Mary sat in front of the invitation with pen poised as she went back and forth in her head. She was agonizing over whether to go to her cousin’s wedding or make an excuse for missing it. “My family will be so angry if I don’t show up. Yet if I do go I will be miserable.” She placed a checkmark next to “Attend,” but then erased it and started chewing on her pen some more…
Andy knew he had to make his decision quickly. He had just received intel from an employee that another employee was applying for other jobs. “I need to talk to her so I can anticipate the company’s future needs. Yet I don’t want to force her hand and drive her out more quickly. What should I do?” he fretted. As he continued to think of more pros and cons, an entire week went by…
Paul and Laura are in their mid-thirties and Laura’s biological clock is ticking loudly. They have to take action and have a child soon or it may become too late. Paul brings the subject up to Laura quite often, and when he does, Laura begins to agitate and overthink whether it’s “the right time.” Paul wonders how he can help Laura feel more confident about taking action.
No matter what you call it, you can go through much of your life engaging in this energy-draining, painful activity far more than is good for you. I assure you that if you do, you are in the company of many, many other thoughtful, sensitive and perceptive people.
If you do, then you are probably, in some very significant ways, blocking yourself off from opportunities and missing some valuable chances. You are, most likely, trapped in a circle of your own self-doubt.
How Your Circle of Doubt Harms You
- Agonizing over a decision puts too much emphasis on the notion that one is right and the other wrong. But almost everything is a mixture of positives and negatives that are layered and complex. So as you go back and forth between extremes, you are likely to miss the truth, which almost always lies somewhere in-between. In many situations, the way you view and treat your decision after you make it is more crucial than the decision itself. For example, do you stay committed but flexible? Do you keep a positive outlook? Do you continue to evaluate in a realistic way?
- Self-doubt puts you in passive mode. The thing about self-doubt is that it’s all thinking and no doing. Going over and over something in your head can feel like something important is happening, but actually, nothing is happening. You can fool yourself into thinking that you’re doing something when in fact, everything that is happening is only in your own head.
- Second-guessing yourself wastes valuable time. In most situations, any decision is better than no decision. And many decisions are more impactful when made more quickly. Allowing time to go by while you are trapped in your circle can squander this valuable resource.
- Self-doubt drains your energy. Questioning yourself, and doubting your own perceptions, feelings, and experiences keeps you trapped in your own head. Circling around and around, flip-flopping back and forth, questioning again, and then re-starting the whole process leaves you drained of energy. Generally, it’s because you are doing the equivalent of revving your own engine without the wheels engaged. This burns “gas” without getting you anywhere and is likely to leave you feeling drained, frustrated, stuck and lost.
Why Are You So Often Trapped?
In my observations as a psychologist, I have seen that one of the primary causes of folks getting trapped this way is a failure to take advantage of a very grounding, informative resource that every single human being has: your feelings.
We are all born with feelings wired into us for a reason. Your emotions are your body talking to you. Your body is telling you things like, for example, “You want this (desire); you need that (longing); you are losing something (sad); you need to protect yourself (hurt).
Think of your feelings as your “gut sense.” Your gut is filled with valuable information that would help you tremendously — if only you were paying attention.
I have seen that a tremendous number of people received the message in childhood that their feelings are irrelevant, problematic, or a bother to other people (this is Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN). Children who receive this usually subtle and unspoken message in their families naturally push their feelings down and away, essentially disconnecting their brain from their body. This means their thoughts and their feelings are not able to work together properly.
This sets you up for the Circle of Self-Doubt.
When you are disconnected from your emotions, you are like a sailboat without a rudder. You are at the mercy of your own emotions and your thoughts, each of which is working separately. Thoughts are very useful, of course. But when you ground your thoughts with your gut, you have both your intellect and your emotions all working together for you.
3 Steps Out of the Circle
- When you notice you are entering, or already in, self-doubt mode, visualize a giant STOP sign right in front of your face.
- Allow the STOP sign to stop all of your thoughts and clear your brain. With your thoughts stopped, tune into your feelings by focusing on your body, and asking yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Try to name the feeling if you can, and determine how it’s involved in the topic you were just thinking about. “What is this feeling telling me?”
- Say out loud, “There’s no clear answer, but I trust myself. My gut sense is ________.” Then go with your gut sense until some form of new information on the matter comes from the outside.
When you follow this 3-step process, you may need to fight for it. You may need to battle back your doubts, and focus and refocus on the sign, for example. But as you do this, over time you will gradually reconnect what was meant to be connected all along: your thoughts with your feelings. And you will no longer be trapped in the circle of self-doubt.
To learn much more about the process of contacting, trusting and using your feelings, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.
Childhood Emotional Neglect can be invisible and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.