Overcoming Self-doubt and Fear of Criticism

What others think

Is it important what other people think of you?

Ok…Let’s say you have to go to a meeting or party where there are many people you don’t know…
Do you sweep into the room just assuming everybody is going to love you? Or do you make every excuse in the book not to go? Or do you sweep into a room acting like you feel totally confident but inside shaking like a leaf? Or perhaps somewhere in-between

Very few people can honestly claim to the first! Most people have a level of self-doubt and fear when it comes to meeting new people, and this is just one example of how self-doubt affects us. No matter how your anxiety, fear, lack of confidence or self worth is about, I am sure that your biggest fear is the fear of criticism.

For most people, this is the crux of the matter – we worry about what other people think, what they will say, how we will look. This fear can be small enough to allow us to act with confidence most of the time, or it can be so huge that it debilitates us completely!

Even though people may come to see me with various different problems, from relationship issues to panic attacks, when I dig a little deeper most people have the same underlying thoughts:

“I am not good enough. I don’t match up.”

“I don’t like myself.”

They have similar worries about work or success:

“I don’t believe in myself – I think other people are somehow more intelligent, more capable than me.”

The more I hear, the more it appears that most people just don’t like themselves very much! Even people who seem to exude confidence often tell me that they don’t feel good enough, or worthy enough.

One client said “People like me, but that’s because they don’t know what I am really like.”

Another said “I have no problem at work or in business, and if I know people I am fine. What I can’t understand is why I care so much what other people think. I am terrified, when I meet new people, that they are judging me. I will go up on stage and give a long talk but afterwards I worry and can’t sleep. I think of all the things I should have done or said.”

“I just want to be a cool person..”

Confidence and self esteemThe client who most succinctly summed it up said “I just want to be a cool person who knows where they are going and – well, if I make a mistake then fine, so what? I am also very shy and yet I have been told I am hard as nails. It’s just that I won’t show them my emotions I feel people won’t like me the way I am. Also, I think I can do more with myself. I want to get rid of this fear of people. I’m always half expecting people to hurt me.”

Although some people only lack confidence in some areas and not others, the underlying reason is always a lack of self-worth, or self-belief. Self-doubt is not always a bad thing, but when self-doubt begins to affect your life and stop you from being all you can be, it is definitely a problem.

Perhaps you think that your fear has a different cause – and it may have, but just ponder these for a moment:

A fear of failure, unearthed, usually reveals a deeper thought: “What will people think (or say) if I fail?”

A negative body image reveals worrying too much about what other people might think or say. Specifically what the media says we should look like, or what other people may deem attractive or not.

Many anxieties and phobias become much worse because people fear having an ‘attack’ in front of other people and making a ‘fool’ of themselves.

So where does all this fear of criticism come from?

It’s not rocket science, really. The first thing we learn as a child is that we have to conform in order to be loved, acceptable, or to gain approval. We learn that our happiness relies on approval from others (initially read: Mum, Dad, Sisters, Brothers, and then later on teachers, friends and so on). Along with that we learn that there are parts of ourselves that need to be hidden because when they come out we get disapproval, and disapproval hurts!

Very quickly we learn to hide the parts of ourselves that are ‘unacceptable’ and to put on our ‘acceptable’ face with other people. This is why we often only let our ‘dark’ side out with people we feel safe with and are closest to!

When trying to find our authentic selves, it is most useful if we first deal with our fear of what other people think, we will then be able to start clearing up what we think of ourselves, and deal with those deeper inner demons.

Before I can help people to be confident, or, at a deeper level, to believe in themselves, I have to first help them to understand that they will never (and I mean not ever!) please other people!

Three steps to overcome this fear:

Accept and understand that human love is conditional and always will be! (Of course ‘enlightened love’ is different, but if you had that you wouldn’t be reading this!)

Always remember that other people’s approval depends on their ‘stuff’. It depends on their mood; their own sense of self-worth; their worries about what other people think; their hurts and a myriad of other factors. So it is never about us in the first place!!

Realise that the only opinion that really matters is your own! This, of course, is much easier to say than to do – but it is certainly possible and worth working towards. It is not arrogance, it is the opposite of arrogance. Arrogant people are only people who are covering up their lack of self-esteem. Truly confident people are humble, kind and understanding of themselves and others.

The mind is a wonderful slave, but a terrible master! In order to be the master of our lives and destinies, we must first become master of our own minds!