One of the genetically strongest fears we have is to be abandoned by the group. Humans are flock animals, and the safety of the group has been vital for our survival throughout evolution. If you challenged the prevailing norms in the early hunting tribe, you’d risk being expelled from the group, and this was often the same as a death sentence.
Adapting to the group is therefore hard-coded in our genes. Being like the others and following the norms and behaviours of the tribe has given security and assurance of being helped by others when you get into trouble. Risk of becoming an outcast immediately activates the fear centre, amygdala, and can lead to severe stress reactions. We therefore strive to be safe, and we are usually afraid of what others think about us.
Today, the consequences of falling outside the norms are not as big, but despite this, it requires a lot of mental energy and courage to walk our own ways. To follow their own path, despite the resistance of the surroundings, is often characteristic of the highly creative individuals, and it is not by following others that the great achievements have been made.
Our inner fears also affect our self-image. Often, we are our own biggest critics, and we tend to carry within us a malicious voice saying that others are doing better, and that we are not capable and worthy enough. This inner voice condemns, criticizes, puts down, attaches blame and makes fun of us. It controls by evoking feelings of shame, guilt and inferiority. This feeling is reinforced by the human tendency to always compare with those who are better and more successful.
It is often, high-performing and creative individuals with high demands on themselves that are most affected. Sometimes a paralyzing self-doubt can arise after a great success. One feels that after this peak in the career, one cannot continue to deliver at the same level, and as both their own and the other’s expectations are turned up, blockages to continued creativity may occur. Hence winning a big award is not always a blessing, it can even be a creative curse, which has hit many Nobel Prize winners. Verner von Heidenstam, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1916, did not publish any work after this award.
Self-doubt can sometimes develop into a misconception that others are “tricked” to believe that you are much better than you really are, and that you are constantly running a risking of being exposed as an impostor. This phenomenon is so common that it even has got their own name – the impostor syndrome.
It’s not as you might think just the mediocre persons halfway up in the career that are affected, but this feeling of being “fake” is found among many of the most celebrated cultural personalities; Agatha Christie, Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Maya Angelou, Alicia Vikander, Kate Winslet to name a few. If these celebrated stars feel this way, we can only imagine how many other less talented people occasionally feel the same. It is likely that these people reached such a height that they dare to come out with their fears. It is probably also not a coincidence that the abovementioned persons are all women. Men are often more prestigious than women, and have more difficulty recognizing that they are suffering from low self-esteem.
In moments of my own self-doubt, when I want to turn my negative thoughts into positive, I usually paint a picture in front of me that I’m a clay pigeon shooter and that the negative thoughts are clay targets thrown in front of me. In that position, I can lift the shotgun and shoot the target above me. In my mind, there is now a white live pigeon coming out of the clay fragments and flying up to the sky. The power of this image has helped me many times.
Another strategy may be to ask yourself what is the worst thing that can happen in the situation when you are burdened by feelings of self-doubt. When the worst possible consequences are out in the open, you will probably realize that they are not so bad. It’s like the story of the troll that explodes when it’s hit by sunlight. Whichever strategy you choose, it’s important that you’ll you’re your own way of dealing with your self-doubt and negative thoughts.
Illustration: Pixabay.com – johnhain