When Self-doubt Consumes You – Identify And Stop It

Is self-doubt unhealthy? Why is it so hard to stop self-doubt? What can it lead to and how can I change it?

A person sitting on a bench with an umbrella, being rained down on by question marks and self-doubt

Although we all know what it feels like, some of us struggle with self-doubt, while others know how to cope with it – or even gain from it. Why can it feel like everyone else is doing so well, when I am struggling so much?

Healthy self-doubt betters us

A healthy measure of self-doubt can help us recognize that we are not always right. Questioning and challenging yourself, to a certain degree, can be a great form of reflection. After all, nobody likes a person who is completely full of himself.

However, many of us are also familiar with the burden too much self-doubt can inflict upon us. We might begin to “stand in our own way” and hesitate. We find it hard to accept that there are also good things about us. This is where unhealthy self-doubt begins – and where it should stop.

Unhealthy self-doubt feeds on you

If we don’t watch out, self-doubt deteriorates quickly. It isn’t easy to keep your motivation up, when you have the gnawing feeling that you will never achieve your goals, that you don’t have talent, that you are not worthy of the position you are in or the partner you have. You start using small failures as proof. Unhealthy self-doubt can be compared to a greedy parasite that consumes more of you. Self-doubt feeds on your sense of self, particularly your self-esteem, self-worth, and self-efficacy.

Self-doubt – your personal parasite

There are psychological mechanisms self-doubters use to uphold and perpetuate their unhealthy attitude towards themselves. You might recognize yourself in one or the other.

“I can’t” – The self-fulfilling prophecy

If you keep telling yourself: “I’m a loser/ I’m incompetent/I’m…” you will find how easy it is to prove yourself right. This is scientifically proven. Two simple little words lay at the core of this, popping up on repeat: “I can’t.”

Ironically, being convinced that you can’t, will make you try less hard, which means that you probably won’t. And then, once you “didn’t”, your self-eating parasite will use this failure against you, presenting you with a new “I can’t” at the next possible opportunity.

“I didn’t” – Self-sabotaging

If you are worried you won’t pass a test, for example, it might be tempting not to study at all. So, once you’ve failed you can blame it on the fact that you didn’t study. It is an inventive way to dodge taking the blame. Afterall, it is not you or your capabilities that failed. It was the situation. Had you studied, you would have passed. But you didn’t study and that’s why you didn’t pass.

Self-sabotaging emerges from a fear of failure. Accordingly, it loves procrastination. Keeping this up too long however, will eventually lead to what you were trying to avoid all along: You will begin to believe that you are incapable of success, because you have forgotten how talented and qualified you truly are, when you try.

“I shouldn’t” – The impostor syndrome

The impostor syndrome is strongly connected to self-doubt. It describes the unreasonable feeling of being a fraud in disguise that has seized an opportunity by luck rather than personal abilities or effort. You feel that it can only be a matter of time until people around you discover this and kick you out.

Fascinatingly, this phenomenon has been shown to predict and accompany mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety. Essentially, you are not allowing yourself to accept that you are just as worthy as everyone else and that can do some serious damage. For more on the impostor syndrome, see this video here.

“I suck” – Lack of self-kindness

Frankly, maybe you’ve noticed that when you’re alone, you are being a real jerk to yourself. Studies show that the lack of self-kindness can predict self-doubt. Individuals who are kinder to themselves tend to accept their defects rather than deny them. Self-doubtful people, on the other hand, worry more about failures and negative evaluations. They have a higher need for approval from others, are harsher in their self-judgements and tend to isolate themselves.


Self-doubt – a gateway drug to depression

After unconsciously using these mechanisms, you might begin to fully believe your self-doubts. The nasty inner voice isn’t easily silenced anymore. It is taking over control. Numerous studies have found a connection between steady self-doubt and psychological problems including mood swings, lower self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. In fact, many of the symptoms used to diagnose depression correspond with patterns found in the mechanisms explained above. Your self-doubt is taking over and deteriorating into depression when for example, you’re losing motivation or concentration, feeling indecisive, guilty, or worthless. Maybe you’re developing a pessimistic perspective on your future. You might avoid responsibility, isolate yourself from others, and experience real fear or anxiety.

Therefore: Don’t downplay depression! If there is a possibility that you are depressed – don’t doubt that as well!
It can be tempting to tell yourself that you are overreacting, or making things up. However, if there is a possibility that you are struggling with more than self-doubt, you should doublecheck. You owe that to yourself.

How to break the cycle? – Stop feeding your parasite

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh

If you stop feeding your self-doubt, eventually it will starve and go away. Try to identify an area that is not going well. Choose one thing, a small thing, and start there. For example, if you just noticed that you tend to self-sabotage, ask a friend to become your eye witness for goals you set yourself and ask that friend to regularly check on you and encourage you not to boycott those goals.

Another important part of stopping this self-doubt is learning to give yourself credit where credit is due: The accomplishments you have worked for are real. Recognize the difference between arrogant bragging and a realistic acknowledgement of how hard you have worked towards something. It’s good to be proud of that!

Self-doubt fades when we connect with others

Sometimes we forget how critical we can be towards ourselves. Most of us judge ourselves so much harsher than we would ever judge, or think about, a friend. Good friends can be a very effective personality mirror. They can reflect things back to you, that you might have difficulty seeing. If you don’t know how to start this conversation, you could simply ask: “What do you like about me?”

Isolating yourself can make the downward spiral worse, giving your harmful inner voice more space for destruction. Although you might not feel like it, spending time with people and sharing experiences can be extremely helpful. You might find that you’re not as alone as you thought.

Self-doubt fades when we connect with ourselves

Some people find it helpful to keep a journal. Putting your thoughts to paper can encourage new realizations. Tracking your mood can have a similar effect. There is great opportunity for growth, just by observing your own patterns. Moodpath could assist you in this.

It is a free mobile app created to detect depression and help you help yourself, over the course of two weeks, using your smartphone. At the end of those two weeks, you will receive a sound assessment of your mental health. If you are struggling with self-doubt and can identify even with a few symptoms linked to depression, it is worth making sure. If you don’t know where to start – start here! You owe it to yourself to attempt a change.

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