How Failing to Reach Our Goals Can Create a Downward Spiral of Shame, Self-Blame and Self-Judgment and How to Use a 4-Step Process to Get Back On Track

Have you ever set goals for yourself and had every intention of making them happen, only to find yourself getting completely knocked off track by something going on in your life?

If you’re like most people, then I’m guessing your answer is a resounding ‘YES!’

The question isn’t so much whether we’ll be knocked off track with our goals or not, the question is, when we do veer off course, what can we do to get back on track?

And for those of us with a history of childhood abuse or trauma, when things do go awry with our plans, when we face challenges and obstacles, it can hit us especially hard, sending us into a downward spiral of shame, self-blame and self-judgment.

New Year’s goals and intentions are no exception to this. When things do get off track, we can quickly spiral downwards into a funk that can sometimes take a long time for us to find our way back out of.

But when we learn to recognize our trauma patterns, and how they send us into those downward spirals, we can also use strategies and tools like Tapping to get ourselves out of them more quickly.

Let me explain what I mean, and then I’ll share a 4-part process with you that you can use to quiet your critical inner voice of shame, self-blame and self-judgement so that you can get back on track with any goals you’re trying to achieve now or in the future…


2020 has not quite gotten off to the start I was hoping for…

I don’t really set traditional goals, like ‘I want to lose 10 pounds’ or ‘I’m going to give up chocolate for 3 months’, but I do sit down and review my year. I take stock of what I did and did not achieve last year and then brainstorm where I want to focus or re-focus my energy this coming year.

And so, this year, I set some targets for different areas of my life including health, healing and well-being, fitness, finances, business and relationships.

Going through this process got me so excited for the days, weeks and months ahead. So, what happened? If I was so excited, why is it that I got so off-track so quickly?


I got really off track, really fast!

What happened was that my husband and three kids all got really sick. From Christmas Eve to New Year and beyond, they were all flat out with high fevers and coughs. I turned into honey tea maker and temperature-taker extraordinaire!

Just as soon as they began to feel a little better, our assistant and her family all got sick too. Without her help, which usually allows me  to work and parent with some sense of sanity, I found myself buried under piles of laundry, endless to-dos, grocery lists and school lunches.

Cramming all the household chores and tasks into my already full schedule of work and after-school kid’s activities, as well as planning for my son’s birthday right after new year, left me feeling more than a little overwhelmed, agitated, drained and frustrated.

Family always comes first for me and so consequently, I got off track with a bunch of my goals and intentions. My plans to hit the ground running in the new year went from a bang to a whimper!

Can you relate to this? Has your new year started smoothly or have you faced your own set of roadblocks? Maybe you planned to get your eating on track but ended up at a work convention for several days where you were endlessly surrounded with donuts and other less than healthy choices. Or perhaps you’d just begun training for a 5K or half marathon, only to find that you twisted your ankle on your first run and now you have take a break, leaving you way behind in your race preparations.


How a history of trauma affects our ability to achieve our goals…

So what does all this mean for those of us with a history of childhood trauma or abuse?

Like me, you may not be overly attached to setting and reaching goals. Logically you might understand that things inevitably get in the way at times – life happens! But the thing is, with a history of trauma, when we strive to better our lives, obstacles in our path can feel like the end of the world.

Those obstacles can remind us of back then. They can remind us of the negative things we were told, or told ourselves all those years ago that are often, unconsciously, still running the show today.

Perhaps you were ridiculed for having dreams as a child. Perhaps, when you told people about something you were working towards, you were bullied or it was taken away from you.

As children, we are naturally reliant on our primary care-takers for survival. In theory, at the very least, they are responsible for providing us with a roof over our head, food to eat and clothes to wear.

However, when these same care-takers are also the cause of pain and suffering in our lives; frequently denying us necessary love, care and attention, and creating blocks and obstacles in our path, it is easy to understand how and why a sense of hopelessness, powerless and futility can set in.

A child cannot survive on their own. In a very real way, they are powerless to change their situation. If a child is supported, nurtured and loved, they are likely to develop positive, affirming belief systems that will help them succeed in their life. They may believe and say things like: ‘no matter what life throws at me, I know I’ll always be ok’.

If however, a child is ridiculed and abused, the words they hear can tend to develop into a critical inner voice; a voice that constantly loops in their head.

Over time, negative belief systems are strengthened, creating emotional blocks that hold them back and keep them feeling stuck in their life. Characteristically, this child might believe and say things like:

‘I don’t deserve good things to happen to me, life will always be a struggle. Things just never go my way. What’s the point in even trying? I feel like such a failure.’

Unfortunately, for trauma survivors, the negative beliefs and patterns of hopelessness and futility that we faced back then, can still have a huge and often detrimental impact on our lives today. And particularly on our ability to face and overcome obstacles.

This is because, so much of our energy is invested in surviving. By its nature, survival energy is focused inwards, on playing small, on getting by. This is the very opposite of the outwardly-focused energy required for setting and reaching our goals; the energy of expansion and growth so necessary if we are to move forwards and really thrive in our lives today.


How does trauma affect your ability to achieve your goals?

Take a moment to think about your life right now. When you set a goal or intention and subsequently face an obstacle, do you find yourself digging deeper into your resilience and resourcefulness?

Do you brainstorm ways around the problem? Or, instead of taking challenges in your stride, do you feel stuck, paralyzed and unable to move forwards in your life? Do your negative thought patterns and beliefs start to run the show? Do you tell yourself things like:

‘See, I’m clearly not meant to do this’, ‘I’m just not good enough’, ‘who do you think you are?’, ‘the universe hates me and wants me to fail’, ‘If this was meant to happen for me, shouldn’t it be easy?’

I know at times I do!

So, what can we do? Yes, life happens and the challenges and obstacles that we face are an inevitable part of that life. But what if we don’t have to stay stuck in the old patterns of frustration, futility and overwhelm that have been running the show for so long? These patterns and beliefs may have kept us safe back then, but how can we break free from what is holding us back today?

To find out, I’m going to take you through a simple 4 step process that will help bring your awareness to what your old unconscious patterns, beliefs and blocks actually are; I’ll teach you how you can recognize and change these so that you can release stuck energy and move forwards more quickly and easily into the life that you want and deserve.


Step #1:

Learning to recognize the limiting beliefs, patterns, blocks (‘yes but’s’) that are keeping us stuck in our lives.

Think about an intention or goal that you recently set for yourself. When you set that goal, you were probably somewhat excited about it. But at the same time, you may have noticed a whole slew of ‘yes but’s’ pop up in your mind.

‘Yes but’s’ are a fantastic indicator of the push – pull that we can so often feel when a part of us wants to do something (in this case when we set and pursue a goal) but another part of us is afraid.

Write down your goal and your initial positive feeling or reasons for setting that goal. Then also write down any ‘yes but’s’ that came up for you.

An example of this might be:

This year I’m setting a goal to deliver 2 presentations per month at work. I will have to plan and deliver my talks in front of 50 plus co-workers.

Initial Positive Feeling:
Part of me feels excited to take charge of the direction of my career, with the potential for a pay raise and a promotion.

Yes But (limiting belief/pattern/block):
I feel scared. I don’t feel like I’ll do a good enough job. What if my co-workers judge me. What if I mess up my talks. Maybe I’ll be fired. Who am I to think that I could ever do this, let alone get a promotion or a raise? I should just stay doing what I’m doing. At least that’s familiar and safe.

Left un-checked, the ‘yes but’ will always win. This is because SAFETY always comes first in order to ensure our survival, especially for those of us with a history of childhood abuse or trauma.

So often, when it comes to setting and achieving our goals, this push-pull of opposing beliefs is what leads to us feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, powerless and futile. Essentially, the desire to grow and the desire to stay safe cancel each other out, resulting in stagnation and feeling stuck. It’s like pressing down on the brake and the gas in the car at the same time. There is a whole lot of power and energy being used, but we’re not getting anywhere fast.

We may be excited about our life and our goals, but unless we can recognize our underlying, unconscious limiting beliefs and patterns, we may never reach those goals. What we will find instead is excuses that sound like extremely valid reasons for continuing to play small in our lives. We will likely procrastinate until we eventually give up.



Step #2:

Letting go of the self-blame, judgement and shame: understanding that your old patterns of behavior are not your fault.

Now that you have begun to understand a little bit about the underlying patterns and beliefs that have kept you safe for all these years, it’s time to begin to release the self-judgement, blame and shame that can contribute to keeping us stuck.

First of all, it’s worth saying that sometimes circumstances beyond our control do play a big part when we face blocks or obstacles on the road to achieving our goals.

In my case, my family all got sick. Perhaps something similar has happened to you. We cannot control other people and we cannot control the weather or other external circumstances. This may sound silly, but I have in the past blamed myself for bad weather! 😉

Another important thing to understand is that safety is a hard-wired human need. Our reptilian brain (the part responsible for ensuring the survival of the human race) will do anything to keep us safe. That usually does not include growing and striving towards goals. In addition to this, when we have a history of abuse or trauma, very often, we may have been told or shown that our needs and desires are unimportant or do not matter at all.

Understanding that we have patterns and beliefs running that we may not even be consciously aware of can help ease the pressure and failure that we can sometimes feel.

The abuse we experienced was not our fault. The traumatic experiences we lived through or witnessed were not our fault. But, if we are ever to move from a life of surviving to fully thriving, it is now our responsibility to challenge those old beliefs. We can begin asking ourselves questions like:

‘Is it really true that I don’t deserve anything good to happen to me?’ ‘Does my life really have to be such a struggle?’

If none of this was your fault, if you could let go of some of the shame, the self-loathing, the judgement, what would be possible for you and your life? You cannot change what has happened to you, but you do get to choose how you move forwards in your life today.


Step # 3:

Getting in touch with how we feel and where we feel it in our body:

Now that you’ve identified a goal and the push-pull of the positive excitement and the ‘yes but’s’, and you’ve understood (at least consciously) that the beliefs, patterns and blocks you face are not your fault, it’s time to tune in to what you’re really feeling.

What does this mean?

Well, when you think about reaching the goal you wrote down in step # 1, first of all notice the positive feelings or sensations that you get in your body. Perhaps you feel fluttery excitement like champagne bubbles in your belly. Perhaps you feel an open feeling in your chest and you notice that your shoulders feel a little less tight than they did a couple of minutes ago.

Now, just for a moment, focus on the ‘yes but’s’ that you also wrote down. Maybe notice any fears that came up for you. As you bring your attention and awareness to these ‘yes but’s’, notice what happens inside. What is your ‘felt-sense’ experience? Do you get a sinking feeling? Do you feel any constriction in your jaw, throat, chest or legs? Do your shoulders sag?

Whatever you notice in your body is not wrong or right, it is just the truth of how you feel.

At the same time, see if you can become aware of any negative self-talk or any feelings like frustration, futility, overwhelm or hopelessness. Very rarely are we taught to pay attention to what we are feeling in our body.

With a history of trauma it’s extremely common to dissociate and stay very far away from our body and our feelings. But, with just a little tuning-in and attention, we can begin to notice a whole wealth of information that is key to releasing the blocks and limiting beliefs that have kept us from achieving our goals and kept us feeling stuck in our life, until now.


Step #4:

Tapping to release blocks to our success, so that we can live the life we want and deserve!

Before we begin to Tap, let’s review:

1) Write down your goal.

2) Notice any initial positive feelings or excitement about reaching this goal.

3) Notice any ‘yes but’s’, limiting beliefs or patterns preventing you from reaching your goal.

4) Acknowledge that these patterns are not your fault – consciously begin to release shame and self-judgement.

5) Notice what you feel in your body and where you feel it.

Now that you’ve reviewed the previous steps, it’s time to Tap.

Tapping Script:

How to use Tapping to release judgement, shame and self-blame around our ability to reach our goals. Letting go of old patterns and beliefs so that we can move forwards in our lives today.

Take another moment to check back in with the previous step. With your goal in mind, notice the push-pull energy in your body. Allow yourself to become aware of both the excitement and also any ‘yes but’s’. You might become aware of overwhelm, frustration, fear etc. Notice where you feel this in your body. On a scale of 0-10, rate how strongly you feel that feeling or emotion. You might observe something like:

‘When I think about my goal, I feel excited about it. I feel this in my face as I start to smile. But then doubts creep in like a cold, dark seeping feeling in my gut. I feel frustrated at a level 8 and there is so much tension in my arms. It feels like I want to punch something. My jaw is clenched and I want to scream.’

Keeping this in your mind, take a deep breath in as we begin to tap:

Karate Chop Point: (Setup Statement)

1) Even though I’m having all these doubts about my ability to make this goal happen for me, I know I’m a good person anyway.

2) Even though I feel so much futility when it comes to reaching my goals, and I’m not sure how to trust myself because I’m always starting new things and then stopping again whenever an obstacle blocks my way, I choose to remember that I’m doing my best right now.

3) Even though I feel like such a failure because I’ve gotten so off track from where I want to be and reaching my goal feels so impossible right now, I know that I’m ok anyway, just as I am.

Now move on to the Tapping Points:

Top of Head (TH): I feel like such a failure
Eyebrow (EB): Why is this so hard for me?
Side of Eye (SE): Everyone else seems to manage to set and reach their goals just fine
Under Eye (UE): What the heck is wrong with me?
Under Nose (UN): I feel so ashamed of myself for getting so off track again
Chin (CH): I feel this sinking feeling inside when I think about my goal
Collar Bone (CB): I just don’t understand what I’m doing wrong
Under Arm (UA): I was so excited to do this

TH: I know it’s what I want
EB: Well, at least, a part of me feels like reaching this goal is what I want
SE: But another part of me does feel afraid
UE: What if I fail?
UN: What will people think of me then?
CH: I’m scared of how people will judge me if I can’t do this
CB: I thought this was what I wanted to do
UA: But what if it’s not?

TH: What if I’m just not meant to do this?
EB: Who am I to do this anyway?
SE: But I do want to do this!
UE: I feel so many mixed emotions and feelings about this
UN: I feel so overwhelmed and I don’t know where to start
CH: This pattern feels so familiar to me
CB: I set a goal and I get excited
UA: I make some progress and I really want to succeed

TH: But then something always gets in the way
EB: I feel so much futility about this familiar pattern right now
SE: Why does this keep happening to me?
UE: It’s like the universe doesn’t want me to succeed.
UN: If I were really meant to do this, wouldn’t it be easier?
CH: Shouldn’t it be smooth?
CB: Ugh, I feel so hopeless right now
UA: I should just give up on this dream, this goal

TH: I feel so pathetic right now
EB: But what if this is not my fault?
SE: What if this is just an old pattern that I’m running?
UE: What if my unconscious brain is just trying to keep me safe?
UN: Sometimes things just happen that knock people off track
CH: But what if it’s not unique to me, what if this doesn’t have to mean that my dream, my goal is over?
CB: What if I get to choose now?
UA: But I didn’t get to choose back then

TH: Back then everything was out of my control
EB: But I survived all that and now it’s my turn to take control
SE: I give myself permission to try again
UE: I give myself permission to pick myself back up
UN: I used to believe that if I got knocked off track then it was just not meant to be and I should just quit.
CH: But now I’m open to the idea that that might not be not true
CB: I see and understand these old patterns and beliefs now and how they’ve kept me safe
UA: I’m so ready to go beyond just surviving now

TH: I choose to acknowledge that I deserve to thrive
EB: It might not be easy
SE: There will be blocks and obstacles along the way
UE: But I choose to tap in to my resilience and my strength
UN: I refuse to be held back by this any longer
CH: Thank you old patterns and beliefs for keeping me safe
CB: But I’ve outgrown you now and I’m choosing a different way
UA: This is my time

TH: My time to heal
EB: My time to thrive
SE: My time to really live
UE: I choose to follow my dreams and pursue my goals no matter what obstacles I face
UN: What if getting knocked off track is just a normal part of life
CH: And doesn’t mean that I’m a failure
CB: I’m letting go of that old belief, that old story
UA: I see now that it’s no longer serving me

TH: I choose to release the self-blame and judgement around why I got so off track
EB: letting go of all the mean and cruel things I’ve been saying to myself
SE: I choose to allow myself a little space to breathe
UE: maybe it’s normal to get off track
UN: But I don’t have to stay off track
CH: I don’t have to quit
CB: I allow myself to see every minute and every day as a new chance to start again
UA: It’s not too late

TH: I choose to breathe in to my strength
EB: I can do this
SE: I give myself permission to do this
UE: I’ve played small for long enough
UN: I’m safe enough to move forwards in my life today
CH: I choose now to release any remaining feelings of overwhelm
CB: So that I can break my goal down in to tiny manageable pieces
UA: I can do this step by step, bit by bit

TH: I can release my fears around this, knowing that I’m ok anyway, just as I am
EB: I have nothing to prove
SE: I’m doing this for me
UE: This is my life and I get to choose
UN: I didn’t get to choose back then
CH: But things are so different now.
CB: I’m different now
UA: Releasing any remaining feelings of hopelessness, futility and shame

TH: I can see my path clearly now
EB: I choose to allow myself to stay focused on the end game
SE: It might not be a short game
UE: But I can do this
UN: I am doing this, little by little, step by step
CH: Letting go of any residual old patterns and beliefs
CB: I see myself reaching my goal
UA: I believe in me, and that feels like a relief

Now that we’ve Tapped, go ahead and take another deep breath in. Take a moment to check in with where you are right now. How is your body feeling? How has what you were feeling at the beginning shifted? Are you aware of less constriction? Or a greater feeling of expansion or lightness? Do you feel more free? More hopeful?

Check in with whatever is present for you right now. Take a look at where you were when we started this Tapping. If you began at an 8 or 9 of futility or overwhelm, perhaps that number has moved down a bit or maybe it has cleared entirely and another layer or topic has come up for your attention. There is no right or wrong answer. 🙂

Please let me know in the comments below if this Tapping was helpful for you and how you’re doing now. And as ever, if you need support or want to work with me one-on-one as your coach, click here to contact me or here to schedule a session today.

Wishing you peace and joy as you continue your journey and follow your dreams.

Karen 🙂

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About Me

I'm Karen Ortner, an EFT Tapping expert, personal development coach, and childhood abuse survivor and I'm passionate about helping YOU in your healing journey!


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