I have wrestled with self-doubt most of my life. I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t there. Of course, there are plenty of moments when it’s not there. But so often, there is that nagging feeling that I am not enough.
Self-doubt is a painful companion. It slows us down and holds us back. Self-doubt makes life unnecessarily hard. And it is the number one killer of creativity I see in people.
Yes, it helps me strive for greatness, not be too easily satisfied with my creative work or my teaching. But it also stops me from being a strong, clear advocate for myself, getting the recognition or support I deserve.
Most of all, it’s exhausting, causing me to expend tremendous effort and still not be satisfied. And it leaves me feeling unloved by myself, and therefore vulnerable to criticism and seeking approval from others. Sound familiar?
But how can we change something that has been with us for so long?
Each month on the new moon I draw a card from the Goddess Oracle deck and read about the gifts of that goddess. This past month I drew Rhiannon. Her teaching in this deck is about self-doubt.
The invitation has been to turn my doubts into helpful questions. It seemed nearly impossible, at first. My doubts run so deep, are so persistent.
How can I turn the doubts into questions? That was the first question. And not just into any questions but into generative questions, questions that lead to positive places, that generate new growth.
Generative questions generate new positive perspectives, shifts, transformation, new possibilities. You don’t need to be able to answer them right away. But in the asking of them, things begin to open up.
Let’s say you are at an impasse in a relationship. Instead of giving up on the relationship or one person being resigned to something they don’t like, you can ask a generative question: “How can we resolve this in a way that meets both of our needs?” “What new solutions have we not thought of yet?” or “What would have this be a truly wonderful relationship for both of us?”
If you are in a work situation you don’t enjoy, but feel you cannot quit your job at this time, you can ask, “How can I make this job as enjoyable as possible for now?” Sometimes all that is needed is a shift in attitude or perspective.
Generative questions open up the stuck places and create flow. So, how do we turn our self-doubt into generative questions?
Dealing with artistic self-doubt
The doubt that wracks me most is the feeling I am not good enough as an artist. How do I turn such a doubt into a generative question? That was my first generative question. And it wasn’t easy to answer.
I had to just wade in and try.
Here are some generative questions I tried on:
- How can I let myself be enough as I am now and encourage myself to grow as an artist?
- How can I reassure and support myself better in my creative work? How can I appreciate my gifts and nurture them?
- What is missing that I truly need in my creative life now?
- What would it look like to be my own best friend? (This question has really stayed with me.)
- How can I not just be trying to “pump myself up” by telling myself encouraging things that I don’t believe, which I know doesn’t work, but actually believe in and tend myself as artist and person? What would that look like?
Just asking these questions is already a big shift from listening to the self-doubt, especially if I keep asking and looking where the questions lead me. Already a new way of relating to myself opens up, a softening happens and curiosity replaces criticism.
Playing with answers
I played with answers to some of my questions and doubts in my journal, trying things on in a spirit of exploration.
1. Doubt: How can I believe in my poems when I keep reading better poems by others?
Response & Generative Question: Everyone starts somewhere. There will always be those ahead of you and those behind you on the path. I am learning new skills right now, so it’s awkward. Can I honor my place on the journey and enjoy the journey?
2. Doubt: I am afraid I am not embodied enough in my writing and therefore my writing isn’t compelling.
Generative Questions: What practices can help me be more embodied while still honoring my unique gifts as a writer? What support, teaching do I need to grow as a writer now?
3. Generative Question: What do I need now in my creative life, and how do I honor those needs better?
Response: I need more play, adventure, wildness, creative input and community, more spaciousness and listening, more renewal, encouragement, mentorship, more patrons, more support. (This was illuminating. I saw what was missing that was making it hard for me to create things I am proud of.)
Healing the deepest doubt
Delving into my doubts, I felt broken-hearted. I felt the small, scared, confused and deeply hurt child self within. She feels badgered and wounded by my own lack of self-love and approval, by never feeling like she’s enough.
I so often feel inadequate in just about everything I do. I feel I am not enough, not good enough. How can I possibly heal and transform that?
I turn back to a tool I teach—finding the deeper truth.
But first, I remember that you have to feel it to heal it. It’s important to not just bypass the feelings, but honor them, feel them and let them soften.
So, I sat with the little girl inside myself, feeling her pain and loneliness, holding her in love and spaciousness, just being with her, hearing her, not trying to change her feelings or persuade her of anything.
As I did, I could feel her sadness, but also a space opening up. A softening. And I could see her as she truly is.
The ultimate question
Then, I began to ask the ultimate generative question I know. I asked it about the self-doubt that says I am not enough as I am:
How is that a lie? What is the deeper truth about this lie I keep telling myself?
To access the deeper truth, you have to step outside of the wounded self. This can be hard for some people. It helps to physically shake this off and change your body position or move to a new spot. Then, breathe into your lower belly and tune into your deeper knowing, your wise, eternal Self that is unharmed and can never be harmed.
If you can’t access that in the moment, tune into your capable, loving, adult self within or a loving, wise space of pure consciousness, a witnessing self.
From my wise and loving Self, I saw the little child within as a wild rose—beautiful and good and perfect as she is.
My soul also showed me an image of myself as a seed that needs tending and protection from harm if it is to grow into a strong, healthy plant. Just like the plants in my garden.
The deeper truth was: You are that rose. You are that seed that needs care and tending, love and protection. You are that child who needs love and care.
Take it on as a practice
Sometimes a deeper truth is so startling, clear and strong, it will completely dissolve the old lie in one sitting. I’ve had this happen and seen it in my students.
More often, we need to practice touching that deeper knowing again and again and living from that truth, because we have spent so many years practicing the lies about ourselves, the limiting beliefs and behaviors.
Some ways to practice your deeper truth are:
- Write it down in clear, concise, powerful language on a card and post it where you will see it. Read it and repeat it to yourself, connecting as best you can to the original feeling you had when you realized it. It is the feeling, not the words, that have real power.
- If an image came to you as part of the deeper truth, such as the image I saw of the wild rose and the seed, you can draw or find a picture and place it on you altar or in some other special place as a reminder.
- Play with embodying the feeling of the truth. Dance or move around your house from the place of this deeper knowing. What does it feel like? How do you stand and move when you know this to be true? How does it change how you relate to others, your work, your creativity?
- Keep touching the deeper truth, connecting with it. If the wounded self and the false stories come up again, hold the wounded self in love but don’t believe her stories. Comfort her from your wise, loving, adult self. And inquire again. See if a new deeper truth comes that has new resonance for you.
To your whole Self,