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Jerome Murray, Ph.D.

A loser is someone who habitually chooses behavior which prevents the development of his potential.

In fact, his behavior not only prevents the development of his potential, it eventually destroys it. No one is born a loser, you have to work at it. Losers are made, not born. They are a source of much pain and frustration to those who love them. If you are living with a loser, and you care about him, there are ten things you must do.

These are not "The Ten Suggestions," they are "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS." If there is any possibility for a loser to change, and for you to preserve your sanity, these ten rules offer the best chance. Loser's come in both genders, but to avoid literary awkwardness I use the male gender to illustrate the rules.


You must not believe that the loser's behavior is a statement about your worth as a person. "If I loved him better maybe he wouldn't do these things," and "If I treated him better maybe he would be different" are just a few of the irrational beliefs which get people stuck in dysfunctional relationships. If he suspects you are vulnerable to this type of belief he will use it to control you, and remain a loser.

If that logic was true the only successful people would be those who were treated perfectly by those who cared about them. That's irrational. While it may be true you could treat him better or love him more, his self-destructive behavior is his choice, not your influence. You can't make him into a loser anymore than you can make him into a winner. Only he can do that.

Remember, a loser's behavior is a statement about him, not a statement about you.


Don't do anything for him he should be doing for himself. Don't take care of him by explaining him, apologizing for him, or justifying him to your friends. If you do you will cripple him and further undermine his self- respect.

Taking responsibility for him cripples him because it prevents him from doing those things he must do to be a fully functioning adult. How will he ever learn if you do it for him? Taking responsibility for him undermines his self-respect because if you take care of him he doesn't get the self- approval that comes from being responsible. If you love him insist on personal responsibility, and if he isn't responsible go to Rule #3.


Consequences are what happens as the result of an antecedent behavior. In other words, consequences are what happens as a result of something you do. Consequences provide feedback as to the effectiveness of the behavior allowing the individual to stop, modify, or continue the behavior. In short, consequences are a learning device. We tend to continue doing things which give us pleasure and quit doing things which give us pain. If the consequences are removed how can we learn?

While it's true not everyone learns from consequences, no one learns without them. To shield a loser from the consequences of his behavior is to teach him that the rules don't apply to him. He will therefore act any way he wishes believing someone will always rescue him at the last minute.

You must not act as if what happens to him is more important to you than it is to him. If you do, he'll let you be responsible for it. Consequences don't teach you anything if you never experience them. It is sad to see someone you love in trouble, but it is not an act of love to shield him from the consequences of his conduct. Every time you rescue him you are casting your vote in favor of him being a loser.


Every excuse boils down to one illogical belief, "I am not in control of my life, everyone else - and everything else - is." If you accept that logic it will reinforce his acceptance of it and failure is inevitable.

People aren't successful because of luck, or "getting the breaks." There are as many reasons for failure on millionaires row as there are on skid row. It can rain on anyone's parade, but loser's curse the rain and winner's sell umbrellas.

The fact is, what happens to you is not what makes the difference, what you do about what happens to you is what makes the difference. Every excuse is a shovel that digs him a deeper grave. Don't reinforce his self-delusion by accepting excuses. It may not be his fault, but it is his responsibility. There are a million reasons for failure, but not one excuse.


Quit criticizing, cajoling, threatening, pleading, moralizing and in general acting like his parent. If you want him to be adult, treat him like an adult by insisting on responsibility and not shielding him from the consequences of irresponsibility. If you act like a parent, he will continue acting like a child. It doesn't help him and it only makes you more miserable.


There is only one time when intervention can be effective and that is when it is requested. Advice is difficult enough to take when it is requested. Unsolicited advice merely strengthens resistance by implying a superior-inferior relationship. Don't offer to assist the loser do a single thing unless he requests that assistance. You may inform him that you have resources available to refer him to, but don't offer them unless he requests them.

If assistance is requested, the next step is to make sure you don't fall into the trap of becoming responsible to follow through. If the loser is an alcoholic for example, and asks for assistance, don't look up the Alcoholic's Anonymous telephone number and find out where the meetings are; that's his responsibility. The most you should do is tell him where the phone book is located. If your advice is criticized, and it will be, don't get defensive just keep quiet and drop the issue. Getting you to take responsibility for his life is not the goal. Getting him to be responsible for his life is the goal.


Set realistic limits on the amount of dysfunctional behavior you are willing to accept and then stick to them. The area you need to place limits on is any behavior by him which detracts from the quality of your life. Don't permit the consequences of the loser's behavior to spill over into your life. You must firmly limit that behavior.

However, don't ever make threats you are not willing to enforce, and willing to live with when they are enforced. For example, don't threaten to "kick him out" unless you fully intend to do so.

When you should you break off the relationship permanently? What behavior is so unacceptable that it is realistic to sever the relationship?

It is realistic to be unwilling to accept criminal behavior, potentially life-threatening behavior, and behavior that destroys your self-esteem such as chronic verbal abuse. Not putting firm limits on these behaviors is the same as giving permission for them to occur again. If this behavior occurs, demand that it stop. If it occurs even one more time, move him out and get a court order to enforce it if necessary.

The exception to waiting to see if a behavior recurs is potentially life-threatening behavior. Don't ever wait until the next time to enforce limits on physical abuse, do it the first time. It is not only realistic, it is crucial to not permit even one incident of physical abuse. The first time you are physically abused should be the last time. Kick him out immediately and do not permit reconciliation unless recommended and supervised by his therapist. However, remember you and you alone are the final judge of how much you can, or want to take. When you decide it is enough - it's enough.


When you love someone it is extremely painful to see them fail. However, unless failure is important to the loser it is unavoidable. Your concern about his potential for failure won't prevent it from occurring, he has to care. If you care more than he does you will fall into the trap of taking responsibility for his life. Once a loser realizes you have more regard for his life than he does he will use his potential for self-destruction as emotional blackmail. You will be in a trap that ends up destroying both of you.

The painful truth is not everyone is going to make it. You must be willing to accept this possibility. Only the loser can choose self-fulfillment, it can not be imposed from the outside.


Take all of your frustrated efforts to change him and put them where they have the power to do some good. In your own life. Increase your self-esteem, improve your vocational competency, safeguard your health. Do all the things for yourself you wish the loser would do.

In general, prepare yourself to live successfully alone. In the event your ultimate decision is to separate from the loser to protect your own well-being, you must be able to do so. Don't permit yourself to become financially or emotionally dependent on the loser. He has demonstrated he will not take care of his own life. Does it make sense to give him control of yours?


The most positive thing you can do for the loser is to tell him you love him, but you understand that if he wants to destroy his life no one can stop him but himself. Tell him you love him, but you will not permit him to destroy your life also. Then live a life you would be proud to have him imitate.


Can I get something that will help them, if they want help?

Copyright 1992. Jerome Murray, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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Copyright 1997. Dr. Jerome Murray. All rights reserved

Last modified on Monday, January 27, 2003