Learn to beat those nagging and negative thoughts. By Jeremy Mitchell
I’m a fraud. I have fooled companies into paying me for work I am wildly unqualified to do and tricked a wonderful man into marrying me although he could have his pick of any woman in the world. The sad part is that my career and my fiancé simply top the ever-growing list of things that I am sure I am not good enough to have.
In my rational mind I know that this crippling feeling of not being good enough is a figment of my imagination. I know that I have worked very hard and continue to work for everything that I have. Although I know this to be true and there are physical markers of achievement and proof around me that support this fact, I still cannot banish my own self-doubt.
To better understand where this feeling comes from and how I can ultimately expel it from my mind, I consulted United Family Hospital's Clinical Psychologist Dr Shang Rasul Frederiksen.
'According to some of the world’s famous experts on the issue of self-esteem, the feeling of not being enough comes from our subconscious mind. Usually, it is expressed as self-bashing, anxiety-triggering thoughts,' explains Frederiksen. Sometimes the feeling of self-doubt echoes voices of our childhood – perhaps an anxious grandparent or disappointed parent, and other times we might compare ourselves to others. 'It is important to understand that the purpose of this inner voice is not to hurt us or to make us feel bad about ourselves. The purpose of this inner voice is ultimately to protect us, through making us want to be more invisible and avoid anything that potentially can make us target for the criticism and rejection,' she continues.
Being the only person with access to the soundtrack of my own self-doubt I have allowed it to overwhelm me at the smallest sign of change and scare me away from taking chances. I have always thought this voice in my head was my truth teller and that she knew something I did not. But if this is not the case, how do I learn to change my perspective?
'The best way to combat this inner critic is by doing the opposite: self-acceptance and self-compassion,' Frederiksen tells me. 'If not being good enough means that you completely messed up a presentation for work because you did not prepare, then you can plan to prepare well next time. By beating yourself up and concluding how worthless you are, you do more damage to yourself and your work motivation will suffer.'
When I try viewing this voice as a friend, not a foe, I’m able to have a positive dialogue with myself. Even though it still shouts at me to take the safer route, one that couldn’t possibly lead to me failing, when I am faced with a big decision, I am able to listen to her doubts and concerns without them crippling me. I am able to weigh my options and feel confident enough to listen to the braver part of myself every now and again. The part of me that knows some risks are worth taking even if you end up falling short.
Of course, it's not always that easy. When these thoughts start creeping in Frederiksen suggests mindfulness as one way to stop them taking over. 'Practising mindfulness daily has been proven to work well with self-critical individuals. Research shows that mindfulness lowers self-criticism, reduces stress, anxiety, and depression,' she explains. 'It teaches us to detach from our thoughts and feelings and have the ability to choose not to relate to unhelpful thoughts that keep us stuck in stress and anxiety.'
She says meditating daily, even for ten minutes, can help – just as long as I stick at it. She tells me things like sleeping enough, eating right, socialising, exploring new things and helping others have also been proven to help. Her final piece of advice? 'Be in the present moment and stop trying to be happy or super confident. You can't wait around for happiness in order start living.' And I can't argue with that.