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It is normal that every now and then we doubt ourselves. Did we say the right thing, offend someone or could we have reacted in a more positive or self-assured way? Self doubt is normal, but more and more children and young adults are basing their self worth on the values and opinions of others. Even if they don’t necessarily like that other person, young adults are still waiting to hear the judgement and opinions of others, before making their own decisions or social plans.

Even Spookje can become anxious and doubt what he has just done. He over-licks his paws or his side to reassure himself that everything is OK. He then needs kind words to help soothe him – and then he is fine. Self doubt is normal, and there are things you can do to help chase away the self-doubt demon.

Increasingly, young adults are finding it difficult to decipher information for themselves, and to know if they are doing the “right” thing, or making a “good” decision.  They are caught in the trap of constantly trying to gain the approval of others so they “fit in.” This then causes them stress – they become moody, argumentative or withdrawn. This is because at some point they know that the situation isn’t right or that it does not fit their values, but they are not exactly sure what these values are, or how to stand up for them. Take a look at my latest Spookje video for more about this.

Signs of Self-Doubt

It is relatively easy to spot the signs of self doubt – they are a pattern and once you and your child, or young adult, are able to identify them, it is far easier to address the actual cause.

  • Take things very personally and can quickly lose their temper.
  • They irrationally defend their “friends” and take any questioning of their friends, or their behaviour, as a direct attack.
  • They develop a blame mentality and feel very out of control.
  • They have a pessimistic outlook, and find it hard to see the positives in anything – and certainly won’t look for any.
  • Disappointment becomes more acutely felt and they lack the skills to deal with it.
  • Increasingly stressed and dependent on the social cues and approval of others.
  • Feel they are not good enough.
  • Compare themselves unfavourably to others.
  • Lose their intuition and perspective. Someone says one thing – they agree. Someone says the opposite – they agree, and they have no idea where they are in this equation.

the “What if” Gremlin

When doubt creeps in, they question themselves and the dreaded “what if” gremlin makes an appearance. What if they don’t agree, what if I have said something wrong, what if they never talk to me again? They can quickly become afraid, feel ashamed and embarrassed. Seemingly confident children and young adults can quickly reduce their self-worth and rapidly inflate the importance of others, even without any evidence or indication that this is actually the case.

Strategies to Combat Self Doubt

  1. What are they Assuming – what are they afraid if?

One of the key factors in self doubt is that we can make wild assumptions about a situation. These assumptions can be based on little or no evidence whatsoever. More often than not, they are based on fear. “If I don’t agree, they won´t like me and I won’t have any friends. I will be alone.”

The very fact that a child or young adult is so dependent on the approval of others, already makes them very lonely. However, they are unwilling to trade this feeling with actually taking a step up and saying what is on their mind because of the fear that they will have no “friends.”

We do not have to agree on everything all the time. The minute we become afraid to express how we feel, there is a power imbalance. By saying nothing because we are too scared, we have made that imbalance worse because not only are we too scared to state our opinion, we fear the consequences and somehow our opinion becomes less important. This is not to say that sometimes we are better off saying nothing, and perhaps addressing it later in another way. Yet if fear is the reason, it is important to find out what that fear is and tackle it.

Talking to your young adults and children about how it is OK to have a different opinion, is important and it matters.  In many instances, other people actually respect us far more for having that confidence or making our own boundaries clear. There are ways to do this, and skills they can learn to manage how they respond to others and how to manage the impact of others on their self-esteem.

  1. No one is perfect

It is natural to compare, however, we generally tend to compare ourselves unfavourably to others. They are better at this, or prettier, or have more friends, or always get picked in PE lessons etc. It is an important message for children and young adults that we are who we are and we all have our own strengths and areas we need to work on. No one is perfect. Even if they think someone is perfect – they are not. We all have our flaws and we all struggle with some things. If is far better to accept and embrace our strengths and limitations so they cannot hurt us anymore as they are just as much a part of us as our strengths. Make a list of all their strengths and the great things about them – and keep adding to it.

  1. What did I learn from this?

Being reflective and resilient are key life skills. Yes, sometimes we will get it wrong. Sometimes we all make mistakes – it is normal and happens at any age. When things go “wrong” then it has happened and the important thing is how they handle it and move forward. What were the facts, what could they have done differently and what would they do in a similar situation next time? What actions do they need to take – an apology or making it right? It´s not about grovelling, or begging for forgiveness – it’s about doing the right thing, and moving on.

  1. Take a Break from it

Sometimes we can feel the urge to rush in and act immediately. Over-reacting or reacting too soon can make a situation worse – and this is an important social skill. Dwelling on a problem, over-talking about it, or trying to get someone’s attention when they are not ready to talk, are all destructive behaviours that feed self-doubt. Sometimes, it is better to give a situation a bit of space.

Take a break from taking about it – explain that you care and as part of helping them, you’re all going to do something a bit different or do something to take their mind off it. When we worry, we become anxious and we don’t trust ourselves any more – break this cycle and go for a walk or make dinner together, play a game – anything to start laughing together and having time away from the issue.

  1. Sometimes, it is about them – not you

It’s all too easy to get caught up in a situation and self doubt has blinded us from a very simple truth. Sometimes it really isn’t about us – it’s about them. If someone has really reacted strongly, then look at the facts. Did you behave well, have you addressed the issue and are behaving with integrity? If yes, and the other person is really making an issue of it – then very simply it is their issue. Not yours, not your child’s. The value here is to recognise when this is the case, accept it and leave it alone. None of us are responsible for another person’s behaviour or reactions – only our own. This is hard for the child or young adult who suffers self doubt because they want to rush in and make it better. They want to solve it so they feel better and have the approval of the other person again. Sometimes this isn’t going to happen. Sometimes that person’s approval isn’t worth having, and they need to walk away.

The importance of values

Having strong values about how they wish to be treated and how they treat others is key in starving off self-doubt. It will feed on fears like social isolation and not being accepted, yet when children and young adults know what is OK and what is not OK, this is a key tool in staying in control of our worries, negative thinking and self-doubt. Really talking with them and enabling them to say no, have a different opinion and know their own level for what is OK are game changers and enable them to happier, more successful adults, who do not sub-comb to the self-doubt demon.