Fear and self-doubt are two emotions that can often hold us back. It’s important that we learn how to distinguish between these two emotions so that we can effectively address and manage them.
In this article, we’ll explore the differences between fear and self-doubt, and examine how they manifest in our lives.
What Is Doubt and Where Does It Come From?
Doubt can make us skeptical and that may not be such a bad thing.
Skepticism can have us questioning the status quo, and questioning stories, allowing us to get to the truth. There can be a healthy version of doubt in the realms of questioning and some healthy skepticism.
However, doubt can become paralyzing.
Doubt often comes from a sense of uncertainty.
When we start applying uncertainty and doubt to our life and ourselves personally, that’s when it becomes self doubt. We’re not just doubting a story that we’ve heard, or a possibility, or an opportunity we’ve been presented with, but we start literally doubting ourselves as a person.
We doubt our ability to be loved.
We doubt our self worth.
We doubt our capacity to be ourselves.
We doubt our ability to have a voice.
All of these things can keep us so small, and they come from uncertainty of who we are. This is why I have such a passion for empowering women to know who they are, to awaken their Inner Wisdom, to tune into it and really connect with it.
In knowing who you are, you free yourself from the trap of self doubt.
Then you can simply question other things in life to ensure whether or not they’re what you need to align with your True Self, instead of getting trapped.
Doubt is also very personal.
Self doubt often comes from the programming we have.
We have so much programming happening from many sources, whether from our education system, our political system, our health care system, or others giving us the idea of how things should happen, the way things should be. We’re told not to challenge the status quo or upset the apple cart. This is simply how it is, so they say.
Whenever we notice something off inside of us, it’s like wearing something scratchy and itchy, and we want to take it off. Something just doesn’t fit. However, we doubt ourselves because it’s not the norm. It’s not the status quo.
We question ourselves, and we get skeptical of ourselves, and we don’t allow ourselves to speak up and have a voice. That programming takes over and we continue to believe the old stories. We believe the way that it was or is. We don’t challenge it.
Hence, self-doubt can be crippling. It can be absolutely paralyzing, keeping us from moving forward.
What Is Fear?
As human beings, fear is natural. Fear is actually a messenger for us. Fear can communicate with us.
There are different aspects of fear that we want to pay attention to. I want to offer the idea that we have expansive fear and contractive fear.
Expansive fear can be the kind of fear that says, “Oh my gosh, I’m so excited. I’m so enthusiastic. I’m going to get out there and talk on this stage, and communicate my message, and look at all those people out there. I don’t know how it’s going to go.”
With this type of fear, we know that it’s an opportunity for us to push beyond our boundaries, push beyond our edges, and to move into new territory. We experience a sense of uncertainty instead of going to that place of self doubt where we think, “I can’t do this.” That’s self doubt.
Expansive fear says, “This is unknown. This is new. This is something where I’m unfamiliar, but I know that it can expand me. It can open me up to new possibilities.” That’s a natural and expansive fear.
On the flip side, when you walk into a room or a space and you think, “This isn’t safe. I need to get out of here. I need to move away from here. This is going to take over. This is going to consume me if I don’t get away,” that’s a contractive fear. We need to listen to that. It helps us to know to move or step away from something.
When we can distinguish between the contractive and the expansive fear, we can move toward expanding ourselves in our life and becoming more empowered as women.
Fear can generate anxiety on either side, expansive or contractive. We might have a ton of anxiety about being chased by a wild animal, just like we have a ton of anxiety about stepping onto that stage to share our voices with others.
There is also the concept of reverential awe.
I’m in total awe of Nature, and the Source of the Universe. I cannot begin to explain so many inexplicable, ineffable things about life. There can be a sense of fear connected with that immense awe. It’s not the type of fear that I want to run away from, yet also perhaps not the same as fear of expansion.
Personally, when I feel like I’m connecting with Nature and the Divine, I definitely feel that expansive sense. But there can be a fear that says, “I have no idea what this is and I’m just in complete awe of its power.” I’ve seen that in my own community when we went through massive flooding a number of years ago, and when we’ve had massive wildfires. These are powerful forces of Nature, and we may well experience contractive fear that says, “I’ve got to evacuate and pack up my family and decide what to bring.”
Yet there’s also something bigger. There’s reverential awe of the sheer force and magnitude of that which we don’t understand, the Divine Source, the power that’s greater than us.
Sadly, the idea of awe and reverence also gets twisted and warped when many religions and wisdom traditions have significant dogma. “This is the way it is. It’s the only way it is. If you don’t do it this way, you are bad and you’re awful and you’ll never be enough for God.”
That is not a healthy fear. We end up afraid of dogma, instead of truly being in reverential awe.
When I was young, I grew up in the Christian tradition and always felt I was a sinner, feeling that I’m horrible, or I’m never going to grow and become something. I felt defeated before I even started.
But as I learned more, particularly the idea that sinning simply means ‘to miss the mark,’ I realized we’re all here to create and we’re going to make mistakes.
If we’re willing to learn from those mistakes, we can keep expanding and growing. Then there’s no reason to be afraid of fear of failure.
We don’t need to fear failure or making mistakes from a contractive place by not doing it at all. That’s where that fear of dogma and the way things should be paralyzes us and we get trapped. That kind of fear actually perpetuates and escalates self doubt. It continues to make us feel small.
Many ancient religions wanted to use the fear of God to instill dogma and impose dogma on others and say, “This is how it is, and if you don’t do it this way, you’re disappointing God.”
It was a great way to keep people small.
The Difference Between Fear & Self Doubt
Doubt is something that we personalize and we’re programmed into.
We paralyze ourselves with it. Doubt can also be perpetuated by fears that become irrational, dogma, or something that’s imposed upon others. We don’t distinguish the difference between fear and self doubt.
If you find yourself feeling stuck or paralyzed by something, ask yourself: “Where am I doubting myself? Maybe I’m feeling afraid. What is the fear? Is it expansive? Is it going to help me expand into the fullness of who I am? Or is it contractive? Is it something that’s going to potentially harm me and I need to move away from? Maybe I’m getting burnt out or maybe I could get sick if I don’t stop.”
You need to find balance.
Let fear inform you. Let it be a messenger for the next steps in your life.
Pay attention to doubt and the ways in which you might be crippled by it with your own self doubt versus allowing doubt to have a healthy skepticism to allow you to question what is. Have doubt in the status quo versus having so much self doubt that you can’t feel confident or acceptable to step forward and challenge that.
This is how we can begin to step into our true power, moving beyond the paralyzing aspects of self doubt, and letting fear be a true messenger for us.
For a video version of, Fear vs Self Doubt: How To Tell The Difference, watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZHetr2vH84