Some thoughts on self doubt

We all have it at times. Many of us have it here and there – like a few olives in a salad. Some of us have double helpings of it, on a bed of self doubt, with an extra side of self doubt to really complete the meal.
When we are lost in self doubt we believe it. The voice of self doubt sounds like ‘the truth’. It is like a fish in water not knowing there is anything other than water.
When we can name self doubt, and know there is more to us than the doubt, then we gain perspective. We realise there is also self belief, inner words of encouragement, and determination. We can figure out what triggers our self doubt and on the other hand what helps us feel grounded and positive about our abilities. We can recognise when we are being hampered by self doubt and when it is running the show.
What I am learning again and again is that self doubt can sit alongside competence and amazing value. Having self doubt doesn’t mean anything about our ability to do things. It doesn’t have to stop us, it doesn’t have to define us, and we don’t have to believe or agree with it.

Why are people scared of making art?

All of these are powerful reasons to not make art, and to fear the blank page (/keyboard/ stage/ singing lesson.. etc).

These messages become internalised, until people believe it as a ‘fact’: that they ‘can’t draw’, ‘don’t have a creative bone in my body’, or similar.

They may have been told they were ‘no good at art’ by an art teacher or they may have secretly dreamed of becoming an artist, but then received very strong cultural messages that told them there was no point trying unless they were a creative genius, unless they were Picasso, that there was no point.

Perhaps they were assigned a different role in the family, told that their sibling was ‘the creative one’ and instead they were the ‘smart’ or ‘sensible’ or ‘practical’ one. So being ‘creative’ then felt off-limits, like it belonged to someone else.

Perhaps they think that they must be an ‘expert’ and the experience of not knowing, being a learner, being a beginner is terrifying. Perhaps staring at the blank page they suddenly feel exposed to criticism, vulnerable to ridicule and shaming if they create something ‘childish’ or ‘bad’.

Perhaps they fear being our of control, or not in control, and the strange images and shapes that emerge unsettle them and threaten their sense of autonomy or self-hood.

Perhaps they have strong values of ‘being useful’ and ‘not wasting materials’, so the very thought of play seems indulgent and wasteful and like they may be punished for it.

All of these are powerful reasons to not make art, and to fear the blank page (/keyboard/ stage/ singing lesson.. etc).

These messages become internalised, until people believe it as a ‘fact’: that they ‘can’t draw’, ‘don’t have a creative bone in my body’, or similar.

And then as a result they don’t ever try – or when they do try they are stilted with fear and horrified at the marks they make, and swear never to do it again – thus creating a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Helping people become friends again with their creativity is a powerful part of art therapy. We do this by creating a safe space for making, by developing a different story about what art ‘is’ and what it is for, and encouraging a deeply personal and therapuetic relationship with art making.

Learning to ask

I wanted the egg and bacon roll special. But without the bacon. And maybe with tomato or avocado instead. So we might call that an egg and tomato roll, if you’re keeping up. Quite simple. Not something outrageous or hard to construct. Not illegal or dangerous. Not something likely to overly challenge the culinary skills of the sandwich hand making it.

So I walked right up and asked for it.

That is, I said ‘can I have the roll without bacon and maybe with something else instead, if that’s alright?’

She said ‘sure. How about double egg?’

I looked horrified (how boring! What a missed opportunity for flavour! And how would I eat such a roll with two slippery eggs fighting it out to remain between bread?).

She said ‘cheese?’

I said ‘OK’. Thinking of how slimy such a combination would be. Of what an odd, pale, bland, slimy combo that is. And said thanks, and paid her.

Do you see how this coud have panned out differently? They had tomato, they had avocado, I was just vaguely scared they’d say no.

Sounds silly when you say it like that right?

I was too scared to ask for tomato.

In case I couldn’t have it.

So I hinted and left the decision with someone else. And didn’t get what I wanted.

I may as well have walked in and said ‘give me anything other than avocado or tomato, because I don’t think I deserve them or that you would be kind enough to let me have them’.

Which is really like shouting to the universe ‘I don’t think what I want matters, I don’t think however this whole thing works involves me getting to have what I want… And I think everybody else’s mild disapproval or inconvenience is much more important than my strong wishes.’

And if this is how I behave when the stakes are about as low as they can get…I mean seriously, we are talking about a slice of tomato… how would I behave if the stakes were high and I REALLY wanted something and REALLY didn’t want someone to tell me no?

This reminds me of two things. Firstly the very good book ‘Art of Asking’ by Amanda Palmer, which I found deep down to my toes inspiring, and recommend you read if you haven’t yet, and secondly the idea that sometimes we are so tied to our view of how the world works that we would rather see it unchallenged more than we would almost anything – even more than we would like to be happy.

So if you find it hard to ask, it might be worth digging around and shining a light on the foundations of yourself. Are there some ghost rules or declarations about the universe slinking around and whispering in your ear?

Do you think there’s no use asking because no one will help you?

Do you think what you want doesn’t matter?

Do you think it’s rude to disrupt the status quo and someone will get angry with you if you’re not grateful for what you’re given?

Do you think it’s selfish and bad to want things or to ask for them?

Do you think you’re not worth a piece of tomato?

At some stage we need to step out of our old beliefs that no longer serve us. We need to practice our asking skills.

Naming our wishes is so important – EVEN THOUGH it makes us feel vulnerable, even though we may not get them, even though people may say no. Despite all of this, or maybe because of it, it is really important to work on our asking muscles on the little things, so we can use them to lift the really big wishes and ask for them too.

Work with me:

I currently have some spaces becoming available for one on one coaching and art therapy clients.

  • In coaching I support you to work towards your goals, making changes that you want to make in your life. In coaching we look at the underlying mindset issues as well as approaching the practicalities of getting things done – with clever tricks to get around anxiety and lots of support and encouragement (aka a personal cheer squad) so you feel less afraid to tackle the difficult tasks. See here for more information.
  • In art therapy I help you process and express feelings in ways that let you see yourself and your situation in new ways. We make room for the feeling dimensions of life and explore your inner world using symbols and metaphor and creative expression. We can do art therapy face to face if you are in Sydney, or by distance if you are elsewhere around the world. See here for more information and contact me here to get in touch.