Overcoming self-doubt: Identify your emotional blind spots

Learn to widen your perspective, chase down new challenges, and eliminate self-doubt, urges Holly Treacy

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Learn to look beyond your peripheral vision, widen your perspective, and chase down new challenges, urges Holly Treacy, before sharing 4 ways to combat self-doubt

As I navigated the familiar route to pick up my son from nursery, the routine act of checking my physical blind spots sparked an unexpected line of thought. How many times had I glanced over my shoulder, ensuring safety on the road without a second thought? Yet, in that moment, I found myself pondering the unseen areas of my life, the emotional blind spots that, much like those in my car, might be keeping me safe but also limiting my perspective.

It was a simple drive, yet it led me to a profound realization – just as my car’s blind spots exist to protect me from harm, could there be daily habits and mental patterns acting as my emotional blinkers? Was I unconsciously operating with tunnel vision, focused solely on reaching my metaphorical destination unscathed? The more I reflected, the more I wondered: what aspects of my life had I been overlooking, unintentionally keeping myself confined to a smaller version of what could be?

If I’m honest, it wasn’t actually a small life I was afraid of; it was stepping into the fullness of who I could be and trusting in what I had to offer. I work to present the most confident, positive version of myself, but in truth, I’m often plagued by self-doubt in unknown situations. Self-doubt, fear of failure, and imposter syndrome can significantly hinder personal growth and success in various aspects of life, according to therapist and author Abby Rawlinson.

“These insecurities can sometimes cause people to live in overdrive, where they do more than is necessary and more than is healthy, driven by a fear of failure or being unmasked as fraudulent,” Rawlinson explains. “They work long hours, frantically people-please, and obsessively over-prepare for things, just to avoid feeling like they’re falling short.”

Rawlinson’s words rang eerily true of my own experiences, and she suggests that this over-functioning perfectionist behavior not only increases the risk of burnout but also detracts people from focusing on what truly matters: “It can pull people away from their true selves and core values, leading them to pursue things that don’t foster genuine happiness and fulfillment.”

Why then, if we possess these qualities, can it often seem we’re unable to make any choices or lack the motivation to forge forwards? “These same insecurities can cause people to hesitate or procrastinate when it comes to seizing opportunities or taking risks, both personally and professionally,” Rawlinson states, describing a sort of life paralysis that can happen when we feel inadequate or doubt our abilities.

This can lead to missed chances for growth, connection, learning, and achievement: “We don’t apply for a new job, ask that person we like out on a date, start the pottery class, or ask for a pay rise because we predict failure at every turn. It feels safer to stand still.”

After speaking with Rawlinson and reflecting on recent experiences, a particular professional opportunity comes to mind – a position at a company I had dreamed of working for. But when the opportunity finally arrived, I found myself questioning my worthiness of the role. Rather than fully embracing the short contract and relishing the opportunity in front of me, I went in with what I’ve now coined ‘intern energy,’ despite being in a senior position.

So, how can we better identify what’s holding us back in order to avoid self-sabotage? Rawlinson proposes that the answer is in identifying our core beliefs. “Core beliefs are our most deeply held assumptions about ourselves,” she states. “They are firmly embedded in our thinking and significantly shape and influence the type of thoughts we tend to have.

For example, if you notice you have thoughts along the lines of, ‘People don’t find me attractive or interesting,’ it may well be related to an underlying belief that ‘I’m unlovable,’” she continues. “Other core beliefs include ‘I can’t trust anyone,’ ‘I’m not good enough,’ or ‘I’m stupid.’”

With this in mind, I’m realizing as I write that one of my core beliefs could very well be “I’m not good enough.” “Core beliefs are very convincing,” Rawlinson adds, “and we tend to accept them as truth without question, sometimes without even really being aware of them.” While some core beliefs may empower us and propel us towards success – “You may have positive core beliefs, such as ‘I am capable,’ or ‘I am lovable,’” says Rawlinson – others, she claims, can act as silent saboteurs, undermining our confidence and stopping us from achieving our goals.

So how can we identify our core beliefs? Rawlinson believes the key is in paying attention to our thoughts and emotions, noticing patterns and themes. “Journaling can be helpful for this – write freely about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and pay attention to common underlying beliefs that emerge through the process.

It can be helpful to use a specific negative thought as a guide to trace your underlying beliefs. For example, if you have a thought along the lines of ‘I will never succeed, there is no point in trying,’ ask yourself: ‘What does that mean about me?’ The answer might reveal your core belief, ‘I’m a failure’ or ‘I’m not good enough.’”

Once we’ve uncovered what’s holding us back, I ask Rawlinson how we can unlock our full potential. “Self-compassion plays a crucial role,” she says, “especially when we’ve been held back by self-doubt.” If you’re sat thinking that sounds a little corny, Rawlinson shares that it’s actually a very practical tool, one which has a real impact on our confidence.

“In short, self-compassion is the opposite of self-judgment, and it’s central to silencing our inner critic,” she tells me. “It simply means giving yourself the same warmth and kindness you would offer a good friend.” Perhaps the greatest obstacle we face in life, then, is not the challenges outside, but the barriers within.

4 Ways to Combat Self-Doubt

1. Reparenting

“This can help us uncover our potential and change our core beliefs,” says Rawlinson. “Reparenting simply means recognizing the unmet needs of your childhood and giving those things to yourself now. It’s about becoming a kind parent to ourselves, and relearning to care, love, and protect ourselves through small daily practices.”

2. Nurturing

“This means taking care of your emotional and physical needs, and restoring your sense that you are lovable and deserving of care. Examples include self-care, validating our emotions, and regulating our nervous system.”

3. Self-Protection

“Standing up for yourself and setting boundaries, and restoring your sense that the world is a safe and protective place. Examples include unfollowing people on social media who trigger you, being mindful about what films or TV shows you consume, and watching what you put in your body.”

4. Play

“Reclaiming your playfulness and spontaneity, and restoring your sense that it’s okay to express your creativity and joy. Examples include playing games, painting, singing, dancing, pottery, building a snowman, or rock climbing – any activity that you do for the sheer joy of it.”

Abby Rawlinson is an integrative therapist who specialises in anxiety, imposter syndrome, and low self-esteem. She is the author of Reclaiming You: Your Therapy Toolkit For Life’s Twists And Turns (Ebury, £16.99).

Natasha Clewley is a counsellor who specialises in workplace mental health and wellbeing in leadership. As a biracial woman , she champions diversity and equality, and works hard to understand how bias plays out in the lives and experiences of others. For more information, visitbacp.co.uk.co.uk

Tamu Thomas is a transformational coach for women in leadership. She is trained in somatic coaching, and has a background in social work. She is the author of Women Who Work Too Much (Hay House, £14.99), a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, podcaster, and community builder.
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Words: Holly Treacy @LifestyleditorHolly