Coping with anxiety / part one - 'transforming self-doubt'

Do you often find yourself experiencing self-doubt?

If so, it's useful to know that behind all our anxieties is, in fact, a story that involves something we doubt about ourselves. Committing to the exploration of self-doubt during experiences of anxiety can help re-empower yourself as well as reduce feelings of stress and fear. 

There are three main features that identify self-doubt - vulnerability, powerlessness and withdrawal. What follows is a short illustration of how to identify and work with self-doubt.

An important part of being human is the ability to assess ourselves, our motivations, abilities and desires. This is an internal self questioning mechanism that has two sides - self-doubt and self-regulation. Self-regulation is our moral compass where we weigh up what is good for us as well as for those around us. Self-doubt, meanwhile, is concerned with keeping us diminished and informs us that the world is not only unsafe but also uninterested in our self-expression. As a result we often confuse the two and therefore give more importance to self-doubt for fear of becoming arrogant, selfish, too big for our boots etc. This results in us withdrawing our energy away from our life with feelings of self-consciousness. We can feel this within ourselves as a reverse movement into withdrawal. In contrast self-regulation, which is interested in our well-being and growth, enables a forward movement and an expanding out towards our life and self-expression. 

Next time you find yourself in the grip of self-doubt notice this withdrawal. From there ask yourself - "What am I doubting about myself?" It's useful to ask yourself this question during any anxious experiences. Next ask yourself - "What needs to happen for me to move back towards my life?" Here, you begin to re-empower yourself and have now shifted into self-regulation.

Dropping into self-doubt

Here's a breakdown of how to best to work with self-doubt. Writing your experiences down enables you to see aspects that might otherwise go unnoticed. Therefore a notebook is an essential tool.

1. What is the situation?
(Describe what's going on.)

2. What are you feeling?
(Describe your feelings, both mentally and physically.)

3. What are you doubting about yourself?
(This may be around not being good enough, your abilities, your survival, your sense of identity etc.)

At this point you may also be able to identify two levels of doubt - on one level you may doubt your abilities or whether you're good enough etc. At a deeper level you may also recognise something that seems to threaten your actual survival or sense of identity. Play with dropping as deep as you can.

Also notice at this point the reserve moment back into withdrawal.

4. What needs to happen?
(Explore what you could do to move back towards your life and self-expression.)

Notice the forward movement here as you shift into self-regulation.

Below is a fictional example of the above steps;

1. The situation -
"My boss doesn't listen to me - he patronises me - he is not interested in my ideas - he ignores me."

2. My feelings -
"I feel stupid - invisible - afraid I'm going to lose my job - disrespected - angry - fed up - hopeless and helpless - stuck in this situation."

3. What am I doubting about myself?
"Level 1 - I'm not good enough, my ideas are rubbish, I'm failing, I can't stand up for myself.
Level 2 - If I lose my job I won't be able to survive - I can't cope if my boss doesn't like me - if he doesn't approve of me there must be something wrong with me - If I assert myself I'll humiliate myself - I can't survive without approval."

At this point notice the identifying factors - vulnerability, powerless and withdrawal. If we believe all of this it's no wonder the world becomes unfriendly, uninterested and unsafe.

4. What needs to happen? -
"I could challenge the beliefs I'm holding about my job, my boss, myself, being listened to and approved of by asking - are these beliefs I have true? I could take time to explore what my options are. If I want to talk to my boss I could look at 'what's the worse that could happen?' I could take a risk - tell him how I'd like to work with him moving forward. I could keep trying. If it doesn't work out trust that I am actually in charge of my life even if it doesn't feel like that sometimes."

I recommend writing these explorations down. However, don't expect self-doubt to disappear straight away. This can take time as self-doubt is often very ingrained. Remember, internal questioning is just part of being human. By continually querying self-doubt like this you slowly strengthen your faculty for identifying it as well as being able to shift more easily into self-regulation and as a result develop sustainable self-confidence.

To summarise; 

Self-doubt = withdrawal, powerlessness and vulnerability. 

Self-regulation = self-expression, empowerment, growth and confidence.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, WC1A
Written by Neil Turner, MA, UKCP, MBACP | Psychotherapy | Adults and Couples
London, WC1A

Having worked in the design industry for many years I now work as a psychotherapist with individuals and couples. I have recently completed a research MA in psychotherapy through which I explored the nature self-doubt and how to move beyond it.

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