I’ve written before on this blog about anxiety but I haven’t talked very much about self-doubt. In fact, the two often seem to be interlinked, feeding off each other in a vicious circle.
What even is self-doubt? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “lack of confidence in oneself and one’s abilities” but I think coach Sas Petherick explains it better: “Self-doubt shows up as perfectionism, procrastination, hiding, over-delivering, down playing your achievements, people pleasing, constantly comparing yourself to others and feeling like an imposter.”
Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed self-doubt creeping, slithering, threading its ugly head into a few aspects of my life and I wanted to share it with you here; partly for my own thought process and partly in the hope that it might help you if you’re experiencing similar things, or know someone who is.
I count myself really lucky that I’ve got wonderful friends, whether that be my group of girls from home, my uni crew, the ones I’ve made in Leeds, or any of the other amazing humans I’ve met in my 28 little years on this planet. Friendship is hugely important to me but somehow recently, my emotions around communication with friends have made me horribly anxious. Somebody not replying to my message will make me start to question their opinion of me, seeing friends meet up without me has felt like a punch in the stomach, and even a simple, nice message from a friend can have me analysing every word, to somehow believe that they’re annoyed with me. When I put my logical head on as I write this, none of it warrants the energy I’ve spent fixating on things and getting myself worked up and upset, convinced that my friends don’t like me or that I’ve annoyed them in some way. Nevertheless, feelings like this can be fairly all-consuming if we allow them to be.
Managing the doubt
Doubtful thoughts like these are emotional responses and not logical. When they pop into my head, I find it helpful to confront them with the rational response instead. For example, if someone didn’t reply to a message my initial thought might be “they don’t like me or don’t want to talk to me”. The rational response is that we all get caught up in the busyness of life, we’ve all missed messages in our time and it isn’t personal. Rather than ‘they’ve met up without me because they don’t like my company’, what about ‘why would I be invited to every single meet-up when sometimes it’s good to see friends one-to-one?’.
Another thing I’ve found helpful is to keep nice messages, such as thoughtful cards or a kind text, and read them back to myself in moments of doubt. Reminding yourself of the truth – that your friends love and care for you – can be a helpful antidote to the lies we tell ourselves in our heads.
If you read this blog regularly or know me in real life, you’ll know that I’m passionate about body image and care a lot about body positivity and the need for self-acceptance and self-love; needless to say I hate diet culture and everything it stands for.
Over the years I’ve developed a healthy self-esteem about the way I look (from earlier self-hatred as a teenager) not because of anything arbitrary or objective about my body like a cup size or a waist measurement but because of a deliberate acceptance to celebrate myself the way I am, however that fits in with what’s deemed as attractive. I’ve seen the pain that disordered eating can cause and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy –it’s parts of what fuels my attitude to body image. But just recently I’ve noticed the slow, wily creeping of doubt here too; whether that be my reaction to a bad photo or a slightly less than positive perception of what I see in the mirror.
Managing the doubt
When it comes to body image, I find that outside influences can have a huge effect, as I wrote in a recent post. None of us are exempt from this, and noting how different people or media make us feel can be a useful way of working out where doubt has set in. As well as cutting out, reducing or filtering potentially unhelpful influences, a good strategy can be to consume more positive influences too. I find @bodyposipanda on Instagram wonderful for this – her message of body acceptance and self-love really helps me get back on track with my thinking. I also love @caitmeredith and @aliceandpeanutbutter who write an anti-diet newsletter called @sinceslicedbreadmag. All these accounts and the truths they remind me of are hugely helpful.
Another important thing can be to counter subjective, judgemental thoughts with loving ones. In response to ‘my stomach looks bigger today’, what about challenging that with ‘and why does that matter?’, ‘Why do I want it to look a certain way?’ and ‘my stomach is a soft, rippling part of me that not only houses vital organs but grows and stretches with me and is an incredible, beautiful thing.’
Over the last year or so my self-confidence at work has taken some fairly hard knocks. After a more positive few months and a new direction, I’ve felt a lot better in general about this but I guess it’s never gone away and recently I’ve done a lot of second-guessing myself – over-analysing decisions and choices I’ve made, worrying about how other people perceive me, and generally not really giving myself a break. I’ve realised more than ever this year how much work ties in with our identity and so I suppose any kind of change is likely to lead to some self-doubt.
Managing the doubt
There was one particular day a week or two ago when I found myself feeling quite low, really all down to my fear around what people thought of my career choices. I saw a quote on Instagram that said “Friendly reminder: you aren’t required to impress anyone with your life choices” and it struck a chord. Whilst of course our life choices aren’t just about us and do need to take account of other people and how they will be affected, it doesn’t matter one bit if they impress or not. Being reminded of how superficial that is helped a lot – if I and you make choices for the right reasons and someone doesn’t get it, that’s their problem. I think when it comes to self-doubt and work, whilst each job is different and specific, it does come back to reminding ourselves of rational, logical truths, and if we have our integrity then we are doing something right, however insecure and doubtful we may feel.
In short, in whichever area of life you or I are experiencing self-doubt, I believe that one of the most effective tools to managing it is being honest with ourselves and others, and then confronting the fear with facts. I’m in no way an expert or medical professional and I’m sure different things work for different people, but I wanted to open up about my own experience and share what I find helpful. However you’re feeling right now, I just want to remind you that you are worthy, capable and stronger than you know.
Some useful resources