I knew I needed emotional help the day I became so angry that I punched my bedroom door, stomped down the stairs, and kicked over a living room end table—shocking my wife and two boys, and, most of all, myself. I’ve always been known as the “laid back, non-emotional German from Minnesota.” I was furious because I could not follow my trading plan, no matter how sound it was, because my emotions trumped everything I was trying to do. It was in that moment that I remembered coming across someone named Denise Shull who had spoken about trading and emotions.
So, I found your website and purchased Access Your Psychological Capital, which then led me to devour books on emotional intelligence, mindfulness, neuroscience, and sports psychology. During this time of self-reflection, I combined my life experiences, education (Masters of Divinity in Biblical Theology), your workshop and group meetings, and many other resources, and applied them to arrive at a greater self-awareness. I’d like to share the journey of becoming acquainted with my echo with you—a journey that has led me to greater emotional understanding, less impulse trades, and no more door punching.
Your E-Learning Course introduced me to another stage of trading development: what is going on inside of me. For the first time I took responsibility for what was happening while I was trading. I realized who the enemy was—me. Why do I do the things I do? I’m a mess. Where do I start according to what Denise teaches?
I began by focusing on my body before, during, and after a trade with no self-judgment. Before getting in a trade I felt anxious, sat on the edge of my chair, and breathed heavily. After I finally pulled the trigger, I was in the trade at a less than ideal location and trying desperately to seek new information to reassess the trade. During the trade, my chest felt heavy, I clenched my thumbs, making a fist, and prayed I wouldn’t get stopped out. At this point I had no idea what other traders were doing—I was completely consumed with myself. Then, sure enough, I would get stopped out on a pull back or exit after only a couple of ticks, afraid that it would come back and I would lose what little profit I had. Even two ticks profit felt like a loss to me especially after watching it march on without me, reminding me with every tick that I just lost an opportunity. . . DAMN IT, SHIT, I lost!
I was so angry that I got upset at a simple question from my wife or the noises my kids were making, blaming them for my bad trade—as if I had lost because they were distracting me. Well, after experiencing this a number of times, I knew I had issues. It was not my wife’s or my kids’ fault, and after apologizing to them, I admitted to myself that I was afraid to lose, and didn’t want my family to think I was a failure.
But I noticed my fear of failure was just as strong when I risked only $50 as when I risked $200. So I asked myself: “What do I feel and believe about myself when facing risk?” I turned my focus from my physical response to my emotional response, for emotions reveal my true beliefs about who I am and how I relate to the world around me and, in particular, how I relate to the market.
I realized that when facing risk, I feel fear, and my earliest memory of fear happened at four years old. I was sitting on my Mom’s lap in the front seat of the car while my Dad clutched the steering wheel and peered through windshield wipers that were frantically trying to clear the window of the indefatigable rain. Lighting bolts were everywhere. Thunder crashed around us. I cried and held my blankie tight. My Dad yelled some disparaging remark about my being a baby. I felt embarrassed and ashamed.
Sitting with this memory and the emotions of it, I realize I have heretofore associated fear with being a baby and losing the affection of my dad. Looking back, I see that whenever I hurt physically or emotionally, I tried to prove to myself that I wasn’t a “baby” by rebelling against my instinct to cry and instead doing dare-devilish stunts on four-wheelers and snowmobiles, tight narrowly escaping paralysis and even death a number of times. I now know I was trying to prove to myself and others that I was fearless. Early in my trading days, I took some crazy, risky trades. I won a few and lost a bunch. It didn’t take long before the losing trades hurt, and I knew I couldn’t control the market like a motor vehicle. In front of my computer screen, I started to experience real fear, and I was angry because it reminded me of feeling like a baby, as if the market was my dad saying: “What’s wrong? Are you scared? You must be a baby!” My response didn’t help; I’d make another impulse trade, another trade out of regret and another loss. Another failed attempt to prove, to my father or myself or whomever, I’m somebody.
I realized then that part of my echo was, “I can’t have what I want because I’m not as talented or strong as everyone else”—I’m just a scared baby. I was afraid of screwing up a trade because losing meant I wasn’t strong enough or talented enough to deserve acceptance or love from those closest to me. When trading, I felt like a timid kid playing against confident giants, so I had a tendency to get out after only a couple ticks because I felt as though it wouldn’t work out. I was sure I wasn’t going to get what I want, so I better get out NOW.
This feeling of “I can’t have what I want,” was further reinforced by 1) my parents pessimistic view of adversity in life—you will never win, everyone else will come out on top, because they are stronger/more talented than you are—and 2) my parents frequently complimented other kids who were talented musically or academically, yet rarely paid me compliments about my talent in sports. Since I felt my parents were always comparing me with others and there was an absence of affirmation towards me, I felt that I had to perform in order for them to be proud of me.
I think my fear of not gaining the affirmation of my parents was most strongly imprinted on my mind when I quit taking piano lessons in 9th grade. I hated piano and, as my wife will testify, I am basically tone deaf. Yet, because the children of my mom’s friends were talented musicians, I HAD to take piano. The day I told her “I quit,” my mom blew up, cried and then tried to convince me that playing piano was “good for me,” regardless of the fact that I hated it and wanted to put my time into athletics. Her reaction communicated to me that in order to gain her acceptance and love, I had to do what SHE wanted me to do. I was only acceptable if I played piano, which was pure misery for me; therefore, I believed I couldn’t have what I wanted—success, love and acceptance in something that I wanted.
From that moment on, I feared that pursing things I enjoyed meant risking my parents’ acceptance and approval. So, I put pressure on myself to perform perfectly in basketball and football, thinking that maybe then they would accept and love me for me. I thought: “if they see how good I am at sports, piano [or whatever else] won’t matter so much.” Then when my performance wasn’t perfect, I blamed myself for BOTH my poor performance AND the fact that my parents didn’t love or accept me. This line of thinking led me to believe that their lack of love and acceptance was “my fault.”
Interestingly enough, any time I pursued something, my parents said, “Well, if it doesn’t work out. . . . ” As a kid, I interpreted that statement to mean my pursuit will fail because I’m not good enough, which will result in failing to gain my parents’ acceptance. Consequently, the fact that they don’t accept me is MY fault. . . . If only I’d just worked a little bit harder. . . .
So, when I trade, my self-worth is dependent on whether I make it or not. When I take a bad trade, I realize my full echo is, “I can’t have what I want because I’m not as talented or strong as all the other traders out there, and, the fact that I’m not as talented and strong is ALL MY FAULT!” If I don’t make it, I risk losing the love and acceptance of those I care about because I project my parents’ line of thinking onto them. The greatest revelation came one day, when after three bad trades, I just started saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” At first, I had no idea to whom I was apologizing. I was apologizing for having failed and disappointed everyone important to me. I was telling them that I was sorry for not being “good enough” and, ultimately for not making it as a trader. That is a reality I dread.
After walking, wallowing, and writing, I am finally able to name my hindering emotions: fear that I can’t have what I want because I’m “a baby,” anger and regret over the fact that I’m not “good enough,” and despair over the fact that this is all my fault. Now that I’ve named my emotions and beliefs, I’m free to channel my psychological capital towards what other traders are doing by using market profile and order flow. I have finally given myself permission to succeed and I am confident when I trade.