Self-doubt? That used to be my middle name!
In spite of many successes throughout my life, when a new challenge came my way, along with the excitement came the sinking feeling that “this time I will fail.” I felt I had been lucky so far, but this time people would know that I was a pretender, a fraud!
Where do these thoughts come from? I think often they are internalized voices or experiences from our early years. As I have dug deeply into my own story, part of what I have realized is that due to an emotionally chaotic childhood, I unconsciously had to handle complicated emotions that were beyond the grasp of a child. The job of a child is to play, to explore and to experience awe and wonder at the world around them. To be a caretaker to emotionally wounded parents gives a child the feeling inside that the world is “too much to bear.” Even within a successful professional, the “inner child” can be holding its breath, feeling it is not up to the new task.
As I dug deeper into my own story, I felt that there was another reason for this feeling of “am I enough?” in new situations. I moved many times during my childhood. At each new school I would be filled with anxiety—“Are my clothes right?” or “Will they like me?” Once again, rather than walking into a new situation with confidence, I was filled with anxiety. This unconsciously transferred to other situations as I grew older even though outwardly I was seemingly independent and self-confident.
Often a child can have a totally opposite experience and inner doubt will still creep in. Many well-meaning parents continually tell a child how exceptional they are, how special and smart they are! Everything is applauded. They are shielded from negative experiences. Even though this is meant to build the child’s self esteem and confidence, many times hidden inside is the feeling that she can’t live up to those superlatives and feels she is “less than.” New experiences can bring forth the unconscious feeling that “I am a fraud.”
The good news is that if we have the courage to unzip the weighty backpack of experiences that we have been carrying around, we no longer have to be at the mercy of those voices. If self-doubt creeps in each time you face a new experience or relationship, is this the time to put aside covering it up with outward bravado and willpower and gently ask yourself when you first remember having that feeling? Were you often criticized by parents and felt “less than?” Were you constantly applauded by your parents and thus felt “less than?” Did you walk proudly to the first grade as a confident little girl and the other kids laughed at your clothes or your freckles or your mayonnaise sandwich (your favorite) for lunch and something crumbled inside? Or did you feel you had to hide parts of yourself in adolescence because you were a tomboy and you had to appear more “feminine” if you wanted to be popular and have boyfriends? Was it later when you entered college or the business world and succumbed to the subtle message that being a woman somehow made you inferior and the “imposter syndrome” seeped into your bones?
Whatever the origins, self-doubt robs us of our energy and being our best self. Why not allow yourself to begin to unpack that backpack you have carried for far too long?
Photo by Lina Verovaya on Unsplash