Coping with Self-Doubt in the New Year

This morning Litsa and I ran our usual Thursday morning workshop at an emergency shelter in Baltimore City.  We’ve been visiting this particular shelter for almost three years now, so from start to finish our visits have become pretty routine.  We come, we put out coffee and donuts, a handful of residents turn up to eat and drink the aforementioned coffee and donuts, and we talk about grief, coping, and the thousands of concepts that lie in-between.

This morning felt a little different for me, though, because I was in a pretty bad mood.  In a longer version of this article I’d tell you all about how I’ve been sick which caused me to oversleep which set off a domino effect of grouchiness and yelling as I tried to rush my daughters out the door this morning, but none of that’s important here.  What’s important is that I was feeling terrible and my outlook was wretched until, as luck would have it, the first person to show up for our workshop this morning came in with an attitude that was the exact counter-point to mine.  She had a big smile and gave me a big hug and with great gusto she expressed her optimism and positivity about the New Year. My sharp negativity immediately softened…and then wilted into disappointment and shame.

“Darn it” I thought. “Just yesterday I had been on the same train as this woman – I was ready to eat healthier, have a more patient attitude, practice more self-care, and to get organized about work – but I let a sniffling little cold and a bad morning throw me totally off the rails.”  Followed by the brief, but perspective changing thoughts, “you always do this” and “you’ll never change.”

These self-defeating thoughts are familiar to me.  They’re often there, keeping me anchored to the belief that, no matter what decision or resolution I make, I will inevitably slip back into being the same old me with the same bad habits, the same lack of self-care and self-discipline, the same disorganization, and the same outlook. And if you want to dig really deep, I suppose at the heart of these thoughts is the underlying belief that I’m not truly in control or capable. Dang.

I can tell some of you are wondering why I’m telling you this. How is it supposed to be helpful? Well, it may not be…but I just wanted to let you know, if you ever feel discouraged or defeated before you even get started on something, that you aren’t alone. Many people struggle with self-doubt on good days and, as you know, many of you are also dealing with things like trauma, loss, and hardship. So today’s post is a quick one, first with a promise that next week’s post will be (much) more constructive, and second with a request for you to share your wisdom in response to the following questions:

What are your coping strategies for dealing with self-doubt? How do you ignore the tiny negative version of yourself that whispers in your ear and says – “you can’t”, “you won’t”, “you don’t deserve to”?  How do you keep going in spite of self-doubt? Do you have a mantra that helps keep you focused? What is your hope for 2017?

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COMMENTS

Katharine Mawer

Posted on January 5, 2017 at 4:09 pm

My self doubt often coms out when I learn of some of the wonderful things others are doing in this life. A “mantra” I turn to is from a well known piece called Desiderata by philosopher Max Enrmann: ” If you compare yourself with others you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself….You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”

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Margaret

Posted on January 5, 2017 at 5:49 pm

One of my favorite Verses from Scripture is, ” I can do all things through Christ, Who strengthens me. ” Even if I have to say it a lot during the day, I know it’s true. Another good Verse is, ” My strength is sufficient, for My power is made perfect in weakness ” Your self talk can turn into positive words. It’s hard work to wake up each day feeling great about ourselves. There are many toxic people in this world that seem to enjoy criticizing others. Don’t hang around the toxic people, there’s bunches of wonderful, uplifting people we can encounter.

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Angela

Posted on January 5, 2017 at 8:57 pm

I think about all that I went through with my husband as cancer took over his body and stole him from me. John was home on hospice for a couple days before he died at home. I took care of him including giving him his medicine via IV. When I have self doubts, I remind myself that I heloved my husband die well and watched him take his last breath. I can do anything.

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Terri

Posted on January 7, 2017 at 6:47 am

After a 3 year battle with stomach cancer, my husband of 42 years died 9 months ago, so this widow journey is relatively new. I am sad a lot and harbor some self-doubt about the future. When I pause to check in on my emotions- sadness, loneliness, fear- I remind myself of how strong I must be to have helped my husband in his battle, helped him die at home with dignity and now be our grown children’s only parent. So that’s how I deal with self-doubt most of the time in these dark days of my first winter alone. I found your post interesting in another way, though, and that is the effect others have on us. Isn’t it wonderful when we come in contact with those people who are optimistic and can change our grouchy mood into one of hope!

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Sheila Neff

Posted on January 9, 2017 at 10:22 am

We had a similar journey. Once I could say out loud that my husband died in my arms, I found my gratitude for being able to give him that peace. I still stumble over self doubt, but after a little over a year without him, I can say that the legacy of his love helps to remind me that I had strength that day. I’m so grateful for his salvation and mine as well. I miss his leadership in our home, but that reminds me to rely on Christ. Hoping that you have peace of heart each day.

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KJ

Posted on January 5, 2017 at 9:40 pm

We all have self-doubt. We all think we can’t do things or get through the grief or the change that it brings. But if we keep taking the small steps, the tiny steps, the day by day steps, the hour by hour, or even, the minute by minutes steps… we somehow get to a different place. I would never, ever have believed that I’d get out of the despair. But somehow you do. So when I have that self-doubt I think… I’ve come this far. I never thought this far was possible. One small step back does not equate to the long road backwards. Then I think… I can do this. Look at where you were. And then I give myself a break and not beat myself up for a bad minute, bad hour, or even a bad day.

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Janice

Posted on January 6, 2017 at 8:57 am

This idea takes longer to work but might be helpful to others. I started a daily meditation practice after losing my son seven months ago. One of the subtle side effects over time for me is a strengthening of compassion for myself (and others) which really helps on days like you describe. Another effect I’ve noticed lately is an increased capacity to live with pain and discomfort, which is of course what all of us who are grieving are dealing with.

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Catherine

Posted on January 6, 2017 at 7:53 pm

Mindfulness… notice 5 things I can see, 5 things I can hear, 5 things I can feel… to bring myself quickly back to the present, and remind myself of the promise I’ve made to (try) love and be kind to myself xx

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Terri

Posted on January 7, 2017 at 6:48 am

After a 3 year battle with stomach cancer, my husband of 42 years died 9 months ago, so this widow journey is relatively new. I am sad a lot and harbor some self-doubt about the future. When I pause to check in on my emotions- sadness, loneliness, fear- I remind myself of how strong I must be to have helped my husband in his battle, helped him die at home with dignity and now be our grown children’s only parent. So that’s how I deal with self-doubt most of the time in these dark days of my first winter alone. I found your post interesting in another way, though, and that is the effect others have on us. Isn’t it wonderful when we come in contact with those people who are optimistic and can change our grouchy mood into one of hope!

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Kathleen

Posted on January 9, 2017 at 2:09 am

Eleanor, thank you for this quick note regarding your self doubt. I would like to share my experience with self doubt because since the death of my son self doubt has taken on new meaning. I never had a mantra or a bible verse, song, book or any outside reflector to help me through my periods of self doubt. I never gave it much thought. I had my self doubts, I felt them, did the typical “in my head talk” then I moved on from them or I burried them until the next time. I understood them to be a part of being human. The death of my son however has changed everything. Self doubt takes over every aspect of my day. No decision is not frought with self doubt. The “inside my head talk” lasts much longer and requires actual tending to. I now use prayer, meditation books, web sites, prayer beads, candles…any and all ways to help me through the fear and guilt of my self doubts. What I have found to be the best balm for my spirit is helping others. Whether it’s giving a dollar to the homeless person on the highway exit, reaching the higher shelf for someone in the grocery store, or making sure my neighbors trash can gets pulled up. Any little act seems to give my self doubts and self defeating attitude the shakes temporarily. I did these things before the death of my son but I find now they are a relief of sorts to not only the sadness, and the guilt but also the self doubts about who I am, where I’ve been and where I’m going. The death of my son has opend up a whole new realm of feeling, a deeper thought process and a more active awareness of my surroundings, or as Catherine said mindfulness, as well as the darker side of self doubt, defeat, sadness, guilt and fear. My hope for the new year is to expand my shrunken world, put my self doubts back into a managable perspective and live to honor the memory of my son.

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Laura

Posted on January 11, 2017 at 9:48 am

Kathleen,

This is beautiful. I needed to read this today. I’m struggling too since the death of one of my sons in July 2016. I have spent so much time just wondering who I am anymore. Helping others is always my go-to when I’m feeling down, and it still does help. However, I’ve been trying to define a way to focus this “healing” so that I can help myself further. My struggle is trying to figure out which flag to pick up and run with. I have little things that I have always done, such as collecting toiletries for the homeless shelter, things of that nature. I just feel that if I could do something on a more focused, grander scale it would be more soothing for my broken heart. At least that is my hope.

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Kathleen

Posted on January 24, 2017 at 8:44 pm

Laura, thank you for your kind words. I agree that finding the right “flag to pick up” is the challenge. In the effort to comfort and “heal” my broken heart, friends and family suggest ideas hoping I’ll pick one up and run with it. However, what I’ve come to realize is… no amount of encouragment from anywhere other than my own head, my own heart and my own efforts will ease the self doubt I’ve come to face with the death of my son. As I said in my post, it’s a new year and I plan to focus on the “you can do it” attitude as Melinda mentioned, reshape my identity to who I have become, re-enter the bigger world around me and honor my son. My thoughts are with you.

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Melinda

Posted on January 17, 2017 at 1:03 pm

I have a lot of self doubt talk in my head and I have just now started to really fight those thoughts. I ask myself what is the worst case scenario if you don’t get something done you had planned. I pep talk myself by telling myself, “you can do this.” Due to health issues I pace myself and I am much more careful not to overload my calendar so I don’t feel self defeated. I have also began reading the book called Boundaries. It made me realized I put up boundaries against the good people in my life, not letting them in. I have also learned to put up the boundaries between me and the not so good people in my life

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