Don’t Let Self-Doubt Sabotage Success


[dropcap]A[/dropcap] thought struck me as I waved K off to work one morning – looking all hotshot and capable in his well-cut suit – and I resolved to talk to him about it when he returned. His manner, his demeanour, the way he talks, told me self-doubt is something he rarely experiences.

For some reason, on this particular morning, the idea was like a revelation to me – “What must that feel like?”

He moves in a world of certitude, while I scramble around in a fun-fair “House of Horrors” complete with moving floors and jarring siren-wail drowning out rationality. That’s life with Borderline Personality Disorder.

That evening after dinner, with the kids in bed, I posed the question,

“Is self-doubt something you experience often?” He shook his head.

 I knew it!

Watching him carefully for the smallest indication of an eye-roll, I searched for words to explain the breadth of difference in our perceptions. You see, for me, every day is an exercise in Feeling Fear And Doing Stuff Anyway; it’s just the degree that varies.

I watch others, wondering if they feel it too – I’m guessing most don’t, at least not to the same degree. On a bad day, even going out for bread is a test of my determination. I’m hopeful no one clocks my hand shaking as I put my card in the reader at the till.

I feel awkward and conspicuous. I’m that person flashing a smile in the hope you’ll forgive the shortcomings I think you’ll think I make. I look people in the eye while talking then worry I’ve done it for too long, the worry drowns out what they’re saying and then I worry they think I’m not listening. A million stupid little things like this mean by the time I’m back in my own company, I feel as though I’ve just had to explain my reason for existing to the Dragon’s Den panel and they all said, “I’m out.”


I’m an introvert by nature, but my husband doesn’t believe me. He says,

“Either you’re the best actress on the planet or things aren’t as bad as you make them out to be.”

That stings. Not just because of the implied exaggeration but because he doesn’t know me like I thought he did. It’s not really his fault. Psychologists tell us that if you project an air of confidence you’re more likely to succeed – whether or not you actually feel it. So I throw myself in and act my little heart out, and it seems to be working.

If I’m lucky, I’ll start to enjoy myself and forget my fears. If not, my mood spirals downwards. I become convinced my struggles are visible to everyone, and feel stupid and useless. This quickly shifts from a feeling to a belief, and uncorrected takes me to subterranean shades of misery that mean I’ve paid out too much line and may not be able to pull myself out anytime soon.

But self-doubt needn’t block the path to achievement – it just makes you think it will and leaves you to sabotage your own life. In his book “Uncertainty”, Jonathan Fields relates that surveys of highly successful CEOs revealed they were all wracked by doubts. The thing that made them successful was that they had developed ways of pushing past those fears and acting anyway. Sound familiar? Once again, I’m reminded to place more trust in myself. I naturally find what works for me.

Reading a summary of my Myers-Briggs personality-type, (I’m an ISFJ – check yours out here or take the test here) I noted I benefit from “doing concrete productive tasks – such as time online, running, cooking, reading, or gardening.” That’s my life right there! Well, my garden’s in England but you get the picture. And there’s a middle finger waiting for K next time he moans at me for being welded to the laptop.

Writers experience anxiety – it’s par for the course as ideas germinate and take shape. I’m slowly changing my perception of it – starting to see it as a necessary part of a process and not something to be feared. If writers must be comfortable with fear and self-doubt then, Hell! I’ve been in training all my life!

In his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” Albert Camus set out his philosophy of the absurd. In Man’s futile search for meaning and clarity in the face of an unintelligible world, Camus concluded that even in the absence of hope we must still struggle to survive. Push through, drive ourselves forward, even when the way is unclear and the reason eludes us. It’s in our revolt against the absurdity of life that we really learn what it is to live. We’ve all got our rocks to push up a mountain.




How do you handle self-doubt? Are you a Great Pretender like me or is anxiety just a word to you? Do you experience self-doubt about your writing? What steps do you take to overcome it? Drop me a line in the comments below and tell me about your Sisyphean task…


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Author’s note, June 2014: Since the time of writing I’ve been re-diagnosed with Aspergers and Bipolar II. I no longer meet the criteria for BPD and given the existing cases of Aspergers and bipolar in my direct family I have to admit this re-diagnosis seems a more accurate explanation for my symptoms. Oh, the beauty of hindsight… 


By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. K sounds very much like my own Y. I hear you Aisha. Not a pleasant place to be. I really hate that others just don’t ‘get it’. I want you to know that there are many out here struggling the same way. Maybe they are just better ‘actors’.
    P.S. the way I handle self doubt? Hide away/muse/eat nutella for a bit. A day or two maybe. Then plunge into whatever it is I need/fear/want to do.

    1. Thanks for the support Zvez, I think sometimes when we’re constantly exposed to partners who experience little to no self-doubt, that in itself becomes another cause of doubt – why do we have so much when they have so little? Are they representative of society or are we? Why doesn’t my brain come with an “off” switch….? 😉

  2. There are very few people who are truly self-confident. Most of us are really good actors, and that’s OK. Just because we have little voices in our heads saying “I could never do that” or “This won’t work”, doesn’t mean we have to tell everyone else what we’re thinking and it isn’t a bad thing that we’re plodding on with these doubts.
    But plod on we must. I have a book coming out in a few months and I’m currently trying to get “eminent” people in the field to write a blurb or quick review comment. Most of my 35 e-mails (so far) have probably landed in junk folders; one reply was so condescending I was embarrassed for myself, but this morning I got one back from a TV correspondent saying “Sure, send it over” and another from an eminent journalist saying she wants to pitch me and my book as a whole interview. Even if it doesn’t come off, that was a huge boost and reminded me to keep plodding on.

    1. Hi Toni, great to see you here, I haven’t seen much of you on Twitter lately, but then I’ve taken a step back from social media while I get myself together 🙂 so I could be talking bollocks. Exciting news about the book and stunned that some people are so up themselves they feel the need to deliver crushing replies to friendly emails – what goes around comes around, I say. Your comment highlighted exactly what’s so difficult about the human psyche to live with – that something can cause such disruption to the equilibrium that “I was embarrassed for myself” (note: berating self not sniffy correspondent), while in the next breath, our self-belief is restored by a more positive experience. Is it any wonder people say “Stop the world I want to get off”? Good luck with the book!

  3. Self-doubt used to paralyze me. I have slowly worked on this through the years and have been fortunate to have a great tutor in my husband. As with yours my husband is also one of those who is able to ignore the self doubt, but he still has them from time to time. He’s taught me a lot about how to ‘acknowledge it and move on.’ He sets a good example but he also helps me talk through some doubts, listens then gives feedback on how I can deal with them–some things have to be dealt with, others need to be acknowledged but then left behind.

    1. Thanks for sharing this Michelle, you sound like you made great progress. I’m starting to suspect that the therapy I had a decade ago didn’t adequately deal with my issues (not surprisingly, as I couldn’t either at the time) and I’d benefit from a top-up. There are some things that I seem unable to move beyond, however hard I try, but I think I’m in a better position now to be able to explore them than I was all those years ago.

  4. Projecting an air of confidence may be helpful–to some extent. I guess it’s good as long as it doesn’t hide who you are completely.
    I mean, living in a world where people, including loved ones, have no clue as to what is in your mind must be painful.
    I’m not sure whether your husband means things are not objectively as bad as you think, or that your state of mind doesn’t feel that bad as you say.
    If it is the former, then I agree with him. But what you’re gonna do about one’s state of mind? Not much I believe. For instance, today is a sunny day here, and yet I feel irritable. Why? Not sure.
    We are just human. No matter how many talents we may have, we’re not machines. That’s how I see it.
    To answer your questions, I often experience intense anxiety, especially when I’m in stressful situations. I try to control it (so that it doesn’t control me), but not to hide it. When I feel it will affect my wife in a very negative way, I still try to express it in words, without freaking out thou.
    I don’t experience self-doubt about my writing, for I’m certain about being a mediocre writer. I don’t like my writing style in Italian, let alone in English which isn’t even a native language to me.

    1. Your comment touched on a question that occupies my mind a lot. You ask what can we do about our state of mind? The mindfulness techniques I’ve been learning have taught me to recognise that my thoughts and feelings aren’t facts and can be changed. But the thought that keeps returning to me is, “In seeking to change one’s natural tendencies by design, will a person eventually alter them so that they cease to occur or must they keep fighting their natural tendencies ad infinitum? Perhaps this comes under the heading of “Crosses to bear”…
      I definitely agree with you on the need to communicate anxiety though. That’s something I’m slowly getting better at. Thanks for stopping by and offering your thoughts. Your comment about writing made me smile, at least with that attitude you won’t have to face disappointment – I’m afraid my ego likes the idea of being a good writer, I just have to see if my ability can measure up!

  5. Hey!! great entry. I’ve been diagnosed (sort of) last year. I don’t have the disorder per se but i do have strong traits. Strong thoughts of self doubt are what i have to live with on daily basis. I’m on therapy right now, and i’m feeling much better. It’s great to hear about someone who sees it in such a positive light. It’s and everyday struggle, i see it that way…and i guess is the same for most people…only for us is a little bit harder. Keep the good work! lots of positive energy for you and your family.

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