Self doubt is that inner critic who says you aren’t good enough or clever enough to do something you want or need to do. That destructive inner critic will say you are too clumsy, too slow, too shy, too old, too fat, too inexperienced or that you can’t do things as well as other people. Self doubt can have a loud voice and stop you from applying for that job or promotion, having a go at a sport, trying a creative pursuit or from making friends.
Before self doubt can be addressed, we need to be aware of why we doubt ourselves. Why do people have self doubt? Self doubt may originate from childhood experiences. A parent may have made negative comments about lack of coordination so a child is discouraged from playing sport and learning to dance. Teachers may have made negative comments and these may always have been remembered. Friends, both during childhood or later, may have laughed when we tried something and didn’t get it right. We are less likely to remember the positive comments and experiences.
We often remember the negative comments more than the positive. Many times we don’t question the validity of a negative comment. The person making the comment may have been ill informed, simply having a bad day or have been insecure themselves. I recall being plagued by self doubt when a school friend told me her mother didn’t like me. I was devastated. What had I done wrong? Some time later I asked my friend why her mother didn’t like me reminding her she had told me this was the case. She responded that her mother had never said it and my friend had said that when she had been in a bad mood. I had stressed needlessly.
At times a negative comment may have some basis of truth but perhaps we could learn the necessary skill with practice if we gave it a go. Being skilled at something requires practice and you are never going to get better at something if you don’t even try. How can you improve your singing ability if you never sing?
Self doubt can originate in a personal experience. You messed up once or twice and will always remember that. Here is a personal example. Driving in general makes me nervous. I am always anxious when I back out of the driveway, being really careful not to hit the gate. Way back in 1979, a few years after getting my licence, I backed out of the driveway and hit the gate. That was the one time in decades of driving I misjudged and got the gate. Since then I have backed out literally thousands of times without mishap. Do I back out with confidence because I have done so with success thousands of times or do I remember the one time I messed up? Yes, I always think of the one mistake. By the way, the gate was dented when we moved in and wouldn’t close properly. I must have hit it at just the right angle because afterwards it closed properly.
People who suffer from self doubt tend to take more notice of criticism and dismiss compliments on their strengths as, ‘You are just being nice’ or ‘You don’t mean that, you are just saying it.’ When complimented on what they are wearing they may dismiss it by saying, ‘What this old thing?’ If praised they may say the event was a fluke or a lucky shot. Later they may not even remember the compliment but they will play a criticism over and over in their head. There are ways of addressing self doubt and these will be discussed in Part 2.