Self-Doubt Cripples Us in Achieving Goals and Relationships. How Do We Overcome It?

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We all face it at some point, and some of us battle it constantly. I know I have fought against it most of my life, and have spent years working at re-wiring myself. Self-Doubt. It is easily one of the most prohibiting, damaging things when it comes to hindering ourselves in, well… everything. Happiness, reaching for our dreams, relationships, professional goals…..self-doubt can sneak in and hinder us from achieving what we most want and need, and literally can become crippling when it is present at high degrees.

Where does it come from? We do not seem to be born with it ( young children have to be monitored in part, because they do not know their own limitations). It is hard to know for sure what brings about all insecurities, but some possible sources could be things such as having experienced failure (and thus fear develops of repeating it), or it could be a natural side-affect of depression, and other mental illnesses. However, one of the largest sources that I have seen both in personal relations/experience, and through clients, is that it tends to get instilled by other people. Sometimes the source is from an unhealthy relationship where the significant other repetitively heavily criticized someone to the point that their sense of self-worth and confidence was wounded— and they then doubt themselves, their worth, and their abilities in ways they did not previously. For others (including myself), it can start at a very early age from the abusive words of a narcissistic parent who strives to belittle and hold the child down below them. Damaging words claiming stupidity, ugliness, inability to do things, and even telling a child that no one will ever want, or love them….can become deeply ingrained, especially when received at an early stage of development. Ultimately, the reason hearing these kind of things can have such a damaging impact (at any age) comes down to having them said by those we most love and trust….the people whose opinions we most value, respect, and crave…..as well as the desire to be able to control and fix things within our own selves (meaning we would like to believe that the problem in a relationship is our own selves, and thus something that can be solved if we manage to change/ correct the issue…. compared to accepting something is wrong that cannot be controlled or fixed—be it with the other person, or relationship dynamics/obstacles that do not work). So essentially, when loved ones repetitively say things that diminish our worth, it can over-time affect the way we think about, and see ourselves…..it can make us doubt our ability to achieve things, and to even be loved or wanted by others.

Insecurities hold us back from rising to become who we want to be. They tell us that we are not good enough, smart enough, talented enough. “Why bother trying, or putting the effort in, when it will all just turn to dust, and result in embarrassment when I fail.” So we sit, we agonize, we ache for things we think we cannot have…without even trying. One of my largest areas that I personally struggle with is singing. I love to sing, it brings me joy. In private I can sing things perfectly, nail it…. but when auditioning, or in a situation where I will be judged in some way…. that old self-doubt creeps in. That doubt has often resulted in extra vibrato and mistakes I otherwise would not have made…in fact, it has happened so much that I refer to it as, “The Delaney Choke”. There are some who likely have only heard me under those circumstances, and thus assume that is how I sing all of the time. However, on the flip side, when I have worked with those who heard me singing with confidence from the start… their resulting enthusiasm and trust in me always has resulted in me rising-up inside, and being able to respond likewise on my end— and produce more than I even realized I was capable of. Its amazing how that works. When we think someone assumes we cannot accomplish something we tend to falter and live-down to that expectation, but when met with someone who is positive and seems to have no doubt in our ability to accomplish what they ask for….we can shine. Its unfortunate that we can be so easily influenced in our abilities by the expectations we perceive that others have, but ultimately it is something to take consideration of when it comes to how we ourselves talk to, and treat others…especially if we are in any kind of leadership or teaching role, and of course, when it comes to interacting with children.

Something I have seen many times in others, and even experienced myself…is the inability to take credit for what we have achieved, even when we truly have done something wonderful. Those doubts whisper to us telling us it is a fluke, and that it won’t happen again. We may feel that we are some kind of impostor, and that we just somehow managed to trick everyone into thinking we could do something. “I am a fraud, because people didn’t notice the mistakes and issues that I know were there. Everyone is just trying to be nice to me, and are patting me on the back to make me feel good even though I really did not do that great of a job.” Essentially, we rob ourselves of our own light….we become scared of it, and it seems like it cannot be real, because it conflicts with everything else we normally think, and what maybe those voices of the past told us. It can become scary to think what you so desperately want is actually within reach…scary to let yourself hope. It may seem easier to down-talk to ourselves to avoid being crushed if it turns out that glimmer of hope does not become something more. We put ourselves back into the safety of the cage we are familiar with. For some people, they may fear if they do take credit, and if they do feel, and show happiness for what they have achieved… that they somehow will become like the narcissistic person who originally hurt them. They don’t want to be seen as bragging, or having a big ego of some kind, let alone to somehow develop into the person whose voice they maybe still hear in their heads…. so they shrink themselves via thinking it is bad to feel pride in something they have done, all the while not understanding that they are allowed to do so. There is a vast difference between having reasonable self-confidence and pride in oneself, and being someone who has delusional puffed-up grandiose views ( and obsessive self-love), and who strives to bring others down in order to make themselves feel bigger and better (even their own children and significant others).

Back to relationships. So many people stay in abusive relationship situations because they get trapped into thinking that no one else will love and want them, and that they are lucky that the person puts up with them despite all of their faults… because no one else would. Typically, they continue to try to change things on their end, re-make themselves etc… thinking that will be the solution to making things work in the relationship, and that it will create the love and happiness that they crave to develop in the situation. Once free of the original damaging relationship it can continue to haunt, and create issues with other attempts at relationships—often resulting in making similar choices. It is hard to break the habits of being obliging, and putting one’s own needs and desires aside in order to keep the other happy, and maintain the relationship—even if it comes at great personal costs. They may end-up in new relationships where the new person also dominates in some way, OR the complete opposite—select those who they feel are safe, non-intimidating, and whom they possibly see as someone that they can mold into being what they really want/ need in a romantic partner over time. Essentially they continue to try to “change” either themselves, or the other person in some way to make things “fit”, instead of seeking a balanced relationship pairing from the start that does not resonate on their self-doubts in some way—be it by choosing someone who pulls them into the familiar cycle, or by choosing those who they think they can completely avoid those issues with by “selecting down”. Neither works. The first situation will destruct via neither really being happy with each other (and create more inner damage/ self-doubts of not being able to succeed at having a healthy relationship), and the second will eventually destruct due to not being the right match to begin with, not to mention the fact that it can essentially inflict the same kind of inner damage onto a new person via the pressure placed on them to change, live-up to expectations that may not be possible for them, become someone else etc…to meet the true needs and desires of the other. It just starts the cycle in someone new (regardless if it is not intended to pass it on)—makes them doubt themselves based on not being what someone else wants, not being able to fulfill their expectations etc…and is not what truly loving someone is supposed to be about.

Ultimately the repeating of similar choices happens due to feeling and believing that the kind of person and relationship that they truly desire is out of their reach because that “type” of person would not have an interest in, nor would be able to love them. So… they settle. They instead grab for the wrong people, and hope that they can build them, and the relationship, into what they want and need instead of finding the right elements from the start. They end-up stuck in spirals of doubt, blaming themselves when things do not work-out (or when issues arise), instead of being able to look at things from a healthy perspective, and be truthful to themselves when situations simply are not the right match….or when the other person is pushing their agenda, or being out right abusive (typically they like to make excuses for that kind of behavior). It somehow is always twisted into being their own fault and lacking. They think it is their weakness for not feeling the same way, and try to force themselves further into the relationship because they believe that any qualms are false, and are due to the damage from past experiences and ingrained doubts… OR… they once again assume the other person is right, better than them, so great that something must be wrong with them to not feel/ want more… and thus they need to somehow change and correct things on their end yet again (I have been there myself, and made a very large mistake due to thinking I could somehow force myself into feeling more/ wanting the same things as the other person, and it would have been avoided had I listened to my doubts instead assuming I was “broken”). They do not trust themselves, and fear they will just end-up alone, so they have to make the situation they are in work somehow… regardless of what issues are there, even if it requires giving up part of who they are, or their own self-worth to achieve it. None of it is true. We all have worth. We innately have it. We were born with it. There are people out there who will love us for who we are without belittling us, or trying to change us into something else that they want, need, or envision in their heads. Its not a dream, it is reality, and we all deserve that, and can have it if we wait, believe, and allow it for ourselves. It may not seem possible, but it is.

It truly is about how we choose to see ourselves. Even though other people can have such an impact on our self-esteem… the real key is how we talk to, and perceive our own selves. When we believe we are capable, when we can see our own beauty, worth, and talents…and are strong in that knowledge….then no one can take it away from us, rock our inner boats, or cause us to settle for less than what we deserve, and are capable of. I say this as someone who knows, and has experienced both ends of the scale. I had a difficult childhood. I grew-up constantly hearing that I was “nothing”, and it became what I believed. I blamed myself when others treated me poorly, because I assumed they were correct… and I often felt the need to apologize in some way for what I perceived I was lacking in. I felt bad for making others have to put-up with me, and thus felt lucky/ grateful when they did, even if they did so in ways others would not have seen as being nice, or healthy. I worked constantly to try to please others, be what they wanted me to be, keep a smile on my face….and gave of myself in ways that resulted in being taken for granted… in attempts to make-up for perceived deficits. I went quiet whenever I feared someone would think what I had to say/ share would be “stupid” in some way, and hid so much of myself because I assumed others would just further criticize, and take yet more of my light/self away. I settled for scraps of affection, because I did not think I was worthy of anything better, or that anyone would ever truly love or want me. I put-up with outright being compared to other women in ways where the results were always that I was the one who was lacking/ the loser, and nodded my head in agreement when I heard that I was not attractive enough, not smart enough, talented enough, spiritual enough…. and I even thought that there was truth in being told others would somehow have a lesser opinion of the other if they were with me—-all because I had already been raised to believe all of those things. It was normal to me, and I did not doubt any of it….in fact, I felt guilty for not being “more”. None of it was true, and it breaks my heart whenever I see anyone else stuck in these kind of patterns and beliefs, because I know full-well how soul-crushing it all can be.

It was not until the last decade that I started to see things…myself… differently. I have moments where I still slip (and I have discovered it is something I have to work to “upkeep” due to how heavy the past programing was), but ultimately I feel that inside I am completely a different person than I once was. I am strong now, I embrace my own light, my own worth…. I know that I am talented, beautiful, intelligent, and that I have a lot to offer to others. However, it all was hard-won, and took time. I did not gain it through the words of others, but instead, via my own self….and though it maybe took longer to achieve by that method, I know that it also is deeper rooted, and less likely to be shaken, or stolen by others. I promised myself that I would never again settle for anyone who treats me like I am less/ not good enough in some way, or anyone who attempts to change me… I would rather be on my own, and happy in my own self, than to settle for the wrong relationship—be it because I do not think I deserve better, or just out of fear of being alone because no one else would want me. I would rather wait for something real…. and even if it does not come, at least I know I can still be full, and happy on my own, without being pulled-down, or having to sacrifice anything of myself/ my light. As impossible as it may sound, we all can achieve that. When we truly are happy, and secure with our own selves, we are likely to make better, healthier choices for ourselves, and in our relationships. We will look for what complements, fits with, and improves us, rather than grabbing things out of desperation to fill the holes within us… even if they ultimately are not good for us, or even create more damage… both for our selves, and others. I feel like a broken record sometimes with my clients, constantly trying to counsel them in ways to help them see their own self-worth, and to nurture it…. to give themselves time to have relationships with, and nurture love for their own selves before reaching for the wrong things/ people again. It is always beautiful to see the results when people actually do that for themselves….and how drastically their lives change. On the other side of it, it is sad, ( and sometimes frustrating) to see those who repeat the same cycles, all because they do not believe they deserve, or are capable of having anything better for themselves.

Most everything comes down to what we BELIEVE. I know I have used the Dumbo Feather analogy before in a blog, and that I say it a lot when I work with people…. but it is so true. When we believe we can, when we believe we have worth, when we believe we deserve more, when we believe our true goals and dreams can be achieved, and when we believe we deserve true love ( meaning, loved for who we truly are)…..then it all becomes true, and available to us. The limitations lift. We can fly.

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