seized up in front of my laptop and been unable to produce anything worth reading. I feel so pathetic. I know this is not really just about the course, but I feel as though I’ve wasted the past few months trying to follow this ridiculous dream. Now it has become something else that I’ve failed at. My husband has tried to cheer me up but he doesn’t really get it. He keeps saying that we are financially comfortable and that I don’t need to write a bestseller, but I don’t think he understands how disappointed I am with myself.

A. I am sorry that you feel this way. As you say yourself, this is not really about the writing course but a more ingrained feeling telling you that you’re not good enough. Your lack of confidence probably has its roots in earlier life. You measure yourself against your high-achieving parents and siblings without seeing any of your other lovely qualities. The redundancy has acted as a trigger to these thoughts, so it’s not unnatural that you haven’t felt able to shine on your creative writing course. Some people can be prone to negative thinking and set themselves impossible standards, and I think that you fall into this trap. It may also be that the reason you want to succeed at writing is to have a mark of achievement that you can hold up to the world to prove that you’re worth something. But I doubt even if you were a bestselling writer you would feel that it was enough because the feelings of inadequacy are so deep-rooted. And remember that while the outcome of writing a novel can seem glamorous, the realities are that it can be a very lonely profession. Contact to find a counsellor – one who offers psychodynamic counselling will help you deal with these feelings. It may be that you go back to writing when you are happier with yourself, but please don’t see yourself as having failed. All experiences teach us about ourselves, what we need from life and what we can contribute to it.

‘We feel so sorry for her ex-husband’

Q. My husband and I used to be good friends with another couple but we lost touch. However, two months ago, the wife got back in touch. She told me that she had been having an affair and a year ago had left her husband for this new man. She said she had been miserable for years and is now happier than ever. She has moved in with him. Her two daughters split their time between her and her ex, but I do wonder where it leaves her husband. He was quiet, but a good and kind man who we were fond of, too. Should we ring him to see if he is all right? My friend says he is being difficult but I feel that she hasn’t taken account of his feelings – they were married for 17 years.

A. Unfortunately being madly in love does seem to have made your friend insensitive. Knowing only her side of the situation, it is impossible to gauge what went on in the marriage – as she was so unhappy, it was perhaps inevitable that they would part. However, I hope she has been more discreet in front of her daughters because they may find the situation difficult. Yes, by all means contact her ex-husband. I am sure he would be glad to see old friends. But be prepared for a man who may be very angry. His wife leaving might have come out of the blue and left him shocked and vulnerable. It’s important not to be emotionally blackmailed into picking sides – don’t collude with his anger but do acknowledge how hurt he is and point him towards getting counselling if you think he needs it. And, of course, stay friends with her, too.