Self-doubt underlies many aspects of anxiety and low mood. It is the lack of trust in the self; the lack of belief in the self’s ability. This can be generalised to areas of work, relationships, creativity, academia, body-image and life in general.

Nobody is born with self-doubt. At some point the seed of limitation has been planted. The words of ‘cannot do’, ‘will not be able to’, ‘will not be good enough’, ‘will fail’, have replaced, ‘I can do this,’ ‘I will do this’. When self-doubt takes hold the stable base, that sense of security in the self and world become wobbly leading uncertainty to set in.

Self-doubt distorts thinking towards a negative slant. This can include comparing self to others in a negative way; not attempting new things for fear of failing; self-criticism; not noticing the positives; overworking for fear of not producing enough; feeling own work is not good enough. What begins as a seed grows until it reaches all areas of life and the doubt affects not only the big things but the small detail of life too. Even, 'I can’t make a good cup of coffee.' With the negative thoughts before and during choices, situations and actions come the post-mortem following decisions and situations. 'S/he didn’t want to have coffee, because my coffee is awful. Or maybe they didn’t want to spend time with me at all, perhaps I am boring, what did s/he say when I asked if they wanted coffee? Was there a look of irritation on their face?' The whole day can soon disappear in post-mortem rumination.

Self-doubt can lead to giving others more credit than ourselves in ability and decisions. This can affects behaviour by letting others make choices on behalf of you or letting others make joint decisions. Not trusting own choices can make it difficult to say 'No'. Not trusting our own choices over a long time can result in not knowing our likes, dislikes and preferences.   

The causes of self-doubt vary for difference people, each being unique to personal experience. The same can be said for the process of changing self-doubt into self-belief. Every individual works through their experiences uniquely. Some strategies that can be tried include;

  • Write down the common self-criticisms. Note if these have a root anywhere, who might have spoken the phrases to you originally, a teacher, a bully etc.
  • Be kind to yourself and take small steps.
  • Practise saying aloud the opposite of the self-criticism, 'I can,' 'I will do.'
  • Practise saying 'No' in situations you feel most safe in at first
  • Explore what you like and dislike
  • Begin to make small choices, instead of responding with, 'either is fine, or I’ll have what you are having' think about what you would really like
  • Start to be direct in communication and practise saying, 'I want to, I am choosing, I’m deciding.'
  • Use the third narrative technique when you find yourself in a cycle of post-mortem rumination. There is the first narrative, your narrative, is it objective or does it have a negative stance currently? There is the other person’s narrative which is an unknown and thus is a potential endless mind reading cognitive distortion. The third narrative is the most simple. For example - a friend passes you in the street and does not speak, your narrative may have negative assumptions, the most simple narrative is they did not see you, they were in a world of their own, whatever reason, they did not see you. None of these narratives have to be right
  • Rather than negatively comparing yourself to others or negatively criticising yourself and others, try adopting a neutral stance. This can feel less intimidation and more natural than trying to speak/think positively when you are not feeling positive.

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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Alsager, Cheshire, ST7
Written by Jacqueline Karaca, M.Sc. Hons Counselling Psych; B.Sc.Hons Psychology MBACP Reg
Alsager, Cheshire, ST7

Jacquie Karaca is a psychotherapist and author. She practices individual and relationship counselling in Alsager.

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