How to Deal With Shame and Self Doubt

The Identity Series

She had a voice, and it wasn’t kind. It was negative and preferred not to shut up. She had this way in which she spoke that always took the wind out of my sails.

———

“Have courage and be kind” — Cinderella

For many of us, finding the courage to overcome shame and practice kindness with ourselves are some of the greatest challenges we face in our daily lives. Life demands significant effort from us if we hope to find inner peace and achieve self fulfillment. We must indeed heed Cinderella’s words if we hope to overcome heavy burdens making homes in our most vulnerable places.

Breaking the Silence of Shame and Self Doubt

In my late 20’s, I developed a serious case of anxiety. Appearing out of nowhere and unable to pinpoint the true trigger, this anxiety created more and more layers of anxiety (anxiety about having anxiety, anyone?). During this time, I began to doubt my abilities and my self confidence plummeted. Reaching my true potential seemed unattainable.

Like carrying a dirty secret — my shame lived just under the surface where only I could see and feel it. Avoidance was my instrument of survival. Rather than face anything that might give me anxiety, I just “didn’t deal” with those sorts of things.

Debilitating is the perfect word to capture the power of my shame and self doubt. Its weapon of choice, was the spinning, negative strings of words that would revolve around my brain. And more often than not, these thoughts were entirely false or would never come to fruition. No truth, none whatsoever.

Entering my 30’s made me realize I couldn’t continue avoiding and shaming myself. For one, I became a mama. And then of course there was that never ending yearning, you know the one that calls you to manifest your dreams. I had to get unstuck and start building momentum towards the future I wanted for me and my family.

For many, it tends to take a significant event to incite real change in behavior. Transitioning into motherhood was like a freight train blowing through my house of cards. I developed seriously postpartum anxiety and depression, further triggering my shame and self doubt. Like an underlying current of slow seeping poison, it affected everyone and everything. Deeper and deeper it went, something had to give. 

I needed to face that critical inner bitch and disempower her hold over me. I needed to rebuild my perspective on many things, especially myself and my son. When our babes are little, they are like tiny sponges, soaking up all of the energy of their immediate environment. So if my son saw me as anxious and self flagellating, I began to wonder what kind of impact this would have on him.

Rising Up from Shame and Self Doubt

First and foremost, this inner critic – the one perpetuating feelings of shame and self doubt – is a manifestation of fear. Y’all remember fear, right? Fear is our very own overzealous safety mechanism, one that loves to take on a life of its own (afraid of spiders? ok fine. afraid of things that would help you be your best self? not fine.). More specifically, she/he represents irrational fear and will trap us in its bottomless quicksand.  Fear is a hungry mofo and needs our attention to survive, so don’t feed it!!

Perhaps you are also plagued by shame and self doubt, suffering in plain sight and silence?

I have bared my “dirty secret” to you. But what I really want to do is share some of the changes that have helped me dismantle negative feelings and their power over me, so you can too…

1. Practice Self Awareness

Call out that inner critic! Keeping things deep inside and secretive only gives them more control over you.

Self awareness takes courage and helps us in our journey to becoming our best selves. Like anything it takes practice. Fear, shame, and doubt are all negative versions of self awareness. Being aware that the root of that negative inner voice was born from a place of fear is a first step towards dissipating it. You don’t need to completely ignore this voice of fear, in fact, ignoring it may make it pester you incessantly. Instead replace it with positive words and habits, showing it who’s boss. 

Practical things you can do:

  • Give her (or him) a name of someone who hasn’t been a positive force in your life (perhaps a crappy ex-boss) who you wouldn’t consider taking seriously (this will give you a face to the voice that isn’t your own), ultimately reducing the impact of her/his words
  • Write down her/his words, so you can reread them and TAKE A RED PEN to them
  • Establish a script for thanking the voice of criticism, it is noted, but isn’t helpful (and p.s. go away immediately)
  • Set manageable intentions each morning to avoid setting unreal expectations for yourself (feel free to inform others living in your household who may infringe on this process)
  • Establish mindful affirmations to help you redirect yourself when you start to spin
  • Tune into a yoga nidra (guided meditation) to give your mind a respite from the pressure of negative voice

2. Stop Comparing, Start Communing

Thief of Joy. Thief of Joy. That is the role of comparison. Social media can be so annoying.

Everyone has value. Your gifts are likely different from those who surround you, which means your contributions to the world will also be different. Diversity makes the world go round.

That being said, refraining from comparing your cards to others is a hard feat (especially in this digital age). Be mindful that any comparison is a slippery slope that can fuel feelings like shame and self doubt.

Instead refocus your mindset using a different lens — one of thoughtful observation — reflect on what kind of people you need in your life and seek them out in the real and social media universes.

Build a tribe of mutually beneficial relationships.  Harness your strengths and the strengths of others in your circle in a complementary and supportive way. Surround yourself with likeminded and empathetic individuals who will lift you up when that inner voice is being a nasty bitch. They probably have nasty bitches too and y’all can console one another, wage battle, and provide support to overcome all those bitches.

Practical things you can do:

  • Create and do things that speak to you and your life, don’t feel pressured to do what you think everyone else wants you to do (the beauty of being an adult)
  • Confide in someone (therapist, friend, family member), who can be a sounding board for your bouts of shame and self doubt. They can provide perspective on just how cruel and ridiculous this inner bitch is being.
  • Take a break from social media once a month (at least 2-3 days)
  • Join groups. The power of groups is proven to keep you motivated and they also provide an outlet to share your truth. For example, the trend of sisterhood is strong in Asheville, groups of women are forging supportive tribes around the power of the feminine and being a girl boss. This movement is gaining momentum in many places across the world — find these groups, I promise it will be amazing (and they will kick your inner critic’s butt!).
  • Every once in a while do something that scares you. Write something original and post it for the world to see, make a video on You Tube, sing at karaoke in front of a bunch of strangers. Do something that gives your fear a little flick on the forehead and evens the scoreboard.
  • Find a mentor. Mentorship is one of the most amazing contributions a person can give to the world, it is also one of the most scarce qualities in our society. Do your damnedest to find this person (or people), it will be invaluable and they will help guide you, in a confident way that will quiet the voice driving you to a standstill.
  • Go to yoga if you are feeling overwhelmed. Why do I love yoga so much? It allows me to show up everyday and be where I am.

————

That voice of shame and self doubt is doing everything it can to stop you from actually doing something. This has always been my biggest challenge. I talk and talk and talk about the “thing” and hum and ha and contemplate every little “what-if.” [So basically I’m slowly torturing myself.]

Don’t torture yourself, just START! Taking tiny steps in the direction of what you want to achieve (literally day-by-day) will alleviate some of the pressure imposed by the critic. Reducing the internal shame and self doubt, you’ll have the space within your mind to accept the past, be more present and be free to create the future as you want it!