I Failed The *$&% Bar Exam! 5 Tips for Processing Emotions

Failing the bar exam sucks. Family and friends have probably tried to help with clichés like “Kennedy failed the bar” and “get back on the horse,” which probably make you want to scream. I mean, THEY don’t have to take the bar again!

Maybe you feel angry, sad, frustrated, ashamed or just plain depressed. Maybe you feel like drinking a bottle of scotch or eating an entire tub of ice cream right now. Failing the bar can cause a roller coaster of emotions. So how do you deal with them?

If you just learned that you failed the bar exam, here are a few tips for dealing with your emotions during the first few weeks:

1. There is No Right or Wrong Way to Feel.

Failing the bar can trigger a grief cycle, similar to losing a job or a loved one. You may go from denial to anger to sadness. You may feel like you’re going forward, then backwards and upside down. Right now, don’t worry about trying to change or manage how you’re feeling. If you feel sad, just be sad for a while. Sleep, go for a walk, cry, hit a punching bag, do whatever feels right. Most importantly, try not to judge yourself for how you’re feeling. It’s all perfectly normal.

2. Take Care of Your Body.

Failing the bar is a major stressor, and major stressors usually trigger your body’s stress response, which can wreak havoc on your body. Emotional stress can be 10 times more exhausting than physical stress, so you may notice that you are overly tired. Your immune system may also be more susceptible to illness. So try to get more sleep, drink more water, exercise, and generally take better care of your body. The better you treat your body, the easier it will be to process and move through the current stress.

3. Be Nice to Yourself.

Lawyers and law students tend to be perfectionists. If you fall into that category, your first inclination is probably to beat yourself up about failing. If you notice that you are feeling guilty or ashamed, you are not alone. Your inner judge is probably having a field day right now. So try to notice when you are judging yourself or beating yourself up, and stop it. Go do something else. Go for a walk, see a movie, or read a book. Don’t get caught up in the cycle of self-abuse, because it only makes the whole process worse.

4. Ask For Support.

Many people tend to feel isolated and alone when they fail the bar and imagine that friends or family believe they are a failure or something similarly bad. Your imagination is always worse than reality. Your friends and family are there to help you, so don’t hold in your feelings and frustrations. Find someone to talk to and ask specifically for what you need. If you just need someone to listen to you vent, ask for that. This is the time to lean on your support system.

5. Don’t Make Major Decisions Right Away.

This is not the time to decide whether you want to be a lawyer, whether to stay in a relationship, or move. If you can postpone major decisions for a few weeks, postpone them. Right now it’s difficult to see the forest through the trees. If you find yourself obsessing over a question or decision, just write down all of your feelings on a piece of paper and put it in a drawer for a few weeks. Once you feel a little more solid, then come back to it.

If you are interested in more tips about handling emotions after failing the bar, sign up for my FREE TELESEMINAR, scheduled for December 1, 2011. During that teleseminar, I will talk more specifically about how to handle negative emotions during bar study and how to stop those emotions from interfering with studying and success the next time around. During the teleseminar, we will also discuss private tutors, how to decide if a private tutor is right for you, and selecting a private tutor. If you are a current subscriber to the Mind Over Bar Newsletter, you will automatically receive call in information, and do not need to register. Register Here.

Lauren Firestein is the founder of the Mind Over Bar Course, an innovative course that focuses only on the mental challenges of the bar exam. The course teaches in-the-moment practices you can use to deal with any mental challenge and rock the bar exam.