Understanding and challenging negative self-talk

As we continue living through these unprecedented times, being deprived of the comforts we’ve previously taken for granted has opened new gaps in our psyche. One of the more common new ailments is an increase in self-doubt. More time in isolation means more time in our own heads, which often means more time for these feelings of self-doubt to fester. We spoke to therapist Julia Conklin to find out why we’re going through more self-doubt than before, whether there’s a healthy amount to have, and the importance of a support system. 

Can you talk yourself out of self-doubt chatter?

The first thing we’re inclined to do when we encounter self-doubt is to counter this with positive thoughts. But, according to Conklin, this can sometimes be counterproductive, “Often all the intellectual and rational thinking is already well-trodden ground in the self-doubter.” Instead, you need to go deeper, “what needs to be found are the unconscious reasons for holding onto the self-doubt and the terrors behind letting it go. This is the work of deep self-reflection and therapy.” 

Why some self-doubt can be healthy

Before we look at the negatives of self-doubt, it’s helpful to look at the places where it can help. Julia Conklin notes that “Humans are essentially in perpetual mid-life crisis and without self-doubt, we would not have the flexibility to adapt and re-position ourselves as more mature and better able to cope with immediate challenges.” 

But there is a limit to this and it’s typically when “a person has been led to believe their decisions [will always] lead to bad outcomes. We can’t possibly know whether [or not] we are making the right choice, we can only try to make the choice right for ourselves.”

Why self-doubt happens more during isolation

While self-doubt is a natural occurrence, isolation has heightened this chatter. “When we feel alone, we feel more threatened by life’s challenges and less equipped to meet them,” says Conklin. The reason behind this increase is simpler than you’d think; we need people. “As adults, many of us like to create the illusion that we can cope with life alone, but we need relationships. We are all interdependent, and we do need the support of others.” 

The benefits and limits of a support system

So with this in mind, one thing we can do to help ourselves is building support groups. These groups can help fill the gaps that our lack of interaction has left, but they can’t be your sole source of support. 

“Support groups can certainly help,” says Conklin, pointing out that it’s worth looking into therapy as an extra form of support. “Individual Psychoanalytic or Psychodynamic Therapy will get people deeper into their personal binds fastest.” And getting to these personal binds is the best way to deal with the self-doubt chatter.

In conclusion

Speaking to Conklin, it’s clear that the first step to dealing with self-doubt is admitting how much you need people. Once we get past this step, we can accept that the reason self-doubt is occurring more isn’t because of anything you’ve done, but instead that a key part of our lives has been taken away. 

Past this, support systems — and by this we mean friendship groups as well as therapy — are essential to helping us talk out our issues. Often, our doubting voice tells us not to do something because it masks a more primal feeling, be it fear of rejection or something similar. 

“One thing I would say to the self-doubter is “Go for it.” says Conklin. “Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t. And even if you can’t. You’ll feel better for having given yourself the chance. At least the outcome will be your own and you will no longer be cowering in the shadow of someone else.”