Self-doubt has been with me since I can remember. It’s a nagging feeling that I’ve made a mistake, said something wrong, gone too far, not gone far enough, been too quiet, been too loud, hurt somebody, done something but not done it well enough, missed some vital underlying message etc.
Take the situation when I was 8, in a new class in a new village where nobody spoke without dialect. I knew from the puzzled looks that something was wrong with the way I was speaking, although nobody said anything or laughed. I didn’t push it aside as something that would probably sort itself out with time, but started consciously studying the dialect to stop those puzzled looks.
Or take a few months ago, when my brother told me that my dad’s new wife had been talking about how “gestört” – socially disconnected / maladjusted she thinks my daughter is. I know that she is not. She is shy, and prefers to observe new situations before being in the center of it, but she is a wonderful person, able to build relationships as well as talk to people of every age she doesn’t know so well, she is able to let me know if she feels uncomfortable (instead of acting it out), etc. Now, this woman is my generation and works as a childrens’ psychologist (which I have always thought was an insult to the trade (and my generation)).
But instead of brushing it aside as a stupid person’s remark and forgetting about it, I still have a nagging feeling that I have failed in bringing my daughter up in a way that will be helpful to her. Maybe, this voice says, I should have pushed her into social situations more instead of accepting the fact that she was extremely shy. Maybe it’s wrong to educate the kids at home without the forced group setting every day – maybe that was a big mistake (not that I could change that if I wanted to, thanks to Mr Ex).
At the same time, I know it’s not true, and I know for example that she is just fine in a group setting, her music theory teacher is always full of praise for how involved she is in class. But that voice is still there.
Another self-doubt situation might be at work, being on a video call with my French client. My French is really not that great, and I should probably be looking after it more. In these calls, I sometimes know that what I’m saying sounds like a drunk toddler trying to explain advanced mathematics. I know that, and she knows that, and I can live with it. But sometimes, the client will just incline her head a bit in a certain way, which will send me reeling.
What did I just say, did I just make a terrible mistake, or did I misunderstand her question? She probably thinks I’m really stupid. Mr Ex always said I was rubbish at learning languages, and voila, apparently he was right. If he was right about that, what else was he right about? How impudent and big-headed of me to even accept this project, knowing my French is so atrocious. She probably has a good laugh about my blunders after she puts the phone down.
This is going on while I’m trying to get through what I am trying to say, and ends with me putting the phone down and feeling utterly exhausted. A few weeks into this project I got an email from the client’s account manager, saying that the client is very happy with me and the project (this is a “historically difficult and unhappy client”). What a clash in my head.
I’ve managed to understand that this voice is full of nonsense most of the time, but I can’t shut it up. I also can’t ignore it, deep down. I only manage to disregard it and hopefully not base my reactions and behaviour on it on the outside. When it gets bad, I remind myself of the things and accomplishments I feel good about, and try to get these to speak up a bit, louder than the unwelcome nagging voice. I find other reasons for the slight inclination of my client’s head – a glitch in audio quality for example. I’m pretty good at coming up with other, more positive reasons for situations which make me question myself.
But it’s a huge and constant effort.
I look forward to learning to quieten that voice some time.