recognizing-self-doubt

Recognizing Self-Doubt

In my most profound moments of self-reflection, I find that I am riddled with self-doubt that stops me from achieving personal goals. Self-doubt tells us that we are incapable of doing something and serves as discouragement disguised as good-intentions. When making significant life changes, we must recognize self-doubt for what it is, a possible road block, and find a way to cope with it.

We define self-doubt as a lack of confidence in ourselves and what we are capable of doing. It isn’t always an accurate assessment of our abilities but meant as a form of self-handicapping to protect our egos from possible failure. This is reductionist, as there are other reasons why people fall into self-doubt, but that’s what we’ll be focusing on.

We engage in self-doubt as an excuse to prevent us from moving forward in life. It’s important to recognize when this happens because sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

Self-Doubt after Self-Reflection

I have a voice in the back of my head that pipes up after I’ve reflected on a situation. The situation may have ended unfavorably, where I behaved in a way I am not proud of, so I’ll start to reflect on what I could do in the future. The voice comes in after I decide my next steps and tells me that I won’t achieve it. It loudly proclaims that I still haven’t made the positive changes, so why would I begin now?

Obviously, it ignores all the times when I succeed in making positive changes in similar scenarios.

I think this self-doubt voice comes in after an emotional self-reflection because I am vulnerable. Vulnerability isn’t a negative trait to possess, but my self-doubt comes in to take advantage of it. It works to sabotage all my hard work.

I believe self-doubt is our unconscious form of self-preservation. In our minds, we’ve created a specific persona for ourselves. It’s how we see ourselves interacting with the world and how the world interacts with us. It doesn’t necessarily reflect reality, but it’s the reality we’ve created ourselves.

When we start to change this persona and bring our perspective in line with reality, self-doubt seeps in because often the gap between our reality and actual reality is painful. Many years ago, I thought about how I was in High School. I had a brief thought that I was a difficult person to get along with, which was completely counter to the fantasy I created about being bullied.

The moment I had this thought it was so painful that my self-doubt and denial quickly flooded in to soothe the wound I gave my ego. I have since taken more time to self-reflect and found that while I was bullied, it had a lot to do with me painting a target on my back. I was unnecessarily confrontational, so the “bullying” was a response to that.

When we see something we don’t like about ourselves, we are working in direct defiance of the persona we’ve built up over a lifetime of experiences. Self-doubt works to preserve that personal for our emotional well-being. It’s well-intentioned, but it can keep us from moving beyond what keeps us stuck.

Self-doubt only serves to keep us within an unhealthy comfort zone.

The Danger of Self-Doubt

Self-doubt is the motivation killer.

We have many motivational killers out there, but self-doubt is one of the greatest ones. It’s the voice we listen to when we think we’re not good enough for something, or try and eat healthy, or what keeps us from striving for more.

Self-doubt is a voice that we listen to because it is always with us. I believed my self-doubt was some otherworldly voice responding to my requests for help on something. I thought it was an inspired voice speaking to me with omniscient wisdom, so when it said for me not to do something, it clearly knew what it was saying.

No, it was my self-doubt masquerading as the supernatural to keep me from trying harder or stepping outside of my comfort zone.

You may not have an otherworldly voice speaking to you, but there’s a good chance you have some internal voice telling you what you can’t do. When you engage with this voice, it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Looking Ahead

This month will be working to address the moments of self-doubt directly. Those times where we want just to give up and not move forward because we don’t think we can. This will be last month we focus on negative things in our self-improvement journey for this year. Stick through it so we can take a couple of months of appreciating ourselves and celebrating ourselves. It will be worth it in the end.


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My Self-Compassion Journey

This post contains potentially disturbing material surrounding the topics of self-harm, self-hatred, and other self-destructive topics that might be troublesome to readers. If you or someone you know engages in this behavior, please know that you are not alone and there is help out there. Here’s a wonderful resource to get started.


I sometimes come across as a know-it-all. Ash has experienced it first-hand and it’s only a matter of time before Jai tells me that I don’t know what I am talking about. Dunning Kruger is real with me. It’s one of the reasons why I loved teaching and I love blogging. 

But when it comes to this month’s topic of taking care of yourself as you undergo a personal growth journey, know that it is actually coming from a place of experience.

I have experienced a lot of pain in my life, many of it directed towards myself as a coping mechanism for emotions that got to be too much. It wasn’t until I embraced self-acceptance and self-compassion that I was finally able to push through my journey and fully embrace who I wanted to become.

For today, I wanted to touch base on my own experience engaging in self-compassion and provide some light as to why I am constantly pushing it as a way of thinking, especially with a chronic illness.

The Trouble with Emotions

Emotions are so sticky and frustrating at times.

Growing up I never received the necessary training on how to effectively and healthfully manage my emotions. In New England, any sort of expression of emotion was frowned down upon so I learned to suppress my emotions as much as possible. Because I did not have a good outlet to manage my emotions, I turned them inward and started taking all the frustration out on myself.

Self-Harm as a Coping Mechanism

Rather than finding a healthy way to manage my emotions, I found that hurting myself was the only way to let all the negative emotions out. It was partially as a form of relief, but also a form of personal punishment.

I felt like I deserved the pain I caused because of something minor I did. I had a tendency to burn myself with matches and candle wax. I would spend hours picking at my face for perceived imperfections, not even stopping after I drew blood. I graduated at the end of high school to cutting my upper arms and hips, with some scars still there today.

I’ve seen other examples of self-harm online and mine were never extreme. While I still have scars, I felt like I was an imposter, a wannabe looking for attention when I hurt myself. Yet I hid my scars and scabs so no one knew what was happening. It was my secret and I did not want to have to answer questions.

I was doing this because I did not love myself and I needed to find a way to help me overcome this unhealthy behavior.

Therapy but then What?

When one self-harms, the first piece of advice everyone tells them is to go to therapy. Therapy is wonderful if you have a good guide in your therapist, but finding a “good” therapist is a lot of work. Especially when you are emotionally drained and the mere thought of looking for a therapist is overwhelming.

I am not deriding therapy, in fact, I absolutely encourage it as a means to effectively and healthfully work through any difficult and frustrating emotions you are feeling.

Here’s the “but”: therapy is a partnership.

You enter a relationship with your therapist and if it’s not a beneficial, productive, and has an unhealthy dynamic, then it is important to look for a new therapist. Therapy should be supportive and productive and the dynamic between you and the therapist must be a healthy one.

It took me several therapists and therapy styles before I settled on one that works for me. While I won’t say what style it is, I can say that without my therapist telling me directly, the focus in each session is self-compassion. We work together on finding ways to love myself, imperfections and all.

I think my experience with various therapists and styles helped me be receptive to the idea that my imperfections are part of what make me, me. Perfection, though we may desire it, is rather boring. The asymmetry in my life, my flaws, mistakes, bad behaviors: that’s what makes me an interesting person.

A therapy style that focuses on self-compassion may not be for you. You may want to do that outside of therapy, or not at all, and that is okay. It’s really about finding what works for you and getting yourself into space where you are able to love yourself.

You’re Never Prepared

Whether you are in therapy or not, when you are starting a personal journey to wellness, a lot of junk comes up and that can distract you from continuing with your personal goals. I say junk because it really can be clutter that serves to distract you from making positive changes.

I am not demeaning whatever that “junk” may be because it might be something you need to deal with, but the important thing is to take a moment (or month or year) to really work through the stuff weighing you down and finding a way to let it go or work with it.

This isn’t saying “just move on” or “just get over it.” Absolutely not. Some things you can’t get over. Some things are so ingrained within us and define us or are a part of us that there is no way to “get over it.” Rather, it’s about recognizing what you can change and what you have to work with and learning to love yourself through self-compassion to help manage it.

Dealing with crippling depression? The last thing you want or are able to do is to say “I am worthwhile and I deserve to love myself.” But if you are able to take a single moment in the darkness to say it, it may bring a small comfort to help you get up for a few minutes to work on something before retreating. It’s about taking those small steps, no matter how small they may be, that can get you moving in a healing direction.

You are never prepared for what comes up when working through things, or trying to make self-improvement changes. I have found that I can be going along thinking everything is okay and then something pops up that distracts me and demands my attention. That’s why I’ve had to reframe how I look at my whole journey.

Self-compassion helps with that re-framing.

How I Deal with Emotions Now

Since working with self-compassion on a more conscience level I have found that my desire and action for self-harm has lessened greatly. I still instinctively hit my head or leg if I have a particularly distressing thought, but it is no longer on a daily basis, multiple times a day.

Now, I have a split second between that thought and my arm raising to stop myself. I can use a mantra I’ve created for myself to stop the behavior before I do anything. I self-soothe myself into a more calm state by putting my words and situation in proper perspective. There are still times where I will react to my thoughts too fast, but once I realize what is happening, I can stop it from continuing.

I am also finding my negative thoughts/actions in previously emotionally charged situations lowered. Before I might dwell on something for hours on end, get territorial over something extremely petty, or imagine hypothetical scenarios with confrontational outcomes; but now I just let it go quickly. I still may have a minute our two where I think about it, but it no longer consumes me in the way it once did.

In short, I feel healthier and less stressed than even a year ago. The other day I came to a wonderful realization about how well I am managing my MS (more on that in an upcoming post) and this is without medication. I can’t even begin to imagine where I will be when I start up my MS medication again.

I may be unstoppable.

Self-Compassion is a Journey, not a Destination

Once you’ve come around to the way of thinking and embracing self-compassion know that that’s not the end of it. Self-compassion is something that I’ve had to practice with myself every day and mindfully practice. There are days where I don’t think about it or it is unnecessary, but there are other days where an old memory will pop up or I do something that I regret and want to take out on myself.

It’s in those moments that I have to remind myself that I am worthy of my love and I need to be kinder to myself.

There isn’t going to be a moment where I can say “I can stop being self-compassionate now, I’m healed!”

Life is, well, a life-long journey. In 20, 30, or possibly 50 years I will still need to engage in self-compassion. It will hopefully come more quickly to me, almost reflexive because of all the work I am doing now, and I may not even recognize that I am doing it.

Regardless, now that I’ve discovered this healthy method for dealing with my emotions and feelings, I have no plans of turning back.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


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Self-Compassion and Starting a Personal Growth Journey

A journey begins with a single step, so the first step is making small, manageable life changes. But all journeys have obstacles, especially at the beginning. This is why self-compassion and a personal growth journey work so well together. Self-compassion will help you manage those obstacles and keep you moving forward.

If you made New Year’s Resolutions it’s around this time you might start to feel the pinch and frustration of those resolutions. I wanted to provide some tips and encouragement to help keep you moving along.

At the Start of Your Journey

It’s important to view yourself at the start of every personal growth journey as inexperienced. This may be your second time wanting to get a better job, or dealing with toxic coworkers in a healthy way or even starting that hobby you’ve been too afraid to try. Regardless of what your goal is, it is important to remember that you are brand new to it, regardless of previous experience.

Remember, like your illness, these sorts of journeys vary from person-to-person. If it was easy for you to make these sorts of changes you would just do it without thinking. So while the same goal for someone else can happen for them without thinking, that goal may feel insurmountable to you; likewise, the same person may feel your mundane, no-big-deal task is too much to handle.

By viewing it as though it’s your first time down this road you won’t bring previous baggage with you. Previously, you applied to get that better job before but found that the market stymied your efforts. Instead of letting that discouragement inform your decision whether or not to apply to the job, leave that experience at the door and view yourself as taking this journey for the first time.

If you’ve ever done something competitive: sports or academics, try to remember how it was for you at the very beginning. Hard, right? I remember when I started running many years back how I could barely sustain a run for more than a minute. It was frustrating. But it took practice to build up and improve.

Every journey is always felt harder at the beginning.

Once you get past the hurdles and look back you may find yourself wondering why you thought it was hard. When I look back at where I was years ago, even as recently as last year when I restarted running, I am surprised at how far I’ve come along. Running a minute is no big deal for me now.

Doubt as an Obstacle

I think doubt tends to be our biggest obstacle at the start of the journey. Have you ever hiked a mountain, gotten to the base of the mountain had one of the two experiences: looking up and seeing how high the mountain is and how far you have to go; or not even seeing the mountain because you are far enough away from it that you can’t see your end goal?

Personal growth journeys function in the same way. Either you see how steep and how far away your goal is, or you are so far away that you can’t even begin to see the end of your journey.

It’s at these points that doubt can settle in and everything feels extremely overwhelming. Can I even make these changes? Will I even accomplish my goals? What happens if I fail? Why do I even think I can do this?

Doubt can stop any forward momentum. But what if you use self-compassion and turn that doubt into a motivator instead?

Doubt as a Motivator

I found that using doubt as a motivator helped me so much. When I started this journey to wellness over a year and a half ago, I thought to myself that this was going to be like every other writing-based endeavor I do. I will write my thoughts for a few months, get everything out and then go back to my life.

I found around November 2017 that my interest and motivation lagging in my blog. I only made three posts in total, which was a drastic drop from my normal three posts per week schedule. I started doubting my abilities after only blogging for a month and a half and resigned myself to another personal failure.

Mid-November 2017, I interacted with a person I’ve had a conflict with in the past. After this interaction, I had a lot of complicated feelings that left me frustrated, but in the more positive moments, I actually listened to what was said and more importantly what wasn’t said.

I saw that this person had a lot of self-doubts which drove our complicated interactions. These self-doubts were also preventing them from following their own dreams, dreams that overlapped my own. Unfortunately, their self-doubt and self-sabotage prevented them from pursuing their dreams beyond a certain point.

I saw this as a motivation to move forward.

I recognized the same obstacles in front of myself and was allowing them to block me too. December 2017 rolled around and I felt renewed because I didn’t let the doubt discourage me anymore. I wanted to use it to motivate me to continue forward and succeed.

I doubted I could maintain the blog and so I used that doubt to challenge myself to continue.

Doubt, when put into proper perspective, can be a great motivator.

Self-Compassion and Personal Growth

By using self-compassion, you’ll find success in your personal growth journey.

When those moments of doubt or any negative thoughts and emotions creep into your life: why am I struggling? Why is it so hard this time? I failed last time, I am going to fail this time… remember that this is a fresh journey for yourself.

Some things to help you with self-compassion:

  • Remembering the freshness of the journey, refocusing your thoughts that this is your first time through this journey and therefore wiping previous experiences away so they don’t color your memory, is an act of self-compassion.
  • Actively say to yourself that you are new to this, therefore must take it easy on yourself. If you accept that you are new to this personal growth journey, you will treat yourself as though you aren’t expected to be perfect.
  • Don’t expect to be perfect on this journey. When you are looking to only succeed and don’t embrace the possibility of failure, i.e. don’t get the first job you apply to, you will focus solely on that failure. Rather, look at the mini-failures as learning opportunities so you can know what to change for next time.
  • Turn perceived obstacles into motivators. I focused on doubt with this post, but there may be another personal obstacle that gets in your way: fear, self-sabotage, or comparison to others. Instead of focusing these on negative points that can help stop your efforts, focus on them as ways to push you forward. Afraid of failure? Push through that to prove to yourself that you won’t fail. Afraid of success? Break it down to small tasks so each small success will prepare you for a larger one.
  • Be gentle and acknowledge that you deserve to achieve this goal. If you want to be a less angry person, or able to ignore toxic people around you in the workplace, remind yourself that you deserve to achieve your goal. Anger can prevent you from growing and receiving new opportunities; toxic people can prevent you from feeling like you are able to go out for better opportunities. There is no reason why you cannot allow yourself to have positive things happen in your life, especially if its a goal you’ve created for yourself.

With a chronic illness, as I’ve said before, these sorts of journeys have a little extra challenge. On Wednesday, I will be discussing how to manage self-compassion while coping with a chronic illness.

Have a personal growth goal for your life? Why not start now with your goals, it doesn’t have to be January 1st. Join my newsletter for weekly posts about how to slowly achieve your long-term personal goals.


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Featured photo credit: Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash