How to Deal With Self-Doubt

We've all invested our energies in certain psychic combats fueled by our doubts. People with impostor syndrome know this all too well. But, what can you do when you're filled with fear and uncertainty?
How to Deal With Self-Doubt
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 08 May, 2024

Do you question yourself frequently? Are you one of those people who, when you have motivating plans, is paralyzed by doubts? In reality, few things are more annoying than living with an internal voice that repeats phrases like: “What if you’re wrong?”, “What if you make a fool of yourself?”, “What’ll happen if you’re not good enough for the job?”

You can’t ever completely banish doubts from your mental universe. They’ll always be there, lying dormant, often surfacing to warn you to be cautious and frequently cutting the fuse to your impulses. However, a problem arises when your fears weigh excessively on you. Then, the confidence you have in yourself vanishes.

Living with an excess of self-doubt saps your potential and renders you, the brilliant person you are, incompetent. Those who deal daily with impostor syndrome are all too aware of this fact. When you underestimate yourself, and your whole world is filled with doubts, you become someone you don’t like. What can you do in these instances? Is there any strategy that can help?

“If you hear a voice within you say “You cannot paint”, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

-Vincent van Gogh-

Stressed man thinking what to do when you doubt yourself
As a human being, it’s common to question your capabilities or think that no one will take any notice of you.

The origin of self-doubt

Self-doubt is the shadow of uncertainty that hangs over your own truth. It’s like you’re stuck at an intermediate point from which nothing can move forward and everything seems to tremble under your feet. To doubt yourself is to question everything, from your skills to your thoughts, beliefs, and emotions.

An investigation conducted by Dr. Matthew Braslow claims that this subject has been neglected by the scientific field for a long time. He suggests that understanding the roots of our doubts would allow us to improve our abilities to achieve, and even improve our feelings of well-being. Therefore, it’s interesting to address how this debilitating perception manifests itself.

The causes of self-doubt

One of the main triggers for self-doubt is the environment in which you’ve grown up. For example, an excessively critical, authoritarian, and demanding family will diminish and boycott your self-concept. Indeed, if you’ve been made to feel fallible, it’ll be really difficult for you to trust your abilities.

  • Anxiety is another factor that drives persistent doubt, fears, and insecurities.
  • Low self-esteem is the substrate that continuously feeds your perception that you’ll fail, make a fool of yourself, or your supposed incompetence will be revealed whenever you try to do anything. Impostor syndrome is based on weak self-esteem.
  • If you’re insecure and have always exhibited low self-confidence, shyness, and fear of disappointing others, you’ll tend to doubt yourself.
  • There’s a little-known disorder linked to self-doubt. Aboulomania is a condition that affects the sufferer’s volitional abilities, plunging them into a constant inability to make decisions.

The only people who rarely doubt themselves are those with narcissistic personality disorder.

Young man thinking what to do when you doubt yourself
Doubt your negative thoughts when you want to do something and rationalize the internal dialogue that feeds you with constant fears.

How to act when you doubt yourself

Nobody is immune to self-doubt. It diminishes our strengths and dissolves our abilities and virtues. It’s an uncomfortable experience that imposes limits on our abilities to achieve goals. It also helps us create dim and debilitating views of ourselves. In effect, it’s like the fish that bites its own tail.

So, what can you do when you doubt yourself? There are a series of guidelines that you should reflect on. They’re as follows:

1. Be compassionate with yourself

Understand that self-doubt is part of being human. Consequently, occasionally doubting yourself doesn’t make you weaker or more fallible. You need to understand that your feeling of not being sure about something is a defense mechanism. It’s thanks to this feeling that you can apply a more reflective and analytical look at every situation.

Therefore, instead of judging yourself and feeling bad about doubting yourself, talk to yourself compassionately, like this: “It’s okay to feel insecure. It’s not bad to be afraid. I must trust in myself and my abilities. If I fail, it doesn’t matter, I can always try again.”

2. Develop unconditional self-worth

In moments of self-doubt, try to become aware of the effect that this mental focus has on you. Remember that your value as a person doesn’t depend on external factors, nor on whether you succeed or fail, or whether someone treats you well or badly.

Beyond whatever may happen, there’s a factor that should always be unconditional: your self-love and trust in yourself.

The next time a toxic cloud of paralyzing doubts assaults you, challenge your thoughts that build up those insecurities.

3. Doubt your doubts, rationalize them

What’s self-doubt? It’s nothing more than a thought, frequently dominated by irrational fear. When this feeling assaults you and insecurity mobilizes you and won’t allow you to move forward, doubt your thoughts. Pass them through a filter of analysis and compassionate criticism.

For example, tell yourself: “I don’t necessarily have to fail at this. I’ve done similar things in the past and succeeded. Besides, if I don’t dare to do it, I’ll only feel worse.”

4. Remember your achievements from yesterday

If you look in the rearview mirror of your life, you’ll discover some amazing aspects. You’ve achieved many things, you’ve climbed more than one mountain, and your abilities have opened many doors for you.

Keep in mind those achievements from yesterday. They’re like springboards that’ll propel you on the days when your doubts weigh heavily on you.

5. Avoid comparing yourself to other people

If you’re wondering what to do when you’re doubting yourself, use a mantra: “I’ll do my best and that’s enough.” It may seem like a cliché, but it’s really effective. That’s because all too often we compare ourselves to others. Therefore, you might fear doing certain things because someone else is an expert, others seem more efficient, or because you fear being judged or feeling embarrassed.

Many of your doubts are the product of social pressure and competitiveness. Remember, you’re the only person you have to prove anything to so, whatever happens, it’ll be okay, and whatever you do will be enough. You’ll have done your best. Reduce that voice of self-demand and enjoy the process. Move forward without fear.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

    • Braslow, M. D., Guerrettaz, J., Arkin, R. M., & Oleson, K. C. (2012). Self‐doubt. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(6), 470-482.
    • Oleson, K. C., Poehlmann, K. M., Yost, J. H., Lynch, M. E., & Arkin, R. M. (2000). Subjective overachievement: Individual differences in self‐doubt and concern with performance. Journal of personality, 68(3), 491-524.
    • Krause N, Ellison CG. The Doubting Process: A Longitudinal Study of the Precipitants and Consequences of Religious Doubt. J Sci Study Relig. 2009 Jun 1;48(2):293-312. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2009.01448.x. PMID: 20300487; PMCID: PMC2839364.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.