Did you get caught or did you escape? Imagine being frozen with negative emotions and unable to see light at the end of the tunnel.  For many and just by an accident of timing they were too young or too old to get caught up accumulating personal debt and mortgage debt with its associated despair. No so for Anne (pseudonym):

Anne writes When the so called Celtic Tiger roared it was a race to get a place otherwise the ladder would go up and having a home was unreachable.  I was self-employed and making a nice income. I bought a place away from my family. Soon after I got married and had a child. All seemed rosy. The bottom fell out and so did everything else.  Within a short time both myself and my husband lost our jobs and income.  The stress was so much it impacted on our relationship. He couldn’t cope and left me.  It’s over a number of years now. He has found a new relationship. As for the mortgage I have been unable to pay, just about surviving week to week. Essentially I am a failure and I am ashamed. Now I am like the proverbial ostrich with my ‘head stuck in the sand’ I am frozen in fear. Each time I see another letter from the bank I cannot bear to open them. In fact I haven’t opened a letter in two years. I am afraid of someone coming to my door and summonsing me and identifying me as a defaulter and forcing me to sell my home. It’s all I got. It’s my place with my little girl. I am terrified.  On the outside I seem happy and cheerful just about using all the energy I can to muster up this front for the sake of my little girl. On the inside I am cracking up, I feel I am a failure, have let so many people down. I am so ashamed I can’t talk to anyone. Please Help”            

First of all I want to empathise with you. You are in a difficult place. Here is the thing you are not alone.  In fact I am very passionate about the psychological legacy of the so called ‘lost decade’. The emotional consequences have left lots of devastation.

In your letter you refer to the key themes of ‘Failure, Shame & Fear.  Anne, You describe your failures and shame in terms of family, love, role and the ability to put a roof over you and girl’s head.  You describe your fear about being exposed.

Shame is based on a belief that there is something wrong with you, that you are flawed, inadequate, undeserving or not good enough. Similarly is the feeling of failure. As a clinical psychologist we are very concerned not with the problem but with ‘what keeps the problem going’. Now I think your inner voice is on constant critical mode pointing out all your failures. Such that, there is no let up and the consequences in a descent into negativity. Now it’s time to stand up to the inner critic.

Here’s what I see your efforts and motives were made with good intentions. You have always attempted to gain security and freedom for yourself and your family. There was no malice in your intention. Sometimes shame protects us from other feelings such as loneliness, heartbreak, grief, sadness, sorrow or helplessness. These are present. But I don’t believe these to be facts. I don’t believe they define you as a person.

The thing is we hate to fail.  We fear it, and when it does happen, we give it power over our emotions, and sometimes we allow it to dictate our future.  Separate the failure from your identity, you are much more than that.  You have seen how personalising failure impacts on your self-esteem and confidence.  Learning to change and adapt will help you. You have done this before. You have forgotten that you have strengths, resilience and resources. Having worked with thousands of people I can assure you that these strengths can be tapped into again.   Obsessing over your shame and failure will not change the outcome. It keeps it fuelled.  It disables you from moving on. You cannot change your past, but you can shape your future.

Failure and shame is rooted in the fear of being judged and losing others’ respect and esteem. Its not about others it’s about your life. It’s not your truth, don’t give power to others. You tried, it didn’t work out. You will adapt, change and try again.

Now its time for a compassionate voice. Your fear is kept going by your avoidance. Avoidance will always keep fear going ‘head in the sand’. Now it’s time to take control. Taking control means having one conversation at a time. Do this with a stranger first. You are on your way you have already opened up with this letter. Contact the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation (www.mortgageholders.ie) here you will get practical help and support. I always believe when you are talking to another person who you perceive to have more power you bring in someone with you to support you, to look out for your side. You will not be judged. No. You are not alone. Stop denying, stop ignoring, take action and you will move in the right direction.  The faster you take a positive step forward, the quicker you can leave these negative emotions behind. New possibilities will commence.