Self Doubt: Do You Deserve to Succeed?

shutterstock_183237143Judgment is the organ of decision making and it does not operate in a vacuum. We all have beliefs about how reliable our judgment is. If we respect ourselves, we are likely to trust our judgment and have faith that we will make successful choices. If we do not respect ourselves, we cannot trust our judgment to guide us through life. As a result, we may look to others for approval and guidance on what is best.

Most young people take cues from their parents and teachers. If they are called “stupid” every time they make a mistake, they come to hold their intelligence and judgment as inferior. They take the label “stupid” personally, as a reflection on their entire worth as a person. They don’t know how else to take it. Since they have second-rate judgment, they do not believe in themselves and their ability to succeed. Children who do not respect themselves, predict failure and have prophecies of disaster. They stand in their own way, believing they do not deserve to succeed in life since they are lesser than everyone else. Children who cannot trust their judgment may blame themselves for being such a “loser”. As they age, this sense of inferiority turns into depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviors.

Here is a conversation with a young man who, like many imperfect human beings, has trouble trusting. We had been talking about his memories growing up. Like all of us, the events that stand out in his memory are consistent with the way he feels about himself.

Client: “I remember my dad catching me and my brother taking money out of his wallet. I ran out the back door, but my brother got caught. He got the crap beat out of him. When I came home, my dad had calmed down, but I felt terrible about what happened. I could hear my brother sobbing in his room.”

Therapist: “You felt guilty for abandoning your brother. You should have stayed and taken your punishment like a “man”, but you didn’t. Your judgment propelled you out the back door and you have regretted it ever since.”

Client: “I haven’t thought about that for years.”

Therapist: “This memory also speaks to avoiding the consequences of your behavior. You got away with it, but your was not immune.”

Client: “I have always been quick on my feet. I can talk my way out of anything.”

Therapist: “That ability gives you a fabricated sense of power and control over circumstances. Some end up defining their self-worth in terms of this very minor, superficial trait.”

Client: “What’s wrong with that?”

Therapist: “It’s only the gift of gab. You end up being all mouth, no brains. it is hardly a prescription for a healthy, gratifying existence. And it does nothing to relieve you of the insecurity that your judgment cannot be trusted.”

Client: “I can sound impressive even when I don’t know how to solve a problem. I’m good at fooling people I guess.”

Therapist: “You even succeeded at fooling yourself.”

Client: “How did I do that?”

Therapist: “By imagining that your judgment was superior to the judgment of everyone else, that you knew in advance that you could emerge unscathed. By believing that you could talk you way out of anything, you predicted the future and knew that you would be immune to any consequences thrown at you.”

Client: That’s stupid isn’t it?”

Therapist: “There you go again. It is not a matter of stupidity. It’s a matter of learning things about yourself that are not true.”

Client: “What do you mean? What is true?”

Therapist: “That you were a little boy and you made little boy mistakes. You compounded these childish mistakes by taking them personally, as if they were a reflection on your intelligence and your self-worth. When you got through compounding this pain, you didn’t have any self-worth left. You grew up feeling worthless and stupid.”

Client: “That’s how I have always felt; I just didn’t want anyone to find out.”

Therapist: “When we try to conceal our insecurities, they usually come out one way or another. What we suppress, we end up evoking. It takes energy to avoid things and keep them locked up inside. What we hide only gains power.”

Client: “I’m always screwing up.”

Therapist: “When you do, you mistakenly generalize the screw-up. It’s as if all your decisions are failures.”

Client: “What other mistakes did I make?”

Therapist: “You made the mistake of perpetually blaming yourself. You imagined that your childish mistakes were a permanent state and would last forever, which of course it does not.”

Client: “So I overcompensated by looking to others for approval. That’s stupid.”

Therapist: “Nope, that wasn’t stupid either. Stupidity has to do with one’s level of intelligence. The efforts you made to prove yourself, to relieve the pain of your self-contempt, did not arise out of your intellect. They arose out of the feelings that you have about yourself. If these emotional conclusions are mistaken and unrealistic, you will have trouble coping with reality.”

Boy being punished image available from Shutterstock.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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