I don’t need a bully. That nasty someone to belittle me, call me names, tell me I’m no good, that I’m stupid and ugly. Nope, I don’t need a bully – and yet I’m bullied every day.
That’s because I’m my own bully; I’m my own worst enemy.
Since my school days, I’ve barraged myself with negativity, put downs and self-doubt – you’re so uncool, you’re boring, you’re stupid, you’re not attractive, I would tell myself. I’d question what I thought and what I did. I’d tell myself other people were better than me, that I should be more like them, but that I could never be because I wasn’t good enough.
I’d pick and choose from various life events to confirm this repetitive internal negativity. I’d twist situations in my head to build a mental construct that proved I wasn’t good enough.
When good things came my way, I’d tell myself I didn’t deserve it; that I wasn’t worthy. And when I felt rejection or let myself down I’d say: “See, I told you so.”
When you’re telling yourself these things often enough you begin to believe it. You think it has to be true. Even when people offer an opinion to the contrary there’s that part of you that hopes they’re right but is certain they are wrong.
Of course, I’ve tried to compensate for what I perceive as “my lack of enoughness”. I’ve over-achieved, done overtime, become a perfectionist, apologise for everything I do (and things I don’t do and things that weren’t even my fault), I’ve people pleased, and I’ve routinely put others first instead of myself – because God forbid I’d want other people realising that I’m not good enough.
I have no idea where the self-doubt bully came from or why, but it has defined my life and the choices I have made and haven’t made. It has become a habit, a second nature.
Being my own punching bag has been a private battle – it’s not something one talks about. You don’t tell your parents, your friends, your partner, the supermarket checkout boy that some days you hate yourself; that you think you’re useless.
It can be lonely and depressing. It can sap your self-esteem and your confidence, and it can be the start of the downward spiral to mental health problems.
For me, my self-doubt has played havoc with my desire to climb 40 volcanoes by the age of 40, and it’s the reason why this challenge is going at a snail’s pace.
Self-doubt is also the reason why it’s taken me three years to finally commit to solo walking the 3,000km Te Araroa trail down the length of New Zealand. Over the years, I’ve come up with innumerable excuses as to why I can’t do it or why I wouldn’t be able to – all hinging on the fact I didn’t think I was good enough to do it.
For two of those years I was ok with the excuses because it meant I could stay in my nice, comfortable safe-zone bubble. Committing myself to something so extreme and so outside my comfort zone, well that would open me up to more invasive questioning around self-doubt – and that made me feel anxious. Better to stay where it felt safe and secure, where my self-doubt was just a constant background hum rather than a noisy, angry in-your-face buzz.
But the more I have mentally struggled with the #40by40 challenge and yet again put off the epic walk down New Zealand, the more I have realised how much self-doubt has controlled my life, how negative I am about myself and my abilities, and how paralysing it is.
It took more than six months with an amazing life coach (and a lot of crying) to make me realise that the belief I wasn’t good enough was wrong; that all the negative thoughts I was feeding myself weren’t grounded in any fact or any truth. I wasn’t actually useless; I just thought I was.
Once I realised that, I realised that actually I could do anything, despite the voices in my head saying otherwise; the only thing stopping me was my self-limiting thoughts and they weren’t real.
It was liberating.
Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t click-your-fingers stuff and, poof, the self-doubt was gone. It’s always there and always will be. I’ll have bad days when I beat myself up for thinking that walking Te Araroa is even remotely possible. I’ll look at other walkers’ websites and totally freak out over how more prepared and onto it they are.
Even as I write this, the voices in my head are spinning their stories. In the past I might have been sucked in by them; in the past, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed I was.
Self-doubt is many things, but one thing it is not is true. But it’s easy to be hoodwinked and that’s totally normal.
Walking the length of New Zealand will be my chance to put the spotlight on my self-doubt and really question it. I’m over being controlled by it.
I want to see what’s on the other side of the mountain.
I’m solo walking the 3,000km Te Araroa trail down the length of New Zealand to raise awareness of self-doubt and low self-esteem, which are linked to mental health problems. I want to show that these negative thoughts don’t have to hold us back from achieving our goals and dreams.
In aid of this cause, I’m also fundraising for Mind, the mental health charity in the UK, so that money can go to services and support systems to help people with mental health problems, some of whom may also have been affected by the debilitating effects of self-doubt and low self-esteem. To lend your support and donate, please visit my fundraising page here.
If you’re in New Zealand and want to support my effort and mental health, I’m also fundraising for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. To support my cause, please visit my fundraising page here.
17 thoughts on “This is what it’s like to live with self-doubt”
This is such a brave admission, Katrina. I am dumb-founded by your courage and perception. I wonder if this self-doubt is something that occurs with puberty – hormones all piling in at uneven doses and messing up a perfectly good functioning self-identity. As your (very proud) mother, I would have to say you concealed the self doubt incredibly well. My recall of your school years is of an energetic, outgoing, enthusiastic, witty, cheerful, talented, gorgeous daughter; so outwardly confident in her own skin. I never knew you were becoming so unhappy in yourself. What chameleons we can be! I am so proud of your courage to confront this inner bully and I celebrate this wonderful post.
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Thanks Mum! I think the irony of it all (or perhaps scary thing) is that for the most part I didn’t even realise I was beating myself up because it came so naturally. I literally just thought that was me. I’m sure hormones have something to do with it – society though I would say is very much to blame.
Thank you Kat for sharing your brave situation. It’s really courageous of you. Best wishes walking NZ!
Yep. Well said. One day, I hope, you will notice that you’re not saying these things to yourself because you have pushed against them so successfully. I’m looking forward to following your journey 👍
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Thank you. I hope so too.
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What an amazing, authentic and truthful article that will resonate with many, I’m sure.
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