Many women struggle with negative self-talk and self-doubt. Lacking self-confidence and trust can show up in everyday incidents as well as life goals and dreams. It can be very paralyzing. It can make you second-guess your every decision. Self-doubt can make you ask for everyone’s opinion before you feel safe enough to make a decision.
There is a difference between self-doubt, intuition, and thoughtful contemplation.
We rely on our gut feelings sometimes in instances of physical safety. How many times have you felt uneasy or uncomfortable and been unable to put your finger on why? That is not the same as self-doubt. It is also important to spend time in honest reflection of our lives and circumstances; even if we come across some negative thoughts in that process, that is not necessarily self-doubt.
Self-doubt is the conversation you have with yourself about your ability to be, to have, to achieve. It is the voice that talks back to you about your self-image, your potential, your abilities. While having self-doubt is very common and therefore normalized, it doesn’t have to be permanent!
What causes self-doubt?
1) Genes and temperament:
Temperament refers to individual differences in how we react emotionally and regulate ourselves; these differences are biologically-based. As humans, we vary in our emotional sensitivity and processing, and every individual will have his/her/their temperament as a starting-off point.
Some people may experience higher awareness and attunement to emotional and social information than others do. These people comprehend interpersonal relationships on an innate level and can navigate relationships with relative ease. As a result, they form supportive bonds with other people that reflect that they have high value in others’ eyes. It makes sense that those whose temperament is “easier” tend to adapt well to varying situations and experience generally higher self-esteem than those whose temperaments might be classified as “more difficult.”
Some of us were born with temperaments that cause us to struggle to process different scenarios or comprehend others’ desires. This may have created an environment where we consistently felt like “trouble” or “a bother” or simply misunderstood by those around us. Perhaps, as children, we felt like we were trying to learn the rules of socialization while others had already been taught the information. We may have struggled to connect to other people or maintain supportive friendships, as our tolerance for stimuli might have been lower, and we may have behaved in negative ways as a consequence.
Being “the troublemaker” or “the crying kid” in school, or feeling overwhelmed by situations that others seemed to handle without even batting an eye, may have planted thoughts in our minds about ourselves. “Why is it so much easier for them?” or “Why can everyone make new friends except me?” This would innately lead to the idea that “Something must be wrong with me,” causing us to doubt ourselves, our abilities, and our worth. While temperament is biologically-based, that doesn’t mean that we cannot learn to work on our responses, reactions, and behaviors surrounding temperament; it just means that we have a different path than others with different temperaments.
2) Life experiences:
Even those with relaxed and adaptable temperaments might find they are no match for some of the conditioning that life throws our way. From the moment we are born, our environment shapes our perception of the world and ourselves. Some of us who experience self-doubt do so because of a lack of support from the people who raised us. Demanding or neglectful parents may adopt opposite behaviors with their children, but the resulting low self-esteem can be measured very similarly. A demanding parent may apply constant pressure and supervision, never allowing for mistakes, therefore never providing the space to muddle through and solve a problem. Demanding parents have high standards and can be negligent in handing out praise, nothing their child does is ever really “good enough” for them. On the opposite end of the spectrum, an absent or neglectful parent, leaving a child adrift, sends the message that the child isn’t worth time and attention. When a parent is neglectful, they also fail to model confident behavior, teach skills, and guide growth.
Competitive school and work environments are also a breeding ground for self-doubt; working hard but receiving no accolades or advancement can begin to instill a sense of perpetual failure that causes us to feel as though we must be on the wrong page in life. And failed relationships, whether romantic or platonic, also shape our idea of our potential and trajectory. If our friendships and romantic relationships seem to come and go, we may begin to speak to ourselves about our worth: we may tell ourselves that we’re not easy to love, or we are “bad friends.”
3) The Comparison Trap:
No matter how independent of a person we might be, the truth is that we are wired for social connection. We have an innate desire to belong. This desire leads to us forming social connections that are maintained both in-person and online (especially now). In our in-person community, it can be a slippery slope to compare our job performance to that of a coworker or our love life to that of another single friend. We might compare our family life to our best friend’s or our marriage to the one modeled by our parents.
Online, we form “connections” that are often one-sided by following creators on social platforms such as Instagram or TikTok. While we are not necessarily conversing with these people, we view the version of their lives that they choose to present to us. This is how, sometimes, this need for a community and a tribe can feed into our self-doubt and insecurity. When social media keeps us company for hours a day, we are doomed to compare our lowest points to someone else’s highest without any context.
This is especially dangerous right now, as most of us spend a lot of time in some form of lockdown. We may be online more often than we previously were, perhaps as a single person who lives alone viewing happy family dinners of a household with several family members. Even if we often enjoy our peace and quiet, the idea of passing a big basket of garlic bread to a sibling or a parent might give us a pang in our chest. Or we may have had travel plans that we canceled but come across others who made the journey to our dream location regardless of the pandemic. This may cause us to feel foolish or doubtful that we made the right decision; perhaps we would have felt strong in our choice in the past, but now we are tired and vulnerable and struggling to see the purpose. When we don’t have access to the flip side: the fights in the family house because everyone is much more underfoot, or the backlash that that traveler got from a loved one that created problems in their relationship, it is easy to assume that we are doing something wrong because they look happy online. Understandably, this can lead to insecurity about both long and short-term choices we have made.
Self-doubt can be a tough monster to battle because it is often the result of early childhood conditions or experiences, so we don’t know any other way of living; secondly, because we usually deal with it privately. Self-doubt can impact every facet of our lives, but sharing our struggles can feel very vulnerable: we worry that if we express it at work, our competence will be questioned; we fear that if we say it to partners, they’ll think less of us; we worry that if we talk it out with friends, we’re bothering them.
While I always encourage seeking support from someone you trust, the good news is that the steps you can take to diminish your self-doubt are mostly independent and private. You can choose to let people know: “This is something I’m working on, so if you hear or see me struggle with x, can you please y?” But if you’re not comfortable with that idea yet, you can at least make a start on your own. As you begin to see improvement, you might just quiet enough self-doubt to reach out to someone else.
3 steps to turning your self-doubt into self-confidence:
1) Just do it!
I know it seems like a cliché Nike slogan, but there is some truth behind this famous one-line mantra. If you wait until you feel ready, you will be waiting for a long time. Often, we delay because we wait for the perfect time, perfect place, perfect mood, perfect moment. We have a sense that when– and only when– all the stars align, we feel ready to take action.
The truth is that you need exposure to whatever you are trying to achieve.
That means that if you doubt your ability to do something, taking the leap to try it is a great step. This doesn’t mean that your every attempt will be a success, but you won’t gain confidence without the practice. If you take a breath and go for it, whatever “it” is, you will either succeed or have just practiced! When you stop viewing every decision as a one-shot opportunity, you can cut yourself some slack and open your mind to possibilities. This doesn’t mean that you have to take a leap and expect to end up at the finish line.
Create a road map to have identifiable steps to reach your goals, identify the first step to be taken, and Just Do It!
If you feel doubtful about your plan, refocus from your fears to your values and let your values drive your actions. Rather than thinking, “Am I good enough?” you will be thinking, “Is this worth it?” When the answer to that question is “YES,” it will be much easier to take action toward it. One of my favorite tools is to act the way you want to feel, and this is a great way to go about it.
2) Change your inner dialogue:
There is no getting around it: the way you think affects the way you feel and act. If you are hoping to feel differently (in this case, feel more secure and confident), you need to let go of limiting beliefs that feed into your doubt, anxiety, and insecurity. Before you start to roll your eyes and give up on reading this blog, let me make this clear: I am not telling you to lie to yourself. I am not telling you to ignore your challenges or struggles and pretend like everything is just going to be fine because you just said some positive words to yourself. But what I am asking you to do is stop beating yourself up for the past or the present. You are not going to feel better by shaming yourself for every mistake you made. You are also not going to feel stronger or motivated by only thinking of what can go wrong. I am asking you to have a more balanced perspective. I am asking you to let go of black-and-white thinking.
Talk to yourself with compassion and empathy whenever you are struggling.
Just because something is hard does not mean you are not meant to pursue it. It can be a struggle to change your inner dialogue, so Just Do It and start in steps. For example, talk gently to yourself about how you feel as soon as you begin to experience a negative thought. Analyze the thought you just had and talk to yourself about it. Similar to Brené Brown’s slogan, “The story I am telling myself…”, this tactic stems from the idea that you might be telling yourself an untrue story about your current situation. Even if something blindsides you, for example, if you are embarrassed about an incident at the workplace and your first thought is, “This always happens to me! Everyone thinks I’m stupid! I’m not cut out for this job”, try to transition:
“I am upset right now, and that’s valid because this has happened before, and I am frustrated that it just happened again. But this doesn’t “always” happen. I am worried that people will think less of me. How do the people here generally treat me? Well, they treat me with respect and kindness. The last time this happened, nobody said anything about it, and we all just moved on. I have a lot of experience in this job, and I am qualified to be here. I am curious about why this has happened more than once; I am excited to investigate and see what I can figure out.”
Deconstructing your initial response can give you some time to process and problem-solve if need be while still validating your emotion.
3) Be your loudest cheerleader:
Self-doubt stems from always seeking external validation and never relying on our internal validation. To boost your self-confidence, turn inward and listen to your inner voice. Learn to trust your inner wisdom. This doesn’t mean that you can’t receive and appreciate the support from those around you. It just means that their positivity supplements your own rather than carrying it. Being the loudest cheerleader, by default, implies that there are others there to help you out; they’re just not your number one voice.
You are your number one voice.
Have trust in your journey and know that your story is unique for a reason. Instead of telling yourself that you should be where someone else is, tell yourself that you are where you are meant to be. Congratulate yourself for what you have accomplished, rather than berating yourself for what you haven’t. If you feel discouraged, ask yourself what you would tell a friend in the same situation, then tell yourself; be the best friend you have. Seek small goals and milestones as you pursue your dreams, as you build your life, as you plan your future. Celebrate them! You can celebrate them with others, and you also don’t have to tell anyone what they are; they can be just for you. When you choose to reward yourself privately and enjoy how that feels, you will begin to rely less and less on the praise of others.
Before you begin, make a mental note not to have self-doubt regarding your ability to transform your self-doubt into confidence! Be gentle with yourself and patient as you take steps to practice changing your mindset. Remember that all of life is a learning (and unlearning) process. Some days it may be more challenging than others to combat the feelings you might have about yourself, and that’s okay, as long as you keep trying. Always remember that you can take a deep breath and start again with something small if you begin to feel overwhelmed or too disappointed.
The goal isn’t to never have a moment of insecurity again; the goal is to recognize it as a moment and know that it doesn’t reflect who you are, what you can do, or what you have the potential to achieve in the future.
Embracing You Therapy Group Practice
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, EMBRACING imperfections to create a gentler place for CALM in your life.
At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije and Cindy Sayani, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns include Anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression or anxiety.
If you are ready to learn more about ways perfectionism is showing up in your life, Dr. Menije has a self-study digital course on Breaking-up With Perfectionism.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress, and then let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today.