Sort the self-doubt spiral

Most of us have doubts about ourselves fairly regularly - it is part of the human condition!  

We question our identity, image, capabilities, purpose - you name it.

However, when these feelings start to take over and we feel like impostors in a world where everyone else has got it together (impostor syndrome to give it a name) - we are in danger of going into downward spirals. But what kind of spiral?

When you doubt yourself which self-doubt spiral do you fall down?

Do you increasingly:

  • Withdraw
  • Conform or
  • Rebel

Any one of these self-doubt responses will mess with your ability to be a confident, authentic and curious communicator -  not a good thing to mess with if you want to engage with your team members and clients and make good stuff happen!

By the way - this is not just about spirals, it is also about viscious circles - very artistic!

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” ~ William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

Let’s start with unwrapping ‘self-doubt’ - what are the symptoms and possible causes.

Self-doubt - causes

Here are a few culprits:

  • Belief formed in younger years - that has become frozen
  • A past 'failure/error' that had consequences - and the feeling has stayed with you
  • Too much praise/not enough praise!
  • Sensitivity about appearance/difference - something that you feel 'alienates' you in some way
  • Gas lighting  - someone at work/out of work who enjoys making you doubt your sanity. 

Self-doubt - symptoms

This is where the spirals and circles come in.

Self-doubt Spirals


Self-doubt Viscious Circle


Without necessarily even realising what is going on - you could find yourself going down any one of these spirals - and getting stuck in this viscous circle of feeling leading to action leading to response from others - leading to feelings etc etc

Self-doubt - knock-on effects

Now to your response - which spiral and viscious circle do you get dizzy in (not in a good way)?

Worth thinking about - and worth asking WHY when you feel it happening?

Withdraw - you will fail to take up opportunities - avoid people even.

Conform - you accept things which are not aligned with your values and beliefs. 

and as a result of either of these behaviours - you become a pressure cooker - and we know what happens if you don't let the steam out slowing from a pressure cooker!


This is why I suggest that another effect of self-doubt is that you


Whilst this might be the less obvious response to self-doubt - I am living proof of the self-doubt/rebel spiral!

Here’s a self-disclosing story to illustrate what I mean.

It doesn’t show me in a good light - but hey - it was a long time ago (this is the advantage of being old!)

A short story

I was 23 years old and found myself randomly working in an estate agents in a suburb of Bournemouth. I was in the midst of personal chaos - but that is another story!

I enjoyed some aspects of the job - the nosy part of seeing inside houses and meeting people. However - I didn’t enjoy working with a control-freak assistant manager who did everything in his power to stop be doing the bits I enjoyed!

So there I am doing my Saturday shift - just me and him in the office. Needless to say he is doing all the fun stuff and I am sorting through index cards (olden days).

I can’t quite remember what the tipping point was - however there was one. What I do remember is shouting a lot and making a dramatic exit - slamming the door behind me. This was drama enough - but what really made for a full-on hollywood movie was the glass shattering and flying out of the door (nobody was harmed in the making of this tantrum).

Moral - never make dramatic slamming exits when the door is glass.

I believe that my true self was a capable young woman. I also know that my self-confidence was drowned in a mess of self-doubt as a result of …. well - let’s not go into my life story just now!

Instead of the strong part of me displaying itself in some clever conflict management and people skills - it blew up in one almighty act of rebellion! ‘That’s it - had enough - I’m leaving’ - slam.

Do not dismiss the ‘rebel’ response to self-doubt. It needs addressing just as much as the withdraw and conform spirals.

How to avoid the spirals and viscious circles?

  • Spot the triggers
  • Get rational about your emotions.

Actually - I am going to leave it at that - because once you stop and spot - you will enter a whole new world -- one where self-doubt will never completely disappear but will be called out for what it really is - a product of your own mind and therefore something you can take to task.

(NB: I am not dismissing it as a silly thing that is easy to sort - I absolutely know this is not the case. I also know that for some it goes a lot deeper and needs other interventions.)

A short video on Impostor Syndrome - good to know about - and call out

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Trisha Lewis

I help people become more effective communicators through the kind of coaching that offers a safe space to explore and rehearse and better understand the impact they have. My blog is full of insights and tactics that will help you break down the barriers that prevent you from being a truly effective communicator. These insights are based on my own experience as well as the issues raised during coaching sessions and workshops.