Winners vs. Losers

The thing about winning is that it also produces losers. Somebody’s gotta lose. We’ve been winning and losing since we were young. From our earliest experiences, from the kickball field to the career ladder, we have been confronted with opportunities to be winners and losers, and sometimes this becomes such as serious pursuit, that we wrap our sense of identity around whether we win or lose.

It’s hard for many of us men to wallow in loss, because it stokes our experience of shame. Shame as losers. Shame as men. Shame as people who are not the best.

Our development and our culture reinforce the idea that winning is superior to losing. Now, I’m not saying that to be a loser is an admirable quality. But, we learn early on that winning is everything. We have competitions and spelling bees and systems based on GPA that sets up competition from the beginning. We grow into men that seek winning in career, life and relationships above all else, and start to depend on winning for our self-esteem.

Are you this guy? Do you put winning above everything else? Do you have to win at all costs?

Feeling like a loser inside doesn’t change. Winning at all costs brings a lot of fame, power and external success, but men who strive continually for this end up subjecting their self-esteem to the forces at work on the outside. Competition ends up dictating how men feel about themselves, and they end up losing their “inner sense” of self. If you end up needing praise and validation from everyone else all of the time, then you lose that sense of ease inside yourself. Success becomes contingent on people and events outside of oneself, who are bound to disappoint at some point.

To deal with the shame of “being a loser” messages is what men who overcompensate by winning should do first. We have to first get in touch with the shame place, and deal with that face to face, instead of seeking out more people and events that validate our sense of “being a winner.” But does this happen in reality? No. I may be an idealist, but I’m also a realist, too. There is too much to lose in always striving to be a winner, too many material acquisitions and too much external power to have. Why work on it?

Also, just easing up that need to win at all costs is a practice that I would recommend. If possible, try to put some competition in perspective then next time it grabs you and doesn’t let go. The next competition should elicit some fun, whether it’s a pickup game of basketball or video games. Can you play for fun and not to win?

The cost of winning can sometimes eclipse the intial high of the win, especially when messages of shame and self-worth underlie the victories to begin with.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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