Dealing with Self-Doubt

Recently, I was chatting with a friend and the topic of self-doubt came up. I was a glass of wine in already so I launched into a probably too honest account of all the hateful things I tell myself at times. I have quite a few things I like to pick on myself about but probably my top three are: body image, intelligence and social skills. I find all sorts of creative ways to tell myself I’m too fat, too dumb, and that people don’t like me.

As I explained this, my friend was really shocked. She said that she couldn’t believe I thought things like that because I seem so confident. (Which I took as a compliment.) And the truth is, she’s right. I am confident, but I also struggle with self-doubt. For me, some days are better than others. Usually some kind of failure or painful event can cause me to really spiral. Trey and I call this “snowballing.” Once I start that negative self-talk in my head, it’s hard to turn it off and it’s really, really easy to keep heaping it on.

And I have a feeling that most of us are in the same boat on this. I thought I’d share the best strategies I’ve found to combat self-doubt, but honestly I am not an expert and I still struggle with this a lot! So I’d love to hear any tips or strategies you might have too!

1. Talk to someone.

This one can help me a lot but it’s sometimes hard for me to do. I’m fiercely independent and I don’t love asking for help. But I also recognize that when I’m feeling really down, isolating myself into a cocoon of shame is not a great strategy (Obviously! But it still took me years to figure that out). So, just reaching out to friends, especially those I’m closest to (my sister and my husband) can help a lot. It brings perspective and can diffuse some of the pain if I actually let them in on how I’m feeling. It’s not their job to “fix things,” but letting people love me when I’m hurting IS a good strategy. 🙂

2. Make positive self-talk a habit.

This is a simple truth but it’s powerful: Good habits can 100% change your life. If you (like me) constantly talk bad about yourself inside your head, then eventually that becomes a habit. And that habit will have a negative impact on your life. I would know. So I actively work to make positive self-talk a part of my day. For example, if I wake up early to go to the gym, as I’m driving home afterward I will tell myself how proud I am that I got up that morning. I hate waking up early, especially during the cold, dark winter months. So I acknowledge this little accomplishment.

And yes, I am that crazy lady who will talk to herself out loud in her car sometimes. Honestly, I do feel sort of cheesy telling you this, but I actually think it makes a big difference.

3. When possible, laugh at yourself.

I can’t always do this. When I’m really snowballing, this strategy is lost to me. BUT sometimes it works. I’ll admit that I am a fairly serious person. I crack plenty of (both good and bad) jokes and love to laugh. But I do take myself pretty serious in that I put really high standards on my work/achievements. So, I take it really hard when I ultimately don’t live up to those standards. Now, sometimes I should take things seriously, like if I’ve actually made a mistake that I need to acknowledge and work on (like snapping at my husband for no reason, or dropping the ball at work because I failed to prioritize). But more often I start to spiral into self-doubt over something that really, if I’m being honest, isn’t a big deal and doesn’t really matter.

For example, the other night I was making dinner with Trey. We were trying a recipe from a new cookbook I got. It was an epic fail. Like, completely inedible and looked disgusting. I could have started down my self-doubt path, thinking things like, “You have a cookbook out and you can’t even follow a recipe? How dumb are you?!” or “Wow, I guess you’ve really lost your touch. You’re just a washed up, used-to-be-talented person but you better not ever try to cook again because clearly you are an imposter.” (Oh yes, I am vicious!) But instead, Trey and I laughed together and pretty much just said, “Well, that didn’t work!” and I promptly made a PB&J on sourdough and it was delicious. Haven’t lost my PB&J skills yet! 😉

Maybe this one could be also be “give yourself as much grace as you would give a friend” because really, that’s what it is. I would never tell a friend that she was dumb, or washed up, or untalented. I might point out a mistake or failing with the goal of helping her grow or making our friendship stronger. But I would NEVER insult someone the way I do myself. So why do I think it’s OK to say those things to me when I would never allow them to be said to someone else? Hmmm. Good point.

Anyway, self-doubt. We probably all do it. We might not all talk about it. And geez, does it suck to deal with some days. We’re in this together, friends! Let me know if you have other ways you deal with self-doubt, I would love to hear! xo. Emma

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photo: Katie Day. Photo edited with A Color Story Desktop.
  • Thank you for this post. Loved it. You should read “a new earth” by Eckhart Tolle or just watch a video from him speaking of the “pain body”, as he calls it, he explains that so good!

  • Thank you for being so honest. I’m in tears because this is something I struggle with constantly. I heard someone describe our repetitive thought processes as these grooves in our mind. It’s easy to fall right back into them and continue to think negatively. It takes conscience effort to not go down that path and create a habit of thinking positively, but eventually that will become easier too (or so I’m told). I’m really trying to show myself more respect this year and appreciate these tips.

    • Like grooves in the mind, such an interesting way to think about it! It does feel that way. Trying to forge my own positive grooves this year too.

    • Wow. That groove in the mind analogy will stick with me forever. Guilty as charged of negative repetitive thought processes, rumination, and negative self talk. My insecurities are always all about my job- how I’m not good enough when not picked to do certain cases (I am a nurse anesthetist), how when I struggle with any skill-based things I will never be any good, etcetera, etcetera.

      Thank you, Emma, for this post on a day where I left work feeling regretful that I dropped the ball in a case. Normally I would go over this for days and days in my mind, but tonight I will be thankful for what I learned and will remember next time.

      I heard your negativity and thought to myself, I thought I was the only one who talked to herself that way. You are beautiful, talented, and brave. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  • I don’t generally comment on posts, I always feel awkward. But. I really needed to hear/read something like this today, so thank you!

  • I’ve struggled with self-doubt most of my life! After I graduated high school I read Amy Poheler’s book, and it kind of changed my life. I’m due for a re read as I can’t remember exactly what I read that was so inspiring, but I remember passages about stopping talking down to yourself and it changed my point of view. The journey to good self-esteem is a hard one, but if we help each other and treat ourselves like a good friend, we can make it a bit easier. 💕

    • For me, it was Amy talking about self-doubt as a demon and how some days she finds the strength to say to that demon “cool it, Amy’s my friend, don’t talk about her like that”. That’s probably not her exact wording, but I remember sharing it with a friend who told me that any time someone’s beating themselves up in a conversation with her, she’ll say “don’t talk about my friend like that”. When I find it hard to be my own friend and be kind to myself, I think of her saying “don’t talk about my friend like that!” and somehow it’s easier than finding my own words for it. 😀

  • I love this! I also like asking myself the question “what’s your source?” 100% of the time, it’s ONLY me telling myself that I am going to fail or make a big mistake. I try to remember that it’s rude to dismiss the honest encouragement/feedback of others and to listen to that instead.

  • This is great. It’s so important for everyone to acknowledge that we all struggle, and I love that this trend is happening more on instagram and lifestyle blogs especially – it can be hard to compare your messy, real life to a perfectly curated space. I still love the perfectly curated space too, but a bit of reality is great. Thanks so much for the tips – I could be doing way more positive self-talk 🙂 And who cares if we occasionally look like crazy people.
    I really love these personal posts you’ve been doing lately, Emma!

  • I spent 10 minutes in bed having an argument with myself- I’d say something mean and then I’d try to combat it with something positive but ultimately the mean things outweighed the nice things. I have an almost 3-year-old and I so want her to love herself. I pretty positive she has a better shot at that if her mama loves herself. Thank you for your honesty!

  • I LOVED This post! Thank you for being so honest as not many people like to share a topic like this- yet I feel like it is SO COMMON and growing with social media. I struggle with this a lot. something that helped me is to journal daily. I read an entry from “only love today” by Rachel Macy Stafford, then reflect on it in my journaling. It kind of starts my day off on a positive note. If I’m having a really bad day I can go back and read previous journal entries.
    Also cutting back on social media has helped a lot. Once I start comparing I start going down that self doubt route! Set that Instagram time limit y’all!

  • Hi! Self talk does help, good for you for finding out how to do that!! YAY
    Something that I began years ago when I was going through painful medical treatments, still help me to this day.
    I can literally escape into my mind and “go” to my favorite place. My favorite place is the beaches of Lake Michigan. I went there at least once a year with my best friend. We would catch up, talk, laugh, play with our kids, barbeque a lot….great times!!
    Now I can go there in my mind.
    I have the same good feelings and just chill!
    You can do this with practice. It helps you to go to your favorite place.
    Remember you are beautiful!
    Take care!!

  • Thanks so much for writing about this! Growing up I learned that this type of negative self talk was normal, but it makes things much, much harder on ourselves. Also it is really distracting to get caught up in negative thoughts and hurts our ability to focus on what might make us feel better in a situation. Dr. Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion book was an eye opener for me and her ideas are backed up with science (something I respond to anyway). Also, I never thought I’d be a person who meditates, but I’ve found that this helps with negative self-talk as well. There are a lot of great meditation apps out there now (try it if you haven’t already – most are free to start), but I especially love the cute animated videos on Headspace. Thanks again for being so honest!!

  • Love this post. I’m also a very vicious self doubt and trash talker to myself. Yet anyone who “knows” me would be shocked as I appear to be an extroverted confident person. Declarations are much jam right now. Which is kind of like you telling yourself you are proud of you in your car. I’ve started doing them with my kids too and now my daughter reminds me that we do affirmations/declarations in the car line.

  • THANK YOU
    THANK YOU
    THANK YOU

    the more these struggles are talked about openly the more it helps to remove our society’s negative stigma about their very existence.

  • I rarely comment on blogs, but I just had to take the time to say thanks so much for your honesty and vulnerability. I can definitely relate. Keep up that positive self talk! We’re all works in progress.

  • Thank you, brave and beautiful Emma, for the courage to speak the unspoken. Today I hit a bad bad low at work (always the origin of my own harsh voice), and in an attempt to distract myself when I got in my car to head home, logged on to your blog. Good timing indeed.

    It’s hurtful to see what others tell themselves, but somehow quite easy to miss it when the projectiles are self-directed. Thank you for shining the light-

  • These winter months have me down in the worst way every year! I totally understand the struggle with laughing when things aren’t going as planned. I try to remind myself that it’s going to be funny when I look back on it in the future so why not start by laughing about it and save myself a lot of frustration?

  • Yes! I love all of this. I blog about my anxiety and mention mental health in my posts frequently. I believe that by opening up about all of these daily issues we have can encourage our overall growth as a society. And for whatever reason, I find it so beautiful to just randomly talk about these things to strangers on the internet. It’s that extra validation we all need to succeed. Thank you for using your platform to talk about this!

  • Oh Emma, I feel like I could have written this myself. Word for word, and every situation, I can SO relate. I really needed this today- it was a rough one. And even though I do (or try to at least) all of these things, it’s so helpful to be reminded when I’m in this ugly downward spiral. Thanks, girlfriend!

  • What a great post. Thank you for opening up the dialogue and for offering some great coping strategies. As a writer getting more rejection than acceptance, this is a big problem for me. It’s sad that this is so common, but there’s hope in there too, because the more conversations we have about it, the more likely we’ll find help through one another.

  • Well… I think you’re awesome, Emma….and incredibly talented. Great piece on self doubt. I know from experience…the struggle is real. Even at my age…55. I started journaling this year…a couple of times a day at least. Letting it all hang out on paper is very therapeutic. But even on a down day…I make it a point to include things I’m grateful for and some self affirmations. It’s turned into having conversations with God…it brings peace to my days.

  • Thank you Emma, for your honest post! I still have my days, but the days of insecurity have dialed down because of having two daughters. My oldest is insecure too and I let her concentrate on the things she does so well. It has learned me to talk to myself that way too. Recently it spiralled down a bit – maybe the time of the year too – but now I recognise the pattern and can stop it in its tracks earlier on. I know this tip isn’t for everyone, but teaching others can teach much about yourself too. 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing this, I’m snowballing right now and this made me feel better. I hope you can see what we all see in you more often, Emma. You’re the greatest

  • It is very honest of you to share these feelings because as you say we make assumptions about people when we don’t really know what they are going through. I am so impressed how you have made a wonderful career for yourself. This is my problem area. I am now in my mid 50s (my mind is in my mid 30s though) and I still don’t have a clear path in life even though I have just completed a Photography Degree returning to University as a mature student I still don’t think of myself as a ‘photographer’. I do try to get pleasure in life though from learning, travelling and generally seeking new experiences so I guess that has to be good enough.

  • Ah the good old Imposter Syndrome. There’s gotta be more of us with it than without it! Thank you Emma for saying what we’re all thinking. I’d like to add that seeing a counsellor or psychologist might also be helpful for some. It was for me! xx

  • This is so interesting to read, and thank you for being vulnerable, because from a distance it is so easy to think “emma and elsie have perfect lives”- your lives do seem great but it is nice seeing your human sides too! I am a doctor, but constantly have a voice in my head telling me i will fail my exams/ the patient hates me / other doctors think i’m stupid / i’m ugly / i’m not worth my placement / i shouldnt be here (this is despite winning scholarships and gaining distinctions). Without working hard to get these things I feel inadequate, like I need these bits of paper to justify myself (in my head i have constant hypothetical conversations ie someone says “you should quit you are useless” and then I have these certificates to prove i’m not. Which is stupid because A. They dont make you a better person andB. If it was a pal telling me this i would say “you are damn worth it! You make a difference everyday! You saved that persons life! You comforted that lady in her final moments!”). Wow, have never said these things out loud before. Hmmm… it is so hard to quit the constant voice of insecurity, and i don’t think I’ll ever feel secure even if I have all the prizes and accolades in the world.
    Thanks for making me think about this!

  • Thanks a lot for this post Emma, I think we all need a reminder to be kinder to ourselves. When I used to list all the negative things that go through my head on a daily basis, she would ask me if I would say to my friend if she told me she felt like this about herself. I realised I’d never let my friends or family talk about themselves like that yet I was feeding my heart and head with nasty comments. I still struggle but I always try to remember her words and stop. I also practice positive talk and reminding myself of three things I like about myself every day.

    xx A. | mylondonandbeyond.wordpress.com/

  • Awesome and important post, Emma! Thank you for being so open about this topic. I think it’s worth noting that only going to friends and family for reassurance might not be enough – for those that struggle deeply with this, therapy is a great tool and helps quite a bit 🙂

  • Like everyone else, I struggle with this. The best way I’ve found to combat negative self-talk is to put a photo of myself as a toddler on my dresser. It helps to think ‘if I wouldn’t treat the child in the photo that way, why would I treat myself as an adult that way?’.

  • Oh man, I personally have two states of mind: 1- I’m the most amazing person in the world, bow to me peasants! and 2- I’m utter trash, a garbage human being and I should just hide under a blanket and never show my ugly mug again! I hover between these two state of minds throughout the day. I agree, I would never say that to someone else ever (in fact I would never think that of someone else ever) but I can be harsh on myself……..probably because I know I can control the way I look to a certain degree…….but I’m too lazy to get shit done!

  • Here’s another Thank You to add to your bundle. When the mind is cycling with self doubt I find a way to get outside! Anyway anyhow open a window if you have to and just breathe. Changes your perception plus, it’s free!

  • Wow, this couldn’t have come at a better time! Thank you so much for your honesty, Emma.

    I just finished graduate school and yesterday accepted a job offer that’s a great opportunity, but is paying below what I’d like to be making for a highly accomplished 30 year old. I was still quite proud of myself for fiercely negotiating my base salary, but that faded quickly when I happened to find out what a few friends of mine were making. They work in a different field, and there’s not a ton of six figure salaries in environmental sustainability, but that didn’t seem to matter. I found myself spiraling (or “snowballing” as you write), feeling like a total failure who shouldn’t have bothered trying so hard her entire life.

    I find that a lot of my self-doubt (and there’s A LOT) comes from making comparisons to other people and ultimately stems from envy. They have more friends (and they’re not even that nice!), they get paid more (and they don’t even work that hard!), they have a wonderful marriage (and they’ve only been together two years!).

    Every New Years I make monthly resolutions for the year, and this month’s resolution is to address my constant social comparisons by getting off all social media apps and to do a guided meditation each day. Even a few days in I’m feeling the positive effects of taking the time once spent speculating about the lives of others, and turning towards self-reflection and clarity. I’d definitely recommend it!

  • thank you so much for this. honestly it’s reassuring to see someone who is so successful admit they are still plagued with self-doubt. we’re all just humans trying to get by!! 😀

  • I recently admitted to my husband that even though I am 30 years old, I don’t know how to have friends. I am good at being a friend. But I lack the vulnerability to let others be a friend to me because I fear rejection and disapproval on the deepest possible level. Therefore, this year I am working on letting people love me and getting over the fear. This begins in super small steps for me, like answering honestly when people ask me how I am and not immediately flipping questions back to them to avoid talking about myself.
    Self-doubt is a bear, but through my faith, people who love me, and conscious decisions to ignore “that girl”, it is getting better day by day :).

  • Thanks for sharing! I’ve been working on this a lot over the past year. I had an “aha!” moment when I realized that I am completely in control of my inner dialogue. I am the only person saying these hurtful things to myself. I absolutely would not tolerate another person speaking to me this way yet its how I speak to myself all the time. Realizing that I am in control and that these thoughts do not serve me in any way has made a HUGE difference.

  • Hi,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us.
    The thing that has helped me most and that I think would help you (from the little bit I “know” you from having followed the blog for almost 7 years) a lot is the daily practice of meditation and mindfulness. Developing a different relationship with our thoughts and feelings is so important, even more so if you are experiencing such painful thoughts every now and then.

    I use Headspace. If you don’t know the app, watch some of their YouTube videos. It’s a life changing app, seriously.

  • Hi Emma
    If you are interested in finding out more about self doubt, and how it’s just your brain trying to keep you safe, Sas Petherick is the oracle of all self doubt knowledge. I’ve found her insight through her website and podcast so helpful, I have learned how it functions and how to acknowledge it but then move forward. she is FASCINATING – there is even a self doubt quiz! https://www.saspetherick.com

  • Hi, Emma. A tool my therapist recently recommended, along the lines of your #2: with regularity, take an accounting of the good [e.g., a moment you recently felt particularly blessed in the looks department; a brilliant idea that you shared and was well received; a beautiful creation] and try to re-inhabit the way you felt in that moment (I think she calls this a “feel state”). Here’s why: according to therapist, evolution has wired us to recall the bad in vivid detail; the more we relive a bad moment, the deeper the groove in our brains, the easier to slip back in and relive it again. This cycle is an amazing tool for brute survival. But sucks for modern woes. But take heart, says therapist; we can manually replicate that cycle for the good things. It takes a lot of intent and effort. I’d be lying if I said I’d succeeded in creating any kind of habit. But, I’ve pulled it off a few times and am gratified to report that the afterglow of the memories I used (a solid workplace contribution and a drawing) cast some light on the darker shadows I am fighting and also stoked that afterglow, making it easier to remember each time. That’s my lengthy 2 cents.

  • i totally get imposter syndrome. a while ago i wrote a list of things i wanted to achieve and at some point i thought “well i cant consider myself __ if i dont actually do it!” i’ve since made a super aspirational list: https://tps-steph.blogspot.com/2019/02/0028-i-am.html and no more imposter syndrome feelings, im putting all my energy into making my crazy big dreams a reality. thanks for being so candid, emma!

  • Thanks for being so honest! It’s so nice to see other women being real about their struggles. Love it when other women reach out and encourage one another!!! I struggle with negative thinking, as well. I work from home a lot and that is when the body image and self worth thoughts creep in. Not my fav! Sometimes just getting outside and having a friendly convo with the barista/random stranger at the coffee shop is a way to break up the thinking.

  • I tend to be pretty even-keeled about myself (I think the result of older age, finally) but self-doubt in the form of imposter syndrome is VERY REAL. I started my career on a real high, but somehow have found myself laid off + unable to find a job in my market. I’m pouring myself into my decade-old textile business, but realizing that I am way late to this social media game and not understanding how people casually have 15k+ followers when mine hovers around 500 that ebbs and flows but never increases. So I’m weirdly at peace with who I am, but really conflicted and sad about my value to the world in WORK. WHAT! That’s so dreary. And in our capitalist country where “What do you do for a living?” is the first get-to-know-you question I am feeling totally lost!
    I think self-doubt + imposter syndrome are two sides to a nasty coin. I really appreciate your being frank & open and wonder if you, too, have found yourself actually walking away from any creatives ventures because you were like – this is too hard!

  • I always appreciate your holistic approach posts. I think they are a sign of health and really fill in the mortar between the platform you all have here of “lifestyle “ blog. I lean a lot on Brene Brown resources to find the language for making my abstract felt needs. If you are unfamiliar with her, she went viral with her…

    The Power of Vulnerability
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

    To today when I am reading through her book “Dare to Lead.” And she has other amazing thoughts as an Influencer. Blame:
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=IL1JgIj3_fA

    Simon Sinek might be one that is potentially more familiar with: Intensity vs. Consistency
    https://www.thersa.org/discover/videos/rsa-shorts/2017/simon-sinek-on-intensity-vs-consistency

    I counter self-doubt with faith. It’s a one-liner here, but having left an abusive relationship it’s really the only thing that has worked for even being able to utilize all the resources I have found. Ty again for sharing.

  • Hey Emma!

    This is a vulnerable post, thanks for sharing those real thoughts. I think they are real and relatable. A curriculum I’ve gone through in the past called Core Lies, has really helped me in this area. It asks, “what are some lies I believe about myself? Why do I believe those? What events have happened in my life that reinforce those lies? And what is the truth I need to believe about myself to counter those lies?” Nailing down those lies has been so helpful in my marriage, my life as entrepreneur, and in so many of my work and personal relationships. It’s a Christian-based curriculum so it is probably not for everyone, but all the same, taking the time to consider why we can be stirred up to hurt others and ourselves so quickly is SO SO important. Very cool post to read. Thanks!

  • #3 reminds me of one of my strategies, humility. For me, humility is the key to compassion.

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