Inside the mindset of defeat

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There is much research on the psychology of victory, winning, leadership, and all things laden with positivity. What about the psychology of defeat? The psychology of losing and defeat is much less talked about within psychology and mental health. This may be a reason why relapsing, losing ground in recovery to breakthrough symptoms, and other obstacles in a person’s path to healing continue to disrupt people and take them by complete surprise.

I’m a big believer in learning from both mistakes and our history. Having said that, there is no more excellent historical representation of defeat than the collapse of Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Operation Clausewitz is even less talked about, depicted in the film Downfall, centered on Hitler’s final 10 days, cut-off from the world and awaiting imminent defeat.

Operation Clausewitz was the German solution to the military situation in Europe in 1945, weeks before the collapse of the German armed forces and mainly during the Battle of Berlin, the final major conflict of the war. 

Let’s take a closer look at this operation. The military high command of German armed forces, the SS and Nazi party leaders, all knew the war was hopelessly lost. So why did Germany fight on? Why make one last horrific last stand in the name of vengeance and pure hatred of their enemies? For just that reason, I suspect.

Have you ever been headstrong, single-minded, and convinced you were right in some argument you’ve had in the past? In doing so, have you ever persisted in your righteousness, that you ignored the implications of being wrong, or misinformed, or even lost respect because you were blinded by your own lack of insight into a situation? For most of us, the answer is yes. For the German war machine and the Nazi leadership in 1945, the answer was also yes. But with an exponentially worse outcome for the country, its citizens, and the population of Europe.

This shouldn’t be too shocking, but given the repetitive nature of history and our gnarling capacity as humans to forget and unlearn from our mistakes, I want to suggest that we spend more time focusing on the psychology of defeat. Even from this historical example that I raised, the implications fundamentally changed the course of world events, shaped and reshaped the geopolitical lines of so much of the globe, and altered history forever.

Do you also realize that if you had a fundamentally better understanding of how the psychology of defeat operated, you might have also taken a different course in your life?

If you don’t believe me, think about: a job you might have lost or resigned from; an illness you let go untreated; a relationship that went awry – or any circumstance that you wanted to improve upon and couldn’t identify a way to do it. These intersections of defeat can be impacted by how you go about ‘throwing in the towel’ when life goes awry. Sometimes, accepting the worse outcome possible in life is the first step to rebuilding an empire.

If my historical example doesn’t cut it, how many other world events and historical examples speak to what I suggest here? How about your personal life? Have you ever just said: ‘I give up,’ and later on, as a result of doing so, discovered a better plan or solution to your problem?

In doing so, did you ever realize that we just don’t want to admit defeat? You might never have been successful in future endeavors if you hadn’t consigned to failure? If you haven’t, this may be the root of all your misgivings and misfortune and the beginning of a life poised for something bigger.

About the Author

J. Peters

J. Peters is the Editor-in-Chief of Mental Health Affairs.

Award-winning book author and Bold 10 Under ten award recipient J. Peters, LCSW. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Mental health therapist and disability rights advocate Mr. Peters fights for those without a voice in various care systems, such as the New York City Department of Social Services, the New York State Office of Mental Health, or the city's Department of Corrections.

Mr. Peter's battle with Schizophrenia began at New London University in his last semester of college. Discharged from Greater Liberty State Hospital Center in July 2008, Jacque's recovery was swift but not painless and indeed brutal after spending six months there.

He has published several journal articles on recovery and mental health and three books: University on Watch, Small Fingernails, and Wales High School. He is also a board member of the newspaper City Voices. Mr. Peters currently sits on the CAB committee (Consumer Advisory Board) for the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene in NYC and the Office of Mental Health (OMH) as a peer advocate.

Owner of Recovery Now in New York, a private psychotherapy practice, Mr. Peter's approach is rooted in a foundation of evidence-based practices (EBP). Jacques earned a master's degree in Social Work from Binghamton University and worked as a field instructor for master's and bachelor's level students in NYC.

He is blogging daily on his site mentalhealthaffairs.blog, Mr. Peters regularly writes articles relating to his lived experience with a mental health diagnosis.

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