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Self-Doubt Is Corrosive: How to Address Its Root Cause

Self-doubt can undermine many aspects of your life until you put a stop to it.

Key points

  • It's not uncommon for people to question their own memory, experience, and knowledge instead of trusting themselves.
  • Some people doubt themselves far more than others. This is especially true for those who grew up in families that ignored their feelings.
  • Discounting and pushing down your feelings sets you up to doubt many aspects of yourself and your experiences.
Lia Aramburu/Adobe Stock Images
Source: Lia Aramburu/Adobe Stock Images

Beth is sitting in her parked car outside her friend Amelia’s house, waiting patiently to drive her to the airport. Beth agreed to drive her despite having to work soon after the drop-off, and Amelia agreed to leave earlier than intended so Beth could get to work on time.

Beth texts and calls Amelia with no answer. Soon it’s approaching 30 minutes without a response. She recalls something similar happening before with Amelia, but she pushes the memory out of her mind as she continues to wait.

Just as Beth is about to lose her patience and is feeling hot with frustration, Amelia comes running out of the house and into the car. “I’m so sorry! I must have overslept,” she says nonchalantly. “Good thing we’re leaving early anyway and there’s no chance I’ll miss my flight.”

Despite Beth’s frustration, she attempts to hide it from Amelia. On the outside, Beth seems fine and listens to her friend as she talks about her upcoming trip. But, internally, she’s trying hard to keep her feelings from spilling out.

“I don’t want to make a big deal out of something so trivial,” Beth tells herself. “Amelia didn’t do this on purpose, and I guess being late to work isn’t the worst thing that can happen,” she tries to convince herself. Throughout the duration of the car ride to the airport, she manages to push down her feelings along with a gnawing sense of self-doubt.

Self-Doubt in Action

This snapshot of Beth’s life shows us she is struggling with self-doubt. Let’s take a look at how Beth discounts her memories, experiences, and feelings:

First, she completely disregards the memory of a similar event happening before. She also attempts to alter her feelings to match Amelia’s. But Amelia isn’t facing a problem with being late here; Beth is. In Beth’s attempt to push down her feelings, she leaves no room for Amelia to understand her. They lose an opportunity to work through the issue of Amelia’s lateness and deepen their trust and friendship.

You may be relating to Beth’s story. Or you may be wondering why Beth questions herself. It’s common for people to doubt if certain events truly happened in their past or to question their stories about these events. The critical thing to know is that these people aren’t wrong, and they don't have poor memories. They have difficulty trusting themselves.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Harms Your Self-Trust

Childhood emotional neglect happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs throughout your upbringing. Put simply, you learn that your feelings are unimportant.

Growing up in an emotionally neglectful household, you miss out on learning that your emotions are your most valuable source of guidance, direction, and understanding. Yet emotions exist within your body and are activated as long as you are alive. Living happens on an emotional level; there’s no way around it.

As you live your life, you create memories, and these memories are elicited by feelings. So, what you feel when you experience something becomes a part of your memory and stays with you for a lifetime.

When you operate in the world attempting to ignore or suppress your feelings, you are limiting your ability to create meaningful experiences and lasting memories. This puts you in a compromising situation.

How Self-Doubt Leaves You Unprotected

  1. You attempt to feel the way you think you should feel, or you judge your feelings against how others appear to feel. This sets you up to constantly monitor your emotions because you don’t believe the messages they send you. In the story above, you saw Beth attempting to be nonchalant just as Amelia appeared to be. But, truly, Beth was upset, and rightfully so. Amelia was disrespecting Beth’s time, and Beth’s feelings of anger were attempting to tell her just that. Since she did not listen to or believe these messages, she discredited her feelings and herself.
  2. You have difficulty trusting yourself. When you are disconnected from your emotions, you are more prone to living in your head. Analyzing situations gets in the way of listening to your body and your emotions. If you dismiss your experiences, memories, and feelings, you live in a constant state of doubt. It’s easier to believe others than yourself.
  3. You have trouble getting your needs met. Beneath every feeling is a need. If Beth listened to her feelings of frustration, she may have learned that she needed consideration from Amelia. If Beth was able to express her feelings, and if Amelia was able to acknowledge these feelings and apologize in a more thoughtful way, then Beth’s valid need to feel cared for, respected, and considered could have been met. But Beth didn’t allow herself this opportunity.
  4. You have difficulty setting boundaries and other people take notice. You are defenseless when you discount your feelings and needs and trust others more than yourself. Since you are unable to assess what is good for you, there’s a higher likelihood you’ll be taken advantage of by others. When people observe you dishonoring your emotions and questioning yourself, they believe they can treat you this way, too.

How to Foster Self-Trust

As you’re learning about the ways Beth has disregarded her memories, experiences, and feelings, are you finding similarities within yourself? If you are, I encourage you to acknowledge that you have been discounting your valuable feelings. The more you’re aware that this is happening, the more difficult it becomes to continue mistrusting yourself.

If you experienced childhood emotional neglect, I hope you will give yourself some compassion. Perhaps your parents raised you the only way they knew how and even experienced similar emotional neglect themselves as children.

Recovery from childhood emotional neglect involves tuning in and listening to your feelings, and learning how your feelings work and what they mean. When you accept your feelings and understand them better, you can begin to trust them more. In doing this, you’ll form a clearer picture of the depths of your relationships, your strengths, your challenges, and your preferences.

There is a difference between trusting yourself and blindly believing you’re always right. This is about listening to your emotions and honoring the messages they tell you. Trust that your emotions serve and protect you rather than burden you. It’s important to make room for the perceptions and needs of others, but you must always be a part of the equation.

By turning the focus inward, you will be introduced into a new world that is your experiences, your memories, your perceptions, and your feelings. In this new world, you can believe and trust in yourself.

© Jonice Webb, Ph.D.


To determine whether you might be living with the effects of childhood emotional neglect, you can take the free Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. You'll find the link in my Bio.

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