Well-Being//

The Truth Behind Self Doubt, and How to Get Over It

It happens to the best of us.

Courtesy of Ok Sotnikova/Shutterstock
Courtesy of Ok Sotnikova/Shutterstock

Having a dream for one’s career is a long-term commitment. Nurturing aspirations require persistence, continued dedication, and resilience. Further, one’s personal abilities and talents must lend themselves to what is necessary to be successful. Actualizing is a process; and the journey towards meeting one’s goals tend to be filled with successes and failures. When failures are met more frequently than successes, one may begin to wonder whether the dream they have has the possibility to come true. Mia, performed by Emma Stone, finds her efforts dimly recognized, which caused her confidence to diminish and self-doubt to augment. Despite rejections, Mia continued to audition to show her talents in an effort to finally obtain the recognition she desired to become a professional actress.

“By definition, self-doubtful individuals are uncertain whether their ability alone can produce a success” (Braslow, et.al., 2012, p. 476). Mia, an aspiring actress presented as a determined individual, dedicated to becoming a professional. To remain close to her passion, she became employed in a coffee shop as a barista upon the Warner Brothers lot to surround herself by the craft and those who were gainfully employed in the industry. Her love of film and desire to become an actress led her to remain invested in auditioning for television shows and films. Audition after audition resulted in others being cast, which directly began to take a toll on her self-esteem and self-confidence. She described, “there’s people in the waiting room that’s like me; and, but prettier and better and at; and maybe I’m not good enough.”

Once experiencing multiple rejections, individuals may question one’s talents. In fact, “most people doubt their ability at times” (Carroll, et.al., 2011, p. 190). As Carroll et al. (2011) suggests, “ironically, then, self-uncertainty, or doubt, may be one of the few certainties left in modern life” (p. 190). However, “no one flourishes if they are constantly being told they are not good enough, whether that voice comes from inside or out” (Wright, 2004, p. 29). Eleanor Roosevelt stated, “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Once an individual feels rejected frequently, continued belief in oneself feels futile and the outside voices of being rejected can become internalized and a constant voice in mind. Mia’s questions regarding her abilities and whether her talents would manifest into a career arrived once her auditions did not lead to roles. Yet, self-doubt can occur at any time, prior to attempts to gain success and once action has occurred that have been met with failure. Despite when self-doubt occurs, “individuals who experience self-doubt may overly focus on perceived imperfections and their fear of failure” (Peer & McAuslan, 2015, p. 176).

Possessing a dream can create a specific vision of what life will look like when actualized. When one has not reached their goals and desired self, self-doubt manifests “primarily from the presence of a strong undesired self of prospective failure in awareness” (Carroll, et.al., 2011, p. 190). Once self-doubt is experienced, it can be challenging for these feelings to dissipate; rather, one can begin to question “about their competence and routinely feel distressed about upcoming performance” (Zhao & Wichman, 2015, p. 1), as illustrated below:

SEBASTIAN: “She wants you to audition for this huge movie that she’s got.”

MIA: “I’m not going to that. I’m not going to that.”

SEBASTIAN: “What?”

MIA: “That one is going to be. No, that one’s going to be.”

SEBASTIAN: “I’m sorry?”

MIA: “That will kill me.”

“Uncertainty about one’s ability in performance situations suggests the prospect of failure and can prompt defensive,

protective behavior” (Hermann, et al., 2008, p. 395). Mia found that once her desired self felt distant from her actual

existence despite her efforts, self-doubt ensued. These feelings caused her to become defensive and use both avoidance and withdrawal as a way to defend against her fears.

SEBASTIAN: “Why don’t you want to do it anymore?” 

MIA: “Because, I think that it hurts a little too much.”

Consequently, when new opportunities arose, she shared with Sebastian the hesitance she possessed and desire to withdraw from placing efforts towards auditioning, even for a lead role crafted for her. Her self-doubt coupled with the fear of experiencing additional failure grew to avoidance in an effort to protect her remaining self-esteem. Individuals who have high levels of self-doubt “spend inordinate amounts of time dwelling on their competence shortcomings” (Hermann, et al., 2008, p. 406). During the moment that Mia was encouraged to continue to seek her dream, she questioned her level of competence and wondered whether she would be, in fact, “good enough.”

Once self-doubt materializes, one can choose to continue to experience this emotion or find techniques to cope and manage its effects. “People strive specifically to cope with feelings of self-doubt about their competence, sometimes striving to reduce their uncertainties” (Braslow, et.al., 2012, p. 471). Individuals may solicit the use of internal services such as self-handicapping where one may “undermine one’s own performance to obscure the link between ability and performance” and use overachieving where one expends “an extraordinary amount of effort to achieve high performance” (Zhao & Wichman, 2015, p. 2). Being able to recognize and understand the effects of self-doubt on one’s view of self and performance can enable the use of systems that assist in being better able to move past self-doubts and into one’s desired future.

What Makes This Character Rich?

 Mia is a character that is easily relatable. In her mid-twenties, she has a career dream and the drive to make her future what she desires for herself. As with many, her dreams of becoming an actress are not easily obtainable. She must possess a stamina, persistence and resilience for criticism and rejection to ultimately arrive at success. She faced many unsuccessful encounters, yet exhibited an unwavering dedication to her craft. When self-doubt entered her experience, “the destructive inner critic had taken over her consciousness, and when we hear a voice telling us we are rubbish all the time, it stops us seeing things clearly” (Wright, 2014, p. 29). In the midst of ultimate defeat, she began to believe that her hopes were ill founded. This self-doubt motivated Mia to return to her parent’s home in Bolder City, Nevada to re-group and potentially change her goals, and thus the trajectory of her life.

MIA: “It’s over.” SEBASTIAN: “What is?” MIA: “It’s over.” SEBASTIAN: “What?” MIA: “All of this. I’m done embarrassing myself. I’m done, I’m done. Nobody showed up.” SEBASTIAN: “So what?” MIA: “I can’t pay back the theater. I’m going home.”

Dissimilar to many characters, the audience is not provided an opportunity to witness the defense mechanisms that Mia utilized to assist her in moving through self-doubts and into the audition that was a life-changing role. What was illustrated included the magnitude and well-entrenched nature of her self-doubt at the time that caused her to pause to continue to pursue her life dream. Fortunately, as she wavered, she was able to rely upon the support and faith of her boyfriend to sustain and propel her advancement.

“If we allow ourselves to be subjected to the relentless attack of the inner critic, we block out the capacity of our hearts to express compassion for ourselves” (Wright, 2014, p. 29). Relying upon the determination of others when one is unable to independently muster the energy and efforts to hold a positive self-belief highlights the beneficial healing impact of emotional support. Being receptive to support “is an acknowledgement that while we may mess up, we are equally deserving of respect and compassion” (Wright, 2014, p. 29). As a result, it is not always effortless for individuals to access positive feelings about one’s capabilities, especially when injured and doubtful.

Having a strong emotional support network lends itself to having individuals who can be called upon in times of self-doubt. Possessing such a network where people believe unconditionally in one’s talents creates an environment where “even transitory feelings of self-doubt about one’s competence are not likely to stand unchallenged” (Braslow, et.al., 2012, p. 475). Mia’s emotional support was delivered by Sebastian encouraging her to be willing to risk being vulnerable one additional time and audition for a part that he believed would yield positive results.

SEBASTIAN: “How’s the play going?”

MIA: “Umm, I’m nervous.” 

SEBASTIAN: “You are?” 

MIA: “Umm hum.” 

SEBASTIAN: “Why?” 

MIA: “Because. What if people show up?” 

SEBASTIAN: “Pishicocka. You’re nervous about what they think?” 

MIA: “I’m nervous to do it. I’m nervous to get up on a stage and perform for people. But I don’t need to say that to you.” 

SEBASTIAN: “It’s going to be incredible.” 

MIA: “I’m terrified.” 

SEBASTIAN: “They should be so lucky to see you. I can’t wait.” 

MIA: “I can.”

Self-doubt, “a feeling of doubt about one’s own abilities or actions” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2017) is not entirely an unhealthy emotion. Braslow (2012) described that a healthy dose of self-doubt is a “wise medicine” (p. 471). This emotion does not have to be debilitating for individuals; rather, it facilitates humility (Verducci, 2014) and fosters questions regarding one’s performance. This emotion can be an influential agent to drive motivation to refine skills and increase competence. Additionally, when one experiences self-doubt, it can also elicit the identification of those in one’s personal network who are able to provide unconditional support and believe in one’s talents, even during times when one is unable to believe in oneself. According to Roy T. Bennett, (2016), “Dreams don’t work unless you take action. The surest way to make your dreams come true is to live them.” Mia’s confidence in herself and during difficult times, her faith in Sebastian’s belief in her abilities allowed her to regain fortitude that empowered her to believe that “all our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them” (Walt Disney).

Excerpted from Best Psychology in Film by Katherine Marshall Woods with permission from the author and publisher.

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