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

Trisha Lewis

I help employees. managers and business owners become excellent communicators. 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.