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Self-Admitted Failures Band Together for Help

October 31, 1985|RALPH CIPRIANO | Times Staff Writer

Every Tuesday evening, Bert Jungmann convenes one of Southern California's newest self-help groups by saying, "Hello everyone . . . My name is Bert. I'm a failure.

"Just so I don't feel alone, are there any others here tonight who are, or who feel like, failures like myself?"

Around Jungmann's living room in Downey, a half-dozen people cautiously begin raising their hands.

Welcome to Failures Anonymous, founded last month by Jungmann. The group offers emotional support and a "12-step program to success" for people who are accustomed to failure.

Jungmann, 49, has a long history of failure. In high school, he scored in the top 2% on an IQ test, but graduated 63rd out of 78 students. In college, he changed majors twice before dropping out to join the Navy. But he did not apply himself there either, and flunked out of a flight-training program. He also has three failed marriages.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 14, 1985 Home Edition Long Beach Part 9 Page 3 Column 1 Zones Desk 2 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
An Oct. 31 story about a new self-help group in Downey, Failures Anonymous, incorrectly stated that co-founder Olivia Luna is a former member of Alcoholics Anonymous. She is not, but is a former member of Al-Anon, an organization for friends and relatives of alcoholics.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 14, 1985 Home Edition South Bay Part 9 Page 7 Column 1 Zones Desk 2 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
An Oct. 31 story about a new self-help group in Downey, Failures Anonymous, incorrectly stated that co-founder Olivia Luna is a former member of Alcoholics Anonymous. She is not, but is a former member of Al-Anon, an organization for friends and relatives of alcoholics.

"I just don't think I've accomplished very much in life," he said. "I'm a substitute teacher in elementary schools in the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District and Los Nietos Unified School District. They probably won't call me after they read this."

'Always Down on Themselves'

But Jungmann said that self-help groups like Failures Anonymous can alter a lifetime pattern of failure by attacking the reasons why people fail.

"People like myself who feel like failures have so much negative junk inside," Jungmann said. "People who are failures have a tendency to look at the things they didn't do as opposed to what they did do. So they are in a way always down on themselves."

Members of Failures Anonymous have a sponsor who helps them accomplish daily goals designed to make them feel and act more successfully in life. Members share their doubts and fears in group discussions. They keep journals in which they analyze past behavior and attempt to build confidence with affirmative statements like "I am a successful person."

Failures Anonymous is unique among approximately 3,000 self-help groups in California that, according to a UCLA psychology professor, represent the "future of mental health (care) delivery in the United States."

"There are 50 million people in self-help groups today (nationally) and the majority of them are probably producing the kind of help that can be found nowhere else," UCLA professor Gerald Goodman said. "There's no competition. The traditional mental health delivery system isn't delivering to couples coping with fertility problems, parents with murdered children, ethnics with their special problems."

He said that self-help groups can achieve powerful communication because its members have "shared experiences; the common bond makes it a lot easier to open up and disclose things they might not have been able to say easily to best friends or family or even therapists. The unusual openness often generates an experience of being understood that is unmatched."

Goodman, however, said that self-help groups need to be versed in communication skills because of the highly combustible emotions that come out of their sessions. He said that professionals like himself should provide self-help groups with communication skills that are psychologists' "trade secrets," and then "get out of the way."

At Failures Anonymous, the self-help concept Jungmann has adopted has been borrowed from other groups like Overeaters Anonymous, where he lost 50 pounds, and from books. The group has no fees and no professional adviser.

Some of the members of Failures Anonymous are successful graduates of other self-help groups.

The co-founder of Failures Anonymous is Olivia Luna, 53, an El Rancho Unified School District middle school teacher and counselor. She is a former member of Overeaters Anonymous, where she lost 35 pounds, and Alcoholics Anonymous. She said the first step toward success is admitting failure.

"It was very difficult to say at our meeting, 'My name is Olivia, I'm a failure,' but I realize that it was difficult to say with OA (Overeaters Anonymous), 'my name is Olivia, I'm a compulsive overeater.' But until I recognized that, I couldn't tackle losing the weight," she said while chewing gum.

Linked to Childhood Assumptions

For Jungmann, becoming more successful means addressing the inner voices and childhood assumptions that paved the way for a lifetime of failure.

"I just made a decision a long time ago when my father died that I wasn't going to be happy and I wasn't going to accomplish anything," he said. "My father died when I was three and left me with a mother who didn't care about me."

Jungmann said that he has been weight-lifting for more than a year now, and last week won third prize in a competition. He said for him, feeling successful means having the courage to try his hardest, and then savoring his own accomplishments, rather than reflecting on his shortcomings.

Jungmann, who went back to school to get a bachelor's degree in psychology from North Texas University and a master's degree in educational philosophy from the University of Texas, is now working on a Ph.D. dissertation in education at Pacific Western University in Los Angeles. He also is trying to make a success out of Failures Anonymous.

(Goodman is co-director of the university's California Self-Help Center, which offers a computerized service that can link persons to any of the nearly 3,000 state self-help groups within minutes, at 800-222-LINK. Jungmann can be reached at 213-923-1269.)

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