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The Curse of Self-Doubt

I have had a very challenging weekend, mental health wise, so I thought it might be interesting and useful to write about it.

Self-doubt can be crippling, and it cannot be overcome with logic.

“I kept finding the same anguish, the same doubt; a self-contempt that neither irony nor intellect seemed able to deflect.” Barack Obama.

I am writing my final paper for my degree and, despite scoring between 70-100% on every assignment so far, my brain screams that I am useless and will fail this like I have failed everything else. Logically, I can prove that this is not true, but self-doubt will not entertain the idea that I am a capable and intelligent woman. It belittles or ignores every achievement, forgets that I ran a successful business for thirteen years while wallowing in the fact that it closed in 2013. I can point to my module scores and calculate that I am on track for a 2:1 (and may even scrape a first), but still it assures me that it is pointless to continue my education, that I will never do anything worthwhile.

It tells me that I poison everything and everyone I touch, that I am unlovable, and all my friends secretly hate me. It reminds me that my own mother once told me she didn’t like me. “You’re clumsy, awkward, aggressive, and everyone can see through the fake smile you paint on your wrinkled, ugly face. Stop wasting your time writing books, trying to better yourself, getting out of bed,” it growls.

"My habitual mood of humiliation, self-doubt, forlorn depression, fell damp on the embers of my decaying ire." Charlotte Bronte.

Self-doubt is my enemy, and the enemy of many creative people. The only effective weapon I have is to remind myself that I will not always feel this way. “Ignore the bully” we are told, but that is easier said than done when the enemy is inside your own head.

“I don’t believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me.” Tennessee Williams.

I feel I should end this post with something positive, something to inspire others to keep trying, a shiny nugget to take away. If someone called one of my daughters useless, I would assure her of her brilliance and remind her that she has already achieved greatness and will continue to do so. I would tell her to live life on her own terms and not limit herself to suit others. Why do I see such wonders in her and not myself?

Our brains are miraculous. Evolution has built layer upon layer of cognitive machinery and though the primitive core remains, it is surrounded by increasingly sophisticated and specialised structures that give us language, reasoning and creativity, but our minds are plastic, and they believe what we tell them - every insult we internalise, every limitation we accept is remembered. We fight against our socialisation when we strive to overcome self-doubt and prove it wrong.

Perhaps, self-belief is a journey, an exhausting mountain-hike at times, but every success offers us an opportunity to add a tasty treat to our picnic basket and stave off exhaustion. Perhaps logic cannot permanently slay the dragon of self-doubt, but it can remind us that we have a goal, and we are heading in the right direction, step by torturous step.

Royalty free image courtesy of Aron Visuals

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