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With negative emotions, you often feel alone, as if no one understands what you’re going through or why. This further makes you feel ashamed, on top of already feeling isolated and like a complete failure.
Have you ever noticed how one negative emotion brings more of the same, until you’re just one huge pile of sadness and depression?
For an unlucky few, you might even have someone in your life who seems to have it all together, bringing your failings into sharp focus.
According to a study conducted by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Gail Matthews, about 70 percent of the population experiences feeling like an imposter (aka Impostor Syndrome) at one point in their life.
That means right now, nearly everyone around you feels like they don’t know what they’re doing, like they don’t deserve their accomplishments, and they’re terrified that they’ll be exposed as frauds.
Doubting yourself is normal. Everyone battles the little voice in their head telling them “you’re not good enough.”
In fact, what’s odd is not feeling insecure.
Everyone has areas of their life where they feel insecure. It’s a natural part of the human experience.
Which, as it turns out, might be a good thing as only about 1 percent of us has no fears or insecurities at all. The clinical term for people like that is “psychopath.”
A healthy dose (the small amount that doesn’t stop you from living and enjoying life) of self-doubt actually helps you to regulate yourself and your interactions with other people. Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist, posits that “we doubt ourselves in order to check ourselves.” Self-doubt helps us adjust our behavior in line with social norms.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re faced with a new situation, place, event, or people you feel a tad bit off kilter or insecure? It’s your body’s defense mechanism working to keep you out of danger in unfamiliar circumstances. This is a trait found in every organism that helps them stay safe and alive.
Self-doubt can even work to propel us to look inward and motivate us to do the necessary work to improve and change.
Self-doubt is not all bad. The key is to keep it down to a healthy level.
But what do you do if the self-doubt, fears, and anxiety you feel are more than doctors recommend? How do you stop from overdosing on these emotions?
The first step is acknowledging your feelings.
Burying your emotions and hoping you’ll just snap out of it isn’t going to work. Never, in the history of ever, has ignoring emotions helped anyone. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be true.
Yet, out of shame or ignorance we continue to downplay and overlook our feelings. Since that’s not working, why not try something different? Why don’t you give yourself permission to feel your emotions?
What’s the worst that could happen?
Own up to your feelings and examine what is causing them. If you’re feeling inadequate, ask yourself why, what is causing that emotion. When you feel fear and self-doubt creeping in, ask where they’re coming from. What exactly are you afraid of?
Drill down to the root cause. Is it something someone said? Is it an unrealistic expectation you have of yourself? Is it an actual fear of something tangible? Is it a fear of something intangible? Perhaps the fear isn’t even yours, but something projected onto you by a well-meaning “friend.”
By breaking down your emotions this way, you find the cause. And once you’ve found the cause of the problem, it becomes so much easier to find a solution.
This next step requires a bit of humility.
After drilling down to the root cause of your negative feelings, try to figure out how you contribute to feeling this way and what can you do to change the situation.
It’s easy to blame all our problems on someone or something else. While it lets us off the hook, it also puts us in the victim mind space, where things happen to us and we’re powerless to do anything about it.
The truth is, sometimes the fault lies with us.
For example, you’ve realized you’re feeling inadequate at work because your boss keeps belittling the reports that you send Is it possible that your boss might be right, and your reports do actually need work?
Or perhaps the reason you’re terrified of being exposed as a fraud is because you have a skill or knowledge gap?
If you feel inadequate in a particular area, is there a valid reason you do? Look at the situation objectively, can you improve in any way?
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not in every scenario that you cause your own self-doubt. There are some people who take joy out of ripping the self-confidence of others to shreds.
However, I’ve found that more often than not, if I can do (or not do) something just a little differently, the circumstances surrounding my negative emotions will improve.
I’m all for writing in a journal. It’s a great practice that helps me get out of my head. After a stressful day at work, nothing feels better than coming home to do a brain dump in my journal. I write the good, bad, and the ugly, with no filter. And no judgment.
Studies have shown journaling to help patients suffering from depression and anxiety disorders. It even helps with stress management. Journaling is great at helping to identify negative thought patterns and in gaining self-awareness. Writing in a journal is a great way of releasing pent-up feelings. Who doesn’t want that?
If it’s so great, then what’s the problem?
Many of us stop at just writing about our fears or the crappy day we’ve had. But we need to go deeper to actually develop a plan that addresses our insecurities. Journaling helps you to figure out what (or who) triggers your negative thought process. After you’ve drilled down to the triggers, go deeper into figuring out how to get rid of them.
Maybe I just love putting together a good plan, but any time I do, I find that my mood improves. I believe it’s because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I know the end is in in sight rather than just stumbling about, hoping for things to just magically change.
I had a friend who felt quite insecure about his lack of education. He once asked me if I was ashamed of the fact that he wasn’t very intelligent.
I was taken aback because his question came out of the blue. I had found him to be intelligent and well-spoken. I’d never even noticed his lack of education. We’d had great conversations and he taught me about things I hadn’t been exposed to before. I honestly didn’t know where his insecurities were coming from.
But do you know what happened after that? I started to see where the cracks were. Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t pointed them out.
Everyone is worrying about their own problems and inadequacies. They’re probably not even aware of what you see as your glaring shortcomings. And if they don’t see them, why tell them about them?
What is the purpose of sharing your shortcomings? What do you hope to gain by doing so? Are you trying to undermine yourself?
If you’re looking for reassurance or support, then by all means share. But if you’re only pointing out your inadequacies because you assume they’re obvious to other people, think again.
You’re not perfect, you don’t know everything, and you don’t have all the answers. But let me let you in on a little secret, no one expects you to, either.
We all battle our self-doubt and fear. We all have our shortcomings. Cut yourself some slack. You’re not the worst (insert whatever fits) to walk the face of the earth.
The only thing you can do is keep trying to improve and better yourself.
Even that one person that looks like they’ve got it all together is working through some stuff. They have some areas where they falter. In fact, they’d probably have a good laugh at you for thinking they’ve got everything figured out.
Just like you’re not the worst (insert whatever fits) to walk the face of the earth, struggling to be the best (insert whatever fits) can be just as damaging to your psyche. It’s a goal one can never reach. And if by some stroke of magic you manage to attain that impossibly high bar, staying there for any length of time is unlikely.
By setting the bar so high and continually missing the unrealistic standards that you’ve set for yourself, you’re continuously chipping away at your self-confidence and self-worth.
In order for you to maintain your mental health, you need to make peace with being happy by being yourself.
You’re perfectly imperfect.
“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.” ~Maya Angelou
Feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt creep up to overwhelm us at critical moments, whether it be when we step into a new role at work or when we witness the birth of our child or when we’re faced with a new challenge or opportunity.
In these moments we are bound to feel like we don’t measure up, either to our own high standards or the standards of those around us.
The trick is to not let these feelings fester, grow, and rob us of our inner peace and self-confidence.
When thoughts of self-doubt and inadequacy start running through your mind, try any of the techniques mentioned above to remind yourself that you are enough and to get yourself on track to handling any challenge that arises.
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