Self Doubt: Challenging Negative Assumptions about Yourself

Client: “I believed that my judgment couldn’t be trusted.”

Therapist: “That’s right. That was something you have come to accept as ‘fact’. You didn’t question it rationally or objectively when you were a child. And you never went back to check it out as an adult”

Client: “I’ve been struggling ever since.”

Therapist: “That belief of yours is a double edged sword.”

Client: “What does that mean?”

Therapist: “It means you can only trust your judgment to be wrong and let you down.”

Client: “So when I come up with a good decision, I doubt it will work, so I go ahead and do the opposite.”

Therapist: “Exactly. What happens when you doubt your judgment?”

Client: “It’s always a disaster. I could kick myself for not trusting my gut. I was right the first time, but doubted what I was thinking.”

Therapist: “This is how you confirm over and over again that your judgment cannot be trusted. Your self-doubt kicks in and overrides your initial approach. It is this doubt that sabotages your happiness and success. It is entirely consistent with your identity of self-contempt.”

Client: “It proves that I am just being me doesn’t it?”

Therapist: “Yes. This is how you maintained the consistency of your childhood role as the ‘stupid’ little boy.”

Client: “Well it feels awful.”

Therapist: “It is awful. But these choices have nothing to do with your intelligence. They are emotional. They come from the heart, not the head. You keep overriding your mature, adult judgment in the present, with this childish assumption from first grade. This approach makes sure that you don’t find happiness, which you feel ‘stupid’ people do not deserve.”

Client: “Why don’t I stop?”

Therapist: “Every six-year-old knows that when you are wrong, you deserve to be punished. More specifically, when you don’t trust yourself to make good decisions, you fill yourself with doubt as punishment. So by denying yourself happiness, you are teaching yourself a lesson. This is done with the hope that your will avoid the same mistake next time. Yet, the cycle repeats itself because people who feel stupid are guilty of being wrong and need to be punished, which makes them feel stupid and so on.”

Client: “Can I turn this around?”

Therapist: “Not by yourself. You cannot be objective about your own mistaken feelings and beliefs. You are just going to agree that what you are thinking is right.”

Client: “I’m tired of this painful treadmill. I want to quit.”

Therapist: “Wanting to quit is nice but it is not enough. People who are drowning in self-contempt do not deserve to get what they want. They deserve to be punished. First you have to feel that you deserve to get something better.”

Client: “How do I do that?”

Therapist: “It’s done by doing your homework.”

Client: “What’s my homework?”

Therapist: “Instead of giving you an assignment for tomorrow, let me see if you have done some homework already.”

Client: “How could I do homework without even know it?”

Therapist: “Well let me see…How do you feel about coming to see a therapist?”

Client: “I feel it was a good decision.”

Therapist: “In what way?”

Client: “I feel like I am learning something about myself.”

Therapist: “That is a feeling of accomplishment. Would you call it a success?”

Client: “Yes, it was hard to come and ask for help, to admit that I couldn’t do it myself.”

Therapist: “Do you feel stupid?”

Client: “No I feel smart.”

Therapist: “How smart is smart enough?”

Client: “I don’t know?”

Therapist: “As smart as you are right now, that is smart enough. Did you have a choice in coming here today?”

Client: “Yes. I could have chosen not to come.”

Therapist: “So how do you feel about the choice you made?”

Client: “It was a good choice.”

Therapist: “In order to make that choice you had to use your judgment didn’t you?”

Client: “I guess.”

Therapist: “How good was your judgment in making the choice to come here today?”

Client: “Good enough”

Therapist: “This ability to recognize how good is good enough speaks to your own standards. By living up to our own standards we have feelings of success, maturity, security and self-respect. By coming here today you already did some homework for your own good.”

Client: “I always thought it was selfish to do things for me.”

Therapist: “It’s only selfish if it ends with you. Self-preservation means you take care of yourself so you can help others. But if you don’t take care of you who will?”

Client: “I don’t know who?”

Therapist: “No one and you will come to resent those who you help since they take away from your ability to care for yourself. You are an equal member of the human race who is equally entitled to care for himself, no more or less important than anyone else. “

Client: “Actually, it was kind of scary to come here.”

Therapist: “But you did it anyways. Do you feel liberated?”

Client: “From who?”

Therapist: “From the old you. You came here and took responsibility for your own happiness. You made an independent choice and you can do it again. It took courage to try something new and do it anyways, that was quite a risk, but you did it anyways. You have earned the confidence and competence that come with courage. You took control by making a choice in the real world, according to your own standards. How do you feel now?”

Client: “You know, I can’t remember the last time I said that and meant it, but I feel happy.”

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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