Self-Esteem and Self-Doubt

This post was originally published in November 2013 and is one of the highest viewed posts of mine to date.  I decided to create a YouTube video which addresses some of the same content below but includes some additional things to think about.  I welcome you to watch!

Recently I was talking to a client of mine about her low self-esteem and self-doubt as she has labeled herself a slow learner.  When she spoke about her work related tasks it seemed her striving for perfection is actually what caused her self-doubt and therefore slowing her down on completing tasks she saw her colleagues finishing quickly.  Other friends of mine have talked at length about their own self-doubt.  I decided to dig into this a little bit more.

One article I read pointed out six main causes of self-doubt, including:

  • A lack of self-acceptance
  • An inner critic that encourages negative self-talk
  • Low self-esteem
  • A negative attitude about self
  • Self-limiting beliefs
  • Excessive criticism during childhood.

Karyl McBride, Ph.D. writes on Psychology Today about many adults possessing self-doubt who have been raised by a Narcissistic Parent.   The parent’s questioning of the child develops that inner critic.  There is a long list of signs including self-doubt, including anger, fear, anxiety, perfectionism, feeling misunderstood by others, second guessing yourself, dominating conversations, excuse making, self-promotion, lack of achievement, defensiveness, frustration, poor listening skills, bragging/boasting/name dropping in social situations, and discomfort in social situations.  While self-doubt and low self-esteem don’t always go hand in hand, it is still common to find them existing together.  Additionally, some of the tips for addressing both of these issues are similar.

1. First is to become aware of your self-talk.  Negative self-talk reinforces self-doubt and also can lead to depression.  Trying to reframe negative thinking can be really helpful.  For instance perhaps you had to prepare a large report for work and you spent many hours on it but had to race through the last portion to meet the deadline.  You read this report later and think “I blew this report; it looks like crap.”  It is possible the last few pages had spelling errors; however, the substance of the report was spot on.  Thinking this over you could reframe your thoughts by saying, “this is a thorough report with necessary information; I know I can do better next time by allowing for more time for editing so that the report is more polished.”

Journaling can release negative thoughts and highlight positive experiences.2. Keep a journal.  Putting thoughts down on paper can be helpful because keeping them in your head only allows them to get bigger.  Additionally, if you take the time to write down the things in your day that went poorly — as well as the things you accomplished — perhaps you’ll find the positive outweigh the negative.

3. Develop a support system that encourages you and acknowledges your strengths; this can help solidify positive thinking.

4. Find ways to boost your day whether it be finding inspirational quotes or images to surround yourself with or reading books, calendars, or websites that provide this kind of encouragement, inspiration, and support.

5. Soothe yourself by finding some quiet time, playing your favorite music, or enjoying a cup of hot chocolate/tea/coffee.  Being able to appreciate what you have rather than what you desire allows you to nurture yourself.

6. Discover and pursue your passions.  Finding things you love to do and can spend time doing is so important.  This allows for the creative juices to flow, and often times these things come somewhat naturally, so you may not take as much time out for self-doubt.  Doing this can boost confidence and provide a sense of purpose.

7. Lastly redefine failure and keep trying.  Failure doesn’t characterize you as a person or determine your worth as a person.  There are countless stories of people getting rejection after rejection before they accomplish what they had intended.  Perhaps you were rejected by 6 colleges but accepted by 1, you succeeded by getting the chance to attend college.

Building up self-esteem and lowering self-doubt can be a large task.  Find ways to continue to work on this and utilizing a counselor can be a great way to strengthen your self-esteem.


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