Why Do We Doubt Ourselves and How Do We Overcome It?


Have you ever stood before a room full of peers, your presentation ready, only to question whether you’re good enough? You’re not alone. From the boardroom to our living rooms, self-doubt is universal. Self-doubt can be a pervasive and ubiquitous experience that affects people from all walks of life. It can manifest in various circumstances, from standing before a room full of peers to simply deciding what to wear for the day. The Science of Self-Doubt aims to explore the reasons behind this phenomenon and provide practical solutions to help individuals overcome it.

1. Defining and Understanding Self-Doubt

Self-doubt isn’t just modesty. It’s the voice that asks, “Am I competent?” Recognising this voice is the first step to quieting it. At its core, self-doubt is a product of our inherent desire for social acceptance and validation. As social beings, we need to feel a sense of belonging and be recognised for our contributions. However, this need can sometimes lead to negative thought patterns, such as imposter syndrome or fear of failure, inhibiting our ability to perform at our best.

While self-doubt may seem harmless, it can severely affect one’s mental health and overall well-being. Leading to anxiety, stress, and even physical symptoms such as headaches and insomnia. Furthermore, self-doubt can hinder personal and professional growth, preventing individuals from reaching their full potential.

Self-doubt can stem from a variety of reasons. Some common causes include:

  • Negative past experiences that have left a lasting impact on our self-esteem
  • Comparing ourselves to others and feeling inadequate
  • Fear of failure or rejection
  • Perfectionism and setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves

2. The Neurological Basis of Self-Doubt

Our brains are wired to keep us safe. Regions like the amygdala send “warning signals” when we’re uncertain. When faced with potential judgment or failure, our brain sometimes says, “Careful! This might be dangerous.”

The Neurological Basis of Self-Doubt: Navigating the Protective Brain

At its core, the human brain is designed with one primary objective: survival. Every aspect of the brain’s function aims to keep us safe, from the intricate neural pathways to the complex behaviours it governs. This includes our reactions to potential threats, even if they are abstract, like the fear of judgment or failure. Understanding the neurological roots of self-doubt helps demystify why we occasionally second-guess our abilities or choices.

The Amygdala: The Brain’s Alarm System

Dealing with Self Doubt1

Central to this discussion is the amygdala, a pair of almond-shaped clusters deep within the brain. Often termed the brain’s “alarm system,” the amygdala evaluates sensory information for potential threats. While it historically responded to physical dangers, like predators, today’s “threats” often come as social and psychological challenges.

The amygdala assesses this as a potential risk when you contemplate stepping out of your comfort zone, say by giving a public speech or taking on a new role. The uncertainty and the fear of being judged can trigger the amygdala to send out warning signals in the form of anxiety or apprehension.

Prefrontal Cortex: The Rational Counterpart

However, the amygdala doesn’t work alone. The prefrontal cortex, situated at the front of the brain, plays a crucial role in decision-making, planning, and social behaviours. It’s the part of the brain that says, “Yes, this is new and might be scary, but think of the potential rewards and growth.” 

When self-doubt arises, there’s often a tug-of-war between the cautious amygdala and the more rational prefrontal cortex. Sometimes, if our past experiences have been riddled with negative feedback or failures, the amygdala’s warnings might overpower the optimistic nudges from the prefrontal cortex.

Neurotransmitters and Hormones: The Chemical Messengers

Beyond these structures, various neurotransmitters and hormones also influence self-doubt. For instance, cortisol often labelled the “stress hormone,” can surge during moments of doubt, intensifying feelings of unease. On the other hand, serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with well-being and happiness, can help mitigate feelings of self-doubt when present in balanced amounts.

Understanding that self-doubt is deeply rooted in our brain’s protective mechanisms can be liberating. It reminds us that these feelings, while occasionally misdirected, emerge from our brain’s genuine intent to protect us. By recognising this, we can rationalise and navigate our feelings of doubt more effectively, using them as cues for preparedness rather than barriers to progress.

3. Social and Environmental Factors

Were you ever told you’re “not good enough” or “too different”? Past experiences, upbringing, and societal pressures can magnify our self-doubt. Moreover, high-achievers often grapple with impostor syndrome, feeling their successes are undeserved.

Social and Environmental Factors: Sculpting the Seeds of Self-Doubt

Our internal dialogues emerge in collaboration. In many ways, they are a reflection of the world around us, shaped by years of interactions, experiences, and observations. Regarding self-doubt, the external environment plays a pivotal role in nurturing or challenging these sentiments.

1. Early Life Experiences and Upbringing

The roots of self-doubt are often traced back to our formative years. From the moment we become conscious of our surroundings, we begin absorbing feedback:

  • Parental Feedback: Parents, as primary caregivers, wield significant influence. While well-intentioned, sometimes their protective instincts might inadvertently convey doubt or caution, such as “Are you sure you can handle that?” or “Maybe you should stick to what you’re good at.”
  • Educational Settings: Schools, where we spend a significant portion of our young lives, can be a breeding ground for self-doubt. Grades, peer interactions, and teacher feedback can bolster self-confidence or seed doubt.

2. Societal Pressures and Cultural Norms

Society, with its complex tapestry of norms and expectations, constantly sends out signals about what’s “acceptable,” “successful,” or “normal.”

  • Conformity vs. Individuality: In cultures that prioritise conformity, standing out or pursuing unconventional paths might be met with scepticism or outright discouragement. Such environments can stifle individual expression and magnify feelings of self-doubt in those who dare to be different.
  • Media and Representation: The media has a potent role in shaping perceptions. When certain groups (based on gender, ethnicity, body type, etc.) are underrepresented or stereotyped, individuals within these groups might grapple with feelings of inadequacy or “not fitting in.”

Please Send Me
The Corporate Consultation Proposal

Enter Your Details Below To Receive The Proposal!

    We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

    3. Impostor Syndrome and High-Achievers

    Accolades and achievements are antidotes to self-doubt. Yet, paradoxically, many high-achievers face intense bouts of self-questioning:

    • The Weight of Expectations: Success often brings heightened expectations. High-achievers might fear that they cannot maintain their streak or that one mistake might mar their reputation.
    • Attributing Success to External Factors: Many grappling with impostor syndrome accredit their successes to luck, timing, or other external factors rather than their competence or skills. This diminishes feelings of ownership over achievements and fuels doubt.

    Recognising the intricate dance between the individual psyche and external influences is crucial. Self-doubt isn’t merely a personal flaw; it’s a sentiment sculpted by myriad factors over time. By acknowledging this, we can begin to discern genuine areas of improvement from externally imposed and often baseless beliefs of inadequacy.

    4. Psychological Impacts of Chronic Self-Doubt

    Doubting oneself can lead to missed opportunities, anxiety, and even depression. It’s not just about feeling uncertain but how that uncertainty shapes our choices.

    Self-doubt can have a detrimental impact on our lives, including:

    • Holding us back from pursuing opportunities and reaching our full potential
    • Damaging our self-esteem and confidence
    • Causing anxiety and stress
    • Hindering our ability to make decisions and take action

    5. Practical Strategies to Overcome Self-Doubt

    Fortunately, there are many strategies that can be employed to help individuals overcome self-doubt. These range from hypnotherapy to mindfulness practices to simply reframing negative thoughts. By actively managing self-doubt, individuals can cultivate greater self-confidence and achieve their goals with greater ease.

    Here are some strategies to help you:

    • Identify the source of your self-doubt. Are you afraid of failure? Do you feel like an imposter? Understanding the root cause of your self-doubt can help you develop strategies to overcome it.
    • Identify and challenge negative thought patterns: Often, self-doubt is fuelled by negative thoughts and beliefs about ourselves. We can reframe our mindset and build greater self-confidence by identifying these negative patterns and replacing them with more positive and realistic thoughts.
    • Prioritise Self-Compassion: Treating ourselves with kindness and understanding is crucial, especially when feeling doubtful or insecure. By practising self-compassion, we can learn to be more forgiving of ourselves and embrace our imperfections.
    • Take action: Even if it’s just a tiny step, it can be a powerful way to overcome self-doubt. We can build momentum and gain confidence by dissecting larger goals into smaller, more manageable tasks.
    • Surround yourself with positivity: When looking to stay motivated, it’s important to surround yourself with supportive friends and family members. Seek out those who can provide you with the encouragement you need to keep pushing forward. Additionally, consider engaging in activities that bring you joy and fulfilment, whether a hobby or volunteer work.

    6. The Positive Side of Self-Doubt

    Here’s a silver lining: A touch of self-doubt can lead to introspection. It can be the nudge we need to refine, learn, and grow. Self-doubt can be a catalyst for self-reflection. We may be more likely to question our actions, thoughts, and beliefs when we doubt ourselves. This can lead to a greater understanding of ourselves and our motivations and ultimately help us to make more informed decisions.

    Moreover, self-doubt can also motivate us to learn and grow. Knowing our limitations and weaknesses may make us more likely to be open to feedback and constructive criticism. This can help us to improve our performance and relationships with others.


    Remember, self-doubt is a natural part of the human experience. It’s okay to feel uncertain or insecure at times. The key is to develop strategies to manage these feelings so that they don’t hold you back from achieving your goals. Whether you’re a CEO, artist, parent, or student, self-doubt doesn’t discriminate. But with understanding and proactive steps, we can harness it and thrive.

    Sources and Further Reading


    1. “The Confidence Code” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman – Explores the science and art of self-assurance, discussing why women tend to have lower confidence and how to build it.

    2. “You Are Not So Smart” by David McRaney – A book about self-delusion, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies. It touches upon the topic of introspection and the reasons behind our irrational behaviours.

    3. “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges” by Amy Cuddy – This book delves into the power of body language, confidence, and how to overcome challenges with poise.

    4. “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck – Offers insights into fixed vs. growth mindsets, and how the way we think about abilities and talents shapes our success.

    5. “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by David D. Burns – A classic on cognitive-behavioural therapy, discussing negative thought patterns and how to challenge and transform them.


    1. ” Self-Compassion Will Make You a Better Leader”  by Rich Fernandez and Steph Stern `Harvard Business Review` – It’s not uncommon for leaders to feel overwhelmed by fear, doubt, and criticism when making critical business decisions that can significantly impact people’s lives and livelihoods.

    2. “Overcoming Impostor Syndrome” by Gill Corkindale for `Harvard Business Review` – Provides insights into the impostor syndrome phenomenon, its manifestations, and strategies to combat it.

    Research Studies/Papers:

    1. “The impostor phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention” by Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes – This is the foundational study on impostor syndrome, defining and exploring its impact, especially on women.

    2. “The amygdala and the experience of affect” by Lisa Feldman Barrett, Eliza Bliss-Moreau, Seth L. Duncan, Scott L. Rauch, and Christopher I. Wright — in `Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience`. – Offers a detailed look into the role of the amygdala in emotional and social processing.

    Lungisa Sonqishe Hypnotherapist Cape Town

    Find Out More and Book a Session

    Find all the information you need here or visit https://lungisa-sonqishe.com

    Looking for a Qualified Hypnotherapist or Mindset Coach? Get in Touch!

    Get in contact at mindset@lungisasonqishe.com or info@eleven11.co.za or press this link to reserve a session. This is where you will also find out more about Lungisa and Hypnotherapy Cape Town. Learn more about Lungisa here.

    About Lungisa E Sonqishe:

    I am a qualified Executive Coach focusing on Positive Mindset Strategies. I am also an accredited Client-Centred Hypnotherapist CHT and Parts Therapists CPTF helping take clients to a new level of performance. I am a proud member of the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association®. 

    It’s important to understand what triggers us to get stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts or damaging behaviours. Hypnosis can help you have clarity and drive. Positive Mindset Coaching fuels that drive swiftly prompting you into action. 

    Executive Mindset Performance Coaching and hypnotherapy are a winning combo!

    Contact details: Ask for a consultation proposal.

    Website: www.eleven11.co.za

    Blog: www.lungisaSonqishe.com

    YouTube: www.youtube.com/@lungisasonqishe

    Twitter: www.twitter.com/lungisaeleven11