What Triggers Self-Doubt And How To Beat It
In this article you will be learning what triggers self-doubt in your mind and what you can do to get rid of it. So let’s just get started.
At any given moment of the day each of us is exposed to a multitude of external and internal experiences. External stimuli are those things going on around us. Internal stimuli are the sensations that we experience inside our bodies or minds. Both sets of experiences can set off doubt.
Just stop reading for a moment and try to be aware of everything going on in your environment. Where are you? What do you see? Are you alone or with others? What do you hear? Is it quiet or do you hear other people conversing or a baby crying or children playing or people arguing or laughing? Do you hear the television or the news or the radio? Is it dark or light? Maybe you see the glare of the sun through the window shades. Take a moment and mentally list the external sensations you are experiencing.
How we process these experiences is influenced by our underlying self-doubt. Do we see them in a neutral way or as a sign of danger or distress? Take the external trigger of overhearing two men arguing. One person may think nothing of the heated conversation; it may be a trigger for another, who may fear for his or her own safety; and still another may be concerned for the well-being of one of the men.
Internal stimuli are the thoughts and images that run through our head or the bodily sensations we experience. Thoughts can be spontaneous and bizarre, like the thought of flinging yourself of a tall building. They can be negative, like the thought of growing old and suffering in pain. Or they can be positive, like the thought of becoming wealthy. Thoughts can also be scary, like thinking you forgot where you put a valuable item. Images, like thoughts, are internal stimuli that arise unexpectedly. Thoughts and images appear unprompted and unplanned. They often either go unnoticed or are given more weight than they deserve.
Physical feelings are bodily sensations. Sit quietly for a moment and try to scan your body from the top of your head to your toes. Do you feel relaxed? Are you clenching your jaw? Is your mouth dry? Do your shoulders feel tight? Is your heart pounding? Do you have indigestion? Do you feel nauseous or have butterflies in your stomach? Do you notice shakiness or restlessness? Are you tired or full of energy? These are just a few of the sensations we experience in our bodies at any given time.
Feelings themselves are stimuli. The feelings of being bored, lonely, happy, excited, angry, overwhelmed, sad, or fearful are just a few examples. The more we focus on our feelings the more magnified those feelings become.
Stimuli, external or internal, are just that, stimuli. Th e thought or image of hurting someone might cross your mind, and you can either dismiss it as a silly intrusion or it can become a trigger to make you fear that you will in fact hurt someone. Consider the internal stimulus of feeling your heart racing. One person might perceive it as a sign of physical danger, another might see it as an opportunity to get energized, and another as a reprieve from hunger. Or consider suddenly feeling sad. You might think this is a sign of more sadness to come, another might see it as making sense based on the situation, and yet another may think nothing of it. It is our perceptions of those stimuli that create our trouble, and it is our self-doubt that shapes that perception.
Self-Doubt Enters the Picture
Every one of us perceives the world through a different lens. Our lenses are often colored by self-doubt. At some point or another, all of us find ourselves seeing the world through the lens of doubt. When doubt is biasing our perspective, we suffer needlessly. Th ose of us who allow doubt to be our filter suffer more than others. Th e first step in removing that filter of doubt is learning to recognize and label the doubt that has warped our perspective.
Imagine you have a fourteen-year-old son who is tall for his age and has large, well-defined muscles. His bulging arms and six-pack stomach are the admiration of others. A friend says to you, “Where did he get those genes?” You revel in the admiration your son is receiving. What if, instead, you heard that as a slight? You immediately shrink and feel insulted and wonder why your friend cannot see how your son looks like you did once, albeit thirty years ago. Th rough the lens of self-doubt, the compliment has become an insult.
Take an example from the tennis court. A husband and wife are avid tennis players. They play in a coed drill on Sunday mornings with some very aggressive, wisecracking men. One man in particular likes to compliment the wife’s game and give her husband a hard time. If the husband is this man’s partner and is standing at the net and he lets a ball get by him, this man will tell him, “You’re not up there just to look good.” The husband feels diminished and thinks, “I’m not that good.” The reality is the husband is as good a player as the rest of them, but the underlying doubt of himself as an athlete leads him to perceive the bantering as an insult.
We are each vulnerable to different types of situations. For example, you might react differently from someone else when in one of these situations: a family member being short over the phone, a disagreement, receiving constructive criticism at work, being corrected, needing help, or making a mistake How we react to such triggers determines the degree of stress we experience.
Imagine you reach down to adjust the temperature in your car, and you are startled by a loud honk. You realize the light has turned green and proceed through the intersection. Glancing in your rear view mirror, you notice the person driving the car behind you is mouthing a complaint. Do you shrug it off, ignore it, and think nothing more about it? Or do you feel bad or embarrassed that you were not paying attention? You might even believe you are dumb, irresponsible, or careless. You can let this situation activate your insecurity or you can tell yourself it’s no big deal and in no way a reflection of your intellect, sensibility, or consideration for others that you missed the changing of the light. Do you let minor events like this activate doubt?
As you work though the this series of article, you will learn to notice when doubt starts talking to you. External and internal sensations are simply that, until you subjectively interpret them. Your spin on an event is rarely the same as another’s understanding of it. Have you ever noticed that your interpretation of a situation was not the same as someone else’s who witnessed the same event? Have you ever wondered why you might have reacted so strongly, while your spouse took it in stride? We all have vulnerabilities, also known as doubt triggers.
DOUBT TEST 3
Imagine yourself in each of these scenarios. What’s going through your mind? Take a moment to record your thoughts next to each item.
- Your colleague walked into the office and did not say hello to you.
- Your boss calls to tell you he wants to meet with you later today.
- Your friend cancels lunch with no explanation as to why.
- You don’t get invited to a neighbor’s holiday party.
- You need to call someone for help because she has more expertise in what you’re working on.
- You’ll be late on a deadline.
- . A friend is upset with you.
- A family member is angry at you.
- You get lost and will be late for a meeting.
- The person you are talking to looks at her watch.
Which situations lead to emotional distress? Think about a family member being mad at you. Did you take it in stride knowing it will blow over or did you have an extreme reaction worrying that you will never be forgiven? Are you able to see this interaction as a typical pattern in his or her behavior and not a reflection of you? Strong negative reactions are caused by underlying doubt. Doubting our lovability leads us to fear rejection at every mishap.
In the second situation, your boss asking to meet with you, all kinds of thoughts are possible. It can be overwhelming to imagine, “What kind of trouble am I in?” A person who doubts his or her competence would be more likely to have such a thought. Th e confident person would think, “I’ve got some free time later this afternoon so I’ll talk to him then.” She feels neutral, knowing she can handle whatever problem has arisen. Are you beginning to become aware that all of us perceive and react to situations diff erently based on how doubt has primed us?
As you experience your day, pay attention to how you react to what goes on outside and inside of you. Try to see which situations lead to unpleasant feelings and which have no effect on you at all.
The Situation Is Now Seen Through the Lens of Doubt
Once doubt is activated, you begin to second-guess yourself, and you are bombarded with thoughts. Thoughts driven by doubt are self-critical, fear driven, and typically negative. There is a tendency to stop attending to all the other external and internal stimuli and to hone in on the specific experience(s) that pushed the doubt button.
You forget about situational factors and believe you are to blame.
Let’s examine the situations from Doubt Test 3 more closely. We’ll list some realistic responses that can replace your doubt response.
1. Your colleague walked into the office and did not say hello to you.
I wonder if he’s mad at me.
Maybe I forgot to do something he asked me to do.
From past experience the most likely explanation is he’s distracted thinking about his personal or professional problems.
The fact is he did ask me to help him with something, and I am currently working on it. He knows that.
2. Your boss calls to tell you he wants to meet with you later today.
Maybe he’s not happy with me.
He’s going to ask for something unreasonable.
The fact is I have gotten positive feedback from him just the other day.
I’ve got some free time later this afternoon; I can take care of whatever he needs.
Beware of Negative Emotions
When you view any situation through a negatively biased lens, you experience unpleasant emotions such as fear, sadness, anger, discouragement, hopelessness, and agitation. Many of us are more aware of our emotions than we are of our thoughts. Guess what? You can learn to use your emotions as signals telling you to pay attention to your thoughts. Think about the yellow warning light inside your car. When it goes on, you know that something isn’t quite right.
Think about one of your friendships in which your friend relies on you for emotional support and social activities. Was there a time where you had to cancel plans and she blasted you over the phone? Did you notice that her emotional reaction was way out of proportion to the situation? She probably responded with anger or hurt. Perhaps her doubt was activated and took the form of “I don’t matter” or “She doesn’t care about me anymore” or “I’m being rejected.” However, maybe all of her interpretations were incorrect and unnecessarily upsetting. Perhaps the fact was that a meeting was unexpectedly scheduled for that time or a sick child was at home.
Take one of Andrea’s situations for example: She’s just gotten her three children dressed, fed, and to school. She’s on her way to work about to make a right on red. The car in front of her starts to go and then suddenly stops. She rolls into it and damages both cars. Suddenly she is overcome with panic, and the doubt takes over. “I shouldn’t be driving.” “I’m not a good driver.” She imagines the black mark on her driving record. Rather than looking at her overall driving record, she believes every thought in that moment and fears getting back into her car.
A realistic response, one not driven by doubt, would be: “A fender bender would shake anyone up. I’ve been driving for more than twenty-three years at least five times each day and this is only my second accident. I’d say based on those statistics I’m a competent driver. Feelings aren’t facts.”
When your negative emotions take over, you thwart yourself. Having lost the confidence to believe in yourself, you cease to reach for your goals; instead you retreat, sabotaging or evading your success.
I do hope that by now you have a clear idea of what triggers self-doubt and what you can do to prevent it.