7 subtle signs people see you as a failure, according to psychology

The hit TV show The Office might have aired 11 years ago—man that’s gone by fast!—but I still haven’t quite gotten over it.

The will-they-won’t-they of Jim and Pam in the earlier seasons, the pranking of Dwight, and the unnerving, unsettling enigma that is Creed. Can you blame a girl for watching re-runs?

But what keeps me coming back is a one Michael Scott. Yep, everyone’s all-time favorite screw up.

As a boss, his leadership skills are, well, questionable… at best. 

Sure, every now and then, he surprises everyone with a glimpse of real empathy or a brief moment of innovation. 

But all in all, he’s never quite professionally getting it. Yep, Michael constantly shows us how not to run a regional paper company.

If you’re curious about finding out whether the people in your life view you as a Michael Scott of sorts, as a bit of a flop or screw-up, you’ve come to the right place!

Here are seven subtle, psychology-backed signs people view you as a failure. 

Let’s begin with a big one: they can’t get past your ego.

1) They know you for your ego and bravado

If people are starting to see you as Mr. or Ms. Ego, they might secretly perceive you as having already failed at life.

I know it sounds harsh, but here’s something I’ll tell ya for free: people wrapped up in their own ego often miss out on life’s juiciest, ripest fruit when it’s all about them!

And the studies back it up.

Guess what researchers found in this field? 

Turns out, when we aren’t stressing over our own, fragile egos, we actually learn from their mistakes way, way better!

A study in the Psychological Science journal explored the concept of failure and ego, and what wonderful things occur when it’s removed from the picture.

Researchers said: “When ego concerns are muted, people tune in and learn from failure.”

If you need a clearer picture of what this might look like, imagine you’re at work and you’ve got what you think is a killer idea.

Instead of sharing the credit, you’re all about soaking up the spotlight. 

Guess what? Your team might not want to collaborate on this particular idea, no matter how grand it is.

Plus, your boss might see you as being more committed to ego-stroking than the overall success of the team. Big oops.

If this resonates from you, take it from me: it’s time to take a step back. 

After all, success isn’t just about your achievements, moreover, it’s about how you bring others along for the ride, baby!

Plus, being too scared off by failure can make us fully tune out, missing the opportunity to learn.

Experts back this up, in the same study researchers said: “Because people find failure ego threatening, they will disengage from the experience, which means they stop paying attention.”

So, keeping our egos fully in check can totally reverse setbacks into chances to level up.

2) They feel overchallenged by you

Ever been in a group situation where one particular individual expects everyone else to do the heavy lifting on their behalf?

Yep, instant fail!

A 2024 study on failure in the journal American Psychological Association found that failure “might lead people to overchallenge others, which would compromise outcomes in workplaces, relationships, and beyond.”

It’s this way of being overly demanding that can tank your relationships fast.

Dumping extra work on others just labels you as a wee bit of a failure.

Friends and family start feeling used, like you care more about what they can ultimately do for you than the relationship itself.

3) They see you as unable to usher in their opinion

One glaring telltale sign that people might see you as a bit of a flop is if you’re constantly struggling to see things from their POV.

A previous study on failure explored how failure might involve people who “struggle in manifold ways to take on the perspective of others.”

Let’s unpack this. You see, people naturally want to feel heard and understood. 

So, when you can’t wrap your head around why someone might think the way they do, it’s like you’re living on another planet. 

This can come across as a failure because you might be coming across as a tad out of touch.

In doing so, you might well end up alienating people or skipping over on valuable insights and connections.

You’ve got to rectify this by firstly asking questions. It shows you’re open-minded, empathetic, and ready to succeed by being more open-minded

In the process, you might just find yourself learning something new and who knows? Maybe even making a few new friends along the way.

4) They have commented on how you dwell on things too much

Dwelling on things—and by this I mean eternally mulling over past chats, picking apart every little detail, and replaying scenarios like an Instagram reel—can be a total vibekill. 

For real. A psychological study on dwelling on feelings of failure found that “ruminative thought would intensify and prolong the negative effect associated with that type of goal failure.”

Of course, it’s okay—and occasionally healthy—to reflect on things in order to learn, and grow. 

However, too much of it can turn you into a permanent regretter.

I mean, you could ruminate on why the pretty woman on the bus didn’t smile back, or why you missed out on securing that big personal loan, or… you could flow that energy into something positive!

Consider this: if dwelling becomes your MO, where every minor setback or awkward moment gets its own mental essay, it might be time to switch things up.

5) They view you as dejected or defeated

Are you a little bit too “woe is me?”

In the aforementioned study, researchers found that those who “perceived themselves as chronically failing to attain promotion goals to their promotion goal failures” were more likely to experience “acute dejection.”

This means that if people have started to perceive you as dejected or defeated, it’s a tell-tale sign that you’re not winning at life right now—and maybe you haven’t been for a long time.

I know we all have those negative moments, but if you’re consistently putting that vibe out into the world, there’s a good chance people might wonder if you’ve given up trying to make things better.

It’s not just about feeling down—it’s about how others perceive your overall mood. 

This level of dejection can of course seep into your relationships, your opportunities in life, and how seriously people take you.

The real takeaway here is that it’s perfectly fine to vent from time to time (trust me, I love a vent) but try to balance it with a silver lining as well.

I like to think that you’ve got to come across as if you’ve got your eye on the horizon, and in turn, the prize, in order to be viewed as a winner.

6) They teeter on the edge of parental disdain

Ever noticed that palpable shift in the room when talk turns to achievements and successed at family meet-ups?

Maybe Aunt Frieda’s talking about promotions, and your sister is flaunting her engagement ring, and there you are, pushing food around your plate, wordlessly.

Then, Uncle Jack hits you with the inevitable question: “Do tell us! What’s new with you?”

If your answer leans into the “um, not much” region, you might be able to make out a subtle change in the atmosphere.

Suddenly, your parents’ smiles drop, and you sense a twang of disappointment between you all.

A study on failure looked at how “parents report strained relationships with children who have failed to achieve adult statuses.”

And it makes total and complete sense, I mean, parents often have mega dreams for their kids—visions of prestigious awards, sporting metals, maybe even lots of happy and healthy grandchildren.

But when you’re not hitting those life benchmarks and career milestones, it can amount to a whole lot of familial tension.

You’re not a failure because you haven’t got the job titles or material gains. 

If you’re feeling the weight of parental expectations or those judgmental stares, take a minute, pal.

Your inherent value as a person isn’t defined by some arbitrary checklist.

Maybe your unique path involves zig-zagging through different jobs or taking a breather to explore your yet-to-be discovered passions.

It all comes down to embracing the journey, finding what makes you tick, and living authentically.

7) They don’t know who you are—and neither do you

Let me ask you this: how can you expect others to see your potential if you can’t even see it for yourself?

A 2022 study examined how “feared failures hinder the possibility of solving one’s self-doubts and forming a solid sense of one’s abilities.”

So, without maintaining a clear, sharp, nuanced understanding of your strengths and what makes you special, you might find that you’re just blending into the white noise of your own life.

Personally, I’ve found that some of the most successful people emanate confidence and charm because they know precisely what it is they bring to the table.

They can speak to their skills and experiences without bragging or the opposite—losing confidence!

That’s right, there’s a real clarity and self-awareness there.

Now, let’s flip the script. If you’re unsure about all your skills and abilities, how can you set tangible goals or make decisions that align with your potential? 

I mean, people who haven’t figured out their strengths often end up in jobs or situations that don’t suit them. 

They’re more likely to settle for less because they don’t even notice their own self-worth.

Remember, when you’re sure of who you are and what you’re really made of, others will surely crack onto it, too.

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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