Self-doubt is a powerful feeling that can fester deep within you. If it is allowed to spread deep enough, it can cause long term damage regarding your mental health, including but not limited to depression, self-harm, suicide, and loss of direction in life. Those issues can knock onto other areas of your life including job loss, relationship issues and the potential for homelessness and drug dependency. My story is proof of some of that.
The cost of doubt
Over the last decade, I allowed doubt to fester in my mind, heart and soul. It prevented me from truly embracing life’s opportunities. That included fully participating in all areas of University life and welcoming a proper exploration of my sexuality through involving myself in the queer community. I hid away from events and experiences that frightened me because doubt told me that it was pointless for me to get involved. I chose not to live life the way I had the chance too.
Following graduation, I had a mixture of failure and success. From careful reflection, I’ve realised my losses stemmed from self-doubt, which led to apathy on what I was working on. I didn’t care about writing content about tree surgery, butchers equipment or the future of 5G. The result was me losing my marketing career, going on a short course of CBT with Minds Matter and being prescribed citalopram for two years. It was one of life’s lowest moments. It felt like a confirmation of all that doubt had been whispering to me for all those years. Every had a similar experience?
Since that low moment, I’ve tried something new, which was summed up in this tweet by Alexander Leon. Sometimes we all need to hear those words. People like to say that we shouldn’t be so obsessed with how we feel or with ourselves. But in reality, doubt and that chronic lack of self-belief can be fatal. Self-belief is about survival. One of the first symptoms of self-doubt is a loss of life’s direction. It may sound superficial but in reality, having a focus for our lives is more powerful than we imagine. That might make you believe it should be simple to fix, but then we forget the root of such a loss is fear and doubt (two of the strongest emotions we humans experience).
It can happen to all of us
As part of my counselling training last year, I read a case study about a client who came to therapy because their life had lost direction. The counsellor who was reasonably new to the profession thought it would be a simple case of therapy. However, it soon became clear to both the client and the counsellor that their loss of direction was near-fatal to the point where the client’s suicidal ideation turned into the intention. Through further therapeutic work, the client realised their loss of direction and subsequent suicidal ideation was the result of a severe lack of self-belief and self-worth.
That lack of self-belief can be fatal, yet we are so often slow to help each other belief in ourselves. Until I started my training, I failed to comprehend the importance of genuine praise. I rarely received it, and I rarely gave it. It was always easier to make a joke or throw a sarcastic remark around. I cultivated the idea that to receive a compliment from me was high praise. Yet now I see the potentially deadly that could have had.
Believe in each other
You may believe that is hyperbole, but in truth, it isn’t the significant events that cause a person to kill themselves. It is the snowballing of small instances. So if I don’t praise a person and instead off humour or sarcasm instead and no one else offers then deserved praise, then all remains are silence—a deafening silence that eats away at a person’s self-worth and self-belief. Then the only thing to believe in is our doubts.
We can each make a change. Instead of holding back praise or only offering negative critiques, we can offer what that person deserves: real credit. We can believe in each other and ourselves. By doing one, you can do the other. If your friend has an incredible talent, tell them so. Or maybe they are excellent at their job but doubt themselves – encourage them. Just offer a kind word of support instead of only that deafening silence they might be all too familiar with.
Kindness and honesty are never overrated but are always necessary. Jokes and criticism may come easy (I should know), but it is kindness that can save lives. You can make yourself feel smug and superior, or you can make someone else smile and feel encouraged.