“I seek strength, not to be greater than other, but to fight my greatest enemy, the doubts within myself.” ~P.C. Cast
There’s something about the month of October that makes me start doubting everything.
Sometimes, my doubts have been helpful. Mid-October is when I ended both my previous (toxic) long-term relationships. October 22nd last year, I quit my day job.
Sometimes, they’ve been destructive. October, three years ago, was when my adrenal glands blew a few months before I had a mental breakdown. A few Octobers before that, I ended up in the psychiatric emergency room.
It’s nothing woo-woo that makes this happen, I assure you. If you live far enough from the equator to have seasons, you know what it’s like. Suddenly, everything changes. The leaves start turning colours and falling off. The temperature plummets. The bundles of broccoli get smaller. The apples grow a waxy seal and sprout stickers indicating that they’re from countries far, far away.
Each time fall comes around, I suddenly realize that nothing stays the same. This is a truth that I always think I know before I’m reminded that I know nothing of it.
However much I try to accept the impermanence inside and outside of me, praising and honouring it in each yoga practice and each daily thought routine, I am human. I get attached to things. I think I am so great at detaching, but at best, I am attached to my routines of detachment.
So, here I am, doubting everything. If everything changes, then how do I know I am doing the right things? How do I know I’m on the right track? What if I’m just screwing up everything in my life? What if…? How do I know…? And what if…?
At times like this, my mind gets filled with more nonsense than love. At times like this, I put everything else aside and make my relationship with myself a top priority.
I hope that I can share with you a few things I’ve learned about churning self-doubt into self-awareness, self-love, and self-confidence.
I also hope that, in reading this, you get an even more important message: you’re not alone and I’m just like you. All teachers are. All people are.
We all bleed when we’re cut and we all feel pain when we doubt ourselves. And we do get cut. And we do doubt ourselves. Every single one of us. Anyone that tells you otherwise is lying to you. Happiness isn’t about pretending there’s no pain. It’s about accepting the pain as a part of healing and doing your best to nurse your own wounds with love and patience.
That being said, here are four incredibly painful self-doubt thoughts that run through my mind sometimes and the ways I keep them from ruining my peace and happiness.
Self-Doubt Thought #1: People don’t like you
I spent so much of my life trying to fix this one on the outside. I’d fix my hair, my weight, my makeup. Still, the thought wouldn’t go away.
It used to come in the form of “You’re ugly” or “You’re fat” or “You’re awkward” or “No one likes you.” Now, if it comes, it comes as “You said something stupid” or “You did the wrong thing”—usually just after a social interaction.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: trying to sort out these thoughts by trying to change the outside, be it your body or your actions, is absolutely 100% useless. The thoughts will come regardless. They’ll just change their focus and change their tune. If you’re haunted by these thoughts, the most important thing is to learn to talk to them and persuade them into kindness.
What I do first is speak aloud what is really happening. I say, “I am feeling fear and discomfort because I’m thinking about being alone, being abandoned by people, and being outcasted by them.” That makes me feel a little better, because it identifies the real problem. I’m not doing something horribly wrong, nor am I inadequate in some way, I’m just experiencing some fearful thoughts.
Then, I ask myself: “What am I really afraid of when I think like this?” The answer is: separation. Loneliness. Abandonment. I am afraid of being separate from people, different from them in a way that is unacceptable.
I say, “It’s okay to feel this way.” And it is. It’s a primal instinct to feel like we want to belong. It’s perfectly fine to want to belong and to fear being left behind.
Then I ask myself, “Are you really separate?” Of course, on some level, I am. Your skin is not my skin. On another level, though, I couldn’t be separate from you if I tried. I’m already deeply interconnected with people and with life itself.
Then, once I remember that I’m not separate, I go experience my interconnectedness with everything. Nature is perfect for this. I can spend hours with a tree losing my outline. However, my number one favourite way to heal the delusion of separation is to get out there and be 100%, completely present with someone. This isn’t actually as difficult as it might seem.
The other day, when I felt like this, I just started talking to a stranger at a bus stop. That fed my soul. It made me feel incredible. There was a time when I would have told myself stories about how difficult it is to find a person to do this with you, how alone I was, how everyone was too busy for me, etc. These thoughts are also nonsense. People are everywhere and, if you need a reminder of just how connected to people you are, just go outside and start talking to someone. Most people are starving for presence and human contact. They’ll give you their time and attention if you give them yours.
(And, as an addition to this article almost one year later, I hope I’ve made it easier for people to reach out to one another with the local Love Tribes and the big tribe of the 30 Day Self-Love Challenge).
Self-Doubt Thought #2: Your mistakes are irreparable
I used to get so stuck in this thought process that I thought the only way out was straight whiskey and three packs of cigarettes. Even then, I’d only become unstuck because I’d become stuck to something else (like the rim of a toilet bowl).
When I was a kid, I had this horrible dream about Satan and two suited-up helpers dragging me into a cave and standing there reading all of the things I’d ever done wrong in my life to me.
That’s exactly what this thought pattern feels like.
In the old days, it was all about being embarrassed and vulnerable. I’d remember that time when I started crying in front of a group of people. I’d remember that time when I said something stupid in my grade 4 class and everyone laughed.
Now, when this thought process comes to visit, it’s all about how I acted in the past. I think about the people I’ve hurt and the things I’ve done. I wonder if the damage I’ve caused is irreparable, if the mistakes I’ve made will ruin people’s lives forever. I start thinking about all the ways I’ve been a bad friend, a bad daughter, a bad girlfriend, a bad role model. I get this overwhelming sense that, no matter how much I do now, I can’t take those things back. I can’t change the past.
The way I deal with these thoughts is pretty simple. I say, “Yes, it’s true. You did those things. You said those things. You absolutely cannot change the past. You can apologize and try to correct your mistakes as much as you can and, after that, there’s nothing you can do.”
Sometimes, the thing that makes me feel better is writing an apology letter to a person from my past. I’ll tell you that, out of the dozens of apology letters I’ve written, only a handful have been well received. Most have been either ignored or met with bitterness. Then, I must forgive them for not forgiving me.
But then, I can have my peace. I can understand the most important thing: I can only do what I can do. I can do my best in any given moment. I can do no more than that. That is all I can expect of myself. As long as I’ve done my best to apologize and to mend my mistakes, after that, there’s nothing else to do but let go.
By accepting that the past has already happened and by actively doing my best to make the most of the present, I forgive myself and others automatically. Mistakes are, in the end, irreparable. Nothing goes backwards. We can only go forward with the lessons we’ve learned and with the will to do better next time.
Self-Doubt Thought #3: You haven’t changed at all
This one is usually the +1 guest to all of my other toxic thoughts. The thought says, “If you were as happy as you say you are, you wouldn’t be experiencing this. You haven’t really changed at all.” Of course, that hurts and makes me feel defensive. It has all the effects of being called a liar and a loser all in one lovely package.
My response is, “My happiness isn’t based on what happens to me, but how I react to it. I have changed, because I don’t believe these sorts of things anymore.” Sometimes, it bites back. If it does, I say to myself (often out loud): “It’s okay to be sad/angry/afraid. It’s okay to get these thoughts. It’s okay to feel how I feel. It happens to everyone.” That usually calms it down and, if it doesn’t, I repeat these words until it does.
I have to mention that these thoughts were the most difficult for me to learn to deal with. Essentially, we’re talking about a big, fat bully coming right out of my head and screaming “Who do you think you are?!” Dealing with that bully isn’t just about strength. It’s about softness and compassion. It’s about understanding that the anger inside my head comes from a wound somewhere deep down and all it needs is love and reassurance.
Self-Doubt Thought #4: You have no idea what you’re doing
I look at all my work and I wonder, “Where is this going? What am I doing?” I wonder if I should start a non-profit or run away to heal lepers. I wonder if I am wasting my potential away, telling myself that I’m living life at a slow pace while I’m really hiding from my fears and obstacles.
The thoughts tell me: “You have no idea what you’re doing. You don’t have a good plan. You’re not going in a solid direction.”
Step one in dealing with these is simple. I say, “You sound just like my parents.” That weakens the thought process by about 50%. It puts its tail between its legs.
Step two is also simple, but not always easy. I say, “Yes, you’re right.” That’s about it. And it’s true, you know. I really don’t have any idea what I’m doing. I have no idea what’s going on. Really, I have no idea if the sun will still rise tomorrow morning. I don’t know if the Earth will still be in one piece in the next twenty minutes. I have no idea (and no real control) over whether I get hit by an anvil on the head next time I go outside.
I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t really know anything. I’m just doing my best and that’s good enough.
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That’s it for me. How about you? What self-doubt thoughts do you struggle with and how do you deal with them in a way that respects, honours, and heals you? Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing.
(Photo by Amy Clarke)