overcome self-doubt

Last week, we talked about Disappointing Others. A number of you wrote to thank us for that post and asked about an even more challenging person to disappoint… yourself.

You described having the experience of being disappointed in something you did or didn’t do, or gave up on too early and found yourself paralyzed by self-doubt.

Self-doubt is a debilitating emotion that leaves us unprotected in our inner world and unable to take action on our own behalf in our external world.

So, what can you do when you find yourself in the throes of self-doubt?

  1. Be gentle with yourself. If you were talking to a young person who was beating themself up with self-doubt, you wouldn’t say, “Buck up.” You would likely say, “Tell me more.” Be gentle with yourself and honor that you feel caught by self-doubt.
  2. Ask yourself, when did this start? Was there a trigger? For most people, self-doubt grabs them when they have done something that they judge harshly or that someone who matters to them judges harshly. Think about when you started to feel the self-doubt and where the judgment came from. It’s helpful to know this so you can assess its accuracy.
  3. Explore if the judgment is accurate. It’s important to try to be as objective as possible. We know, we know, this is not easy when you are in the throes of self-doubt, but believe us when we tell you, it can help you move forward. The goal here is to set yourself up to learn from your feelings.
    • If it’s your own judgment about something you did, explore if it’s accurate in the present or if it’s something you learned as a kid when you disappointed or angered your parents. We can get clobbered by old feelings from our childhood and have no idea that they have grabbed us. It’s helpful to know because we can, as adults, assess their validity. Would others, whom you respect, judge you as harshly? Usually not. But if so, move onto step #4.
    • If it’s someone else’s judgment of you, reflect on whether you believe a friend, boss, or colleague would agree with their assessment of you in this matter. If not, it’s important to remember that sometimes we inadvertently trigger others who can respond harshly to us based on their history and it has little to do with the present or with us.

  4. Determine what you can learn from your feelings. Explore what you can learn.
    • Are you learning that some childhood experiences are still a trigger and you need to be thoughtful about them so that you can stay at your own center?
    • Are you learning that you really value the person whose judgment you felt and you need to get some perspective on their impact in your life?
    • Are you learning that in a particular area, you dropped the ball and want to do it differently next time?

    Explore this. If you can learn from this, you may change how you respond to these challenges in the future.

  5. Take action when appropriate. Once you have learned what you can from the experience, it’s usually time to let it go, but sometimes you may need to take some action to get things cleared up so that you can move forward.

Linda recently had an experience with self-doubt that grabbed her and left her questioning if she had anything to offer the world. On reflection, she recognized that someone she valued had been very dismissive of a suggestion she’d made. Being dismissed and belittled was an experience she’d had with some frequency in the relationship with her father and it acted like a trigger and left her feeling diminished and inadequate.

It was hard to be gentle to herself, but it helped her explore what was going on. After asking herself when it happened and what triggered it, she could name the interaction and could see how shaken she felt within moments.

As she asked herself if the dismissive interaction and the judgment she felt were accurate, she could answer both no and yes. She knew that she had much to offer in the situation and at the same time, she had misread the situation and her level of influence.

She spent some time talking with a dear friend about it and it helped her get clear about how to make sense of the information. She made the decision to take a step back in the relationship and have a more explicit conversation about how and when her help was needed.

Self-doubt can feel debilitating, but you can move through it using these 5 simple but powerful steps.

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