Do you often think that you make poor decisions? Do you constantly question yourself when you make a difficult choice? Do you lack confidence in yourself?

Self-doubt can have a paralyzing effect on our lives — keeping us spinning on the sticky wheels of insecurity. Doubting ourselves at every turn, we become overly-cautious, which can stifle our creativity and restrain us from taking risks.

Self-doubt is often a nagging remnant from our past. If we were often told that we’re wrong or won’t amount to anything, we internalize the message that we can’t succeed in life. We need positive mirroring in order to develop healthy self-worth. Frequent shaming leaves us with the sense of being inadequate or defective. We don’t raise our hand in class or offer our opinion at gatherings. We fail to act boldly and confidently when have choices to make, perhaps shrinking from seeking a promotion, procrastinating about going back to college, or restraining ourselves from contacting someone we’d like to know better. We might be fearful that such actions won’t turn out well, which would confirm that we are indeed a failure. 

Self-doubt keeps us stuck. The belief that “I can’t do it” holds us back and prevents us from living a fulfilling, meaningful life. 

Self-doubt is a universal experience. We all have it to varying degrees. And that’s a good thing. People who have no self-doubt (or who don’t seem to have any) are a danger to themselves and others. Think of certain politicians or people you know who never doubt themselves — at least in public. They cling to their convictions and plow ahead in life, oblivious to the needs and opinions of others — and to the wounded bodies they leave behind.

Healthy Doubt Requires Strength 

Self-doubt is akin to healthy shame. We need a small amount of healthy shame to inform us about when we’ve violated someone’s sensibilities and boundaries. Sociopaths have no self doubt or shame. They are dangerously convinced that they have all the answers and are right about everything. They justify destructive behaviors without questioning themselves, until they inevitably hit a wall, perhaps losing their friends (if they had any), or finding themselves in divorce court or prison. Even then, one might fail to take any responsibility for their shortcomings, stubbornly insisting that it’s all someone else’s fault.

When we have an over-abundance of self-doubt or shame, the words “I’m sorry”, “I blew it”, or “I made a mistake” frequently race through our mind and flow from our lips. When we don’t allow for self-doubt, such words are not part of our vocabulary. Acknowledging that we were wrong is experienced as weakness. Self-doubt is an unacceptable threat to people with inflated egos.

The desire to project strength reflects a lack of true strength. What actually requires strength is being authentic with ourselves and others. What we genuinely feel and think becomes more important than how we look. Living in a world of appearances condemns us to a fragile, inauthentic existence. There’s no real intimacy there.

Emotional honesty requires courage. Rather than being consumed by considerations of how things will play out, we’re able to pause and search inside for what truly resonates with our heart. And importantly, we’re not shy about getting reality checks from other people to better discern whether we’re on the right track.

Life invites us to embrace a dynamic balance. Can we learn to listen to and trust our inner experience rather than constantly doubting ourselves? Can self-confidence contain a healthy measure of questioning and inquiry? Can we include trusted friends or advisers in our important decision making so that we can add their wisdom to ours — and not feel so alone and isolated?

It’s natural to have self-doubt. In fact, it’s a sign of maturity and inner strength to embrace our doubts and work with them in a skillful way. But at some point, we need to act or take a stand. When you do, be open to new information and discoveries that might prompt you to fine tune your way forward.

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