After being awoken at 4:30 this morning by a bad case of ruminating doubt, I was reminded of how unpleasant and difficult doubt can be!
Unfortunately, most of us do not see doubt as doubt per se, but instead we experience it as an objective assessment of reality. As a result, we swallow—hook, line, and sinker—the lies our doubting mind tells us.
The first and most important step in handling doubt is recognizing it for what it is.
Here are some examples of thought streams indicating that your mind may be stuck in doubting:
Doubts about Yourself
- You’re unable to make a decision.
- You obsess over current circumstances, such as, “Oh no, I owe money to…” and are filled with anxiety.
- You replay some recent incident and then envision a potentially unpleasant outcome.
- You rehash a negative incident and are harshly critical of your own part in it.
- You mentally jump from one concern to another in a worry-wind tornado.
- You pass judgment on yourself as not “likeable” or “up to the task” or “good enough” or “smart enough” or “inadequate” in some other way.
- You feel the need to reach out to someone else for reassurance.
- You feel an unexplainable internal panic.
- You escape being “you” by pretending to be someone else.
- You engage in addictive behavior to camouflage feeling badly about yourself.
- You feel overwhelmed.
Doubts about Others
- You worry about someone else’s choices or actions.
- You rehash an unpleasant interaction with someone else.
- You feel apprehensive and uncertain about how to approach or speak to someone.
- You gossip about somebody else.
- You feel inadequate and perhaps hopeless about effecting positive change in an interpersonal situation.
The Origin of Doubt
Once you’re able to recognize doubt as a mental state—doubting mind—it’s important to discern the origin of doubt. Does the doubt spring from wisdom or insecurity? If its origin is wisdom, you will most likely experience it as a sage-like inner voice, coming from a place of stillness and unharried, intuitive certainty. This is the doubt to heed, for it arises from a realistic assessment of circumstances and guides you to avoid a negative outcome.
But if you experience the doubt as an inner yapping laced with fear or insecurity, recognize that your inner “Doubting Thomas” is weaving stories that you do not need to believe. This sort of doubt is simply a manifestation of fear, and your inner voice of doom and gloom most likely doesn’t have an objective apprehension of reality. In these cases, doubt the “doubt.”
Handling Fear-Based Doubt
If you recognize your doubt as fear-based, but it still won’t loosen its stranglehold on you, there are steps you can take to work with your doubt:
- Bring mindful attention to the experience of doubt.
- Name the doubt in your mind or out loud as “doubt.”
- Notice how the doubt expresses itself in your body, heart, and mind.
- Give the doubt space to be there without judging or condemning it. It is most likely a well-entrenched mental pattern.
- Bring compassion to yourself during the painful process of opening up to the doubt. Compassion will soften the pain and bring a measure of caring and respect that can loosen doubt’s hold over you.
Once your doubt has passed, try to take some time to investigate the experience. What can you learn from how it arose, how it affected you, and how it dissipated?
If you are prone to frequent or intense doubt, you may want to seek help from a professional counselor. Continual doubt can lead to major depression and at the very least be quite debilitating. Ultimately, recognizing fear-based doubt for what it is will bring you greater freedom and skillfulness whenever this affliction revisits you in the future.