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Is Self-Doubt Ever Helpful?

Is Self-Doubt Ever Helpful?

Editor's Note: Dr. David Hawkins, best-selling author of When Pleasing Others is Hurting You and Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life, is pleased to announce that his column will be changing its format in upcoming weeks. Beginning immediately, readers are welcome to send him their relationship questions at to be answered in his new advice column. 

“I wonder if I expect too much from my husband,” a woman said to me recently. “Is it natural and okay to want to be loved, cared for and even appreciated?” 

At first I was tempted to rush in and offer quick comfort. I was tempted to quickly reassure her that all of her requests were normal and healthy and that whatever she was feeling and expecting were perfectly fine. 

But I stopped myself and experienced some momentary self-doubt. I wondered what was the best answer I could offer, given that self-doubt can be debilitating and unhealthy as well as healthy and promoting growth. 

Let’s take a closer look. 

What is unhealthy self-doubt and how can it be distinguished from healthy self-doubt? Unhealthy self-doubt typically arises from an early childhood plagued with criticism and judgments. A foundation may have been laid that, “You’ll never amount to anything,” or “You need to work harder and become more.” Perhaps it takes the form of “You shouldn’t feel sorry for yourself.” 

These criticisms may be amplified in marriage if your mate also criticizes you. You develop a harsh, internal critic always ready to pounce when you achieve anything less than perfection. 

The danger, of course, is when the critical messages have been so firmly rooted in your soul that you always look outside yourself for affirmation. If you don’t receive it, you doubt yourself. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said it well: “People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets it, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.”

We must learn to nourish and nurture our inner garden so that we are less impacted by the criticisms that naturally come from the world. Then our self-esteem will be relatively stable, albeit more challenging if we face daily criticism. 

But when is self-doubt healthy, even necessary? 

Socrates uttered the famous words, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This means we will, at times, step back and reflect upon our lives. We will question our motives and actions and subsequently self-correct. We will listen to the messages of those familiar with us and determine whether what they tell us has merit. 

Life is difficult. We find ourselves making critical decisions every day. We question whether we really did hurt that person’s feelings, whether we do want to serve in a requested capacity or whether we want to ask more from a mate or friend. To question ourselves can be healthy and bring needed clarity to our lives. Such self-doubt is not only not unhealthy, but brings valuable perspective. 

What can you do to discern healthy from unhealthy self-doubt? 

First, step back from your self-doubt. Take time to reflect on the information being given to you. Is the feedback given to you in a loving, kind manner with the intention of helping you, or is it given threaded into a patterns of character assassination? Healthy feedback leaves you feeling encouraged and motivates you onward while criticism leaves you with unhealthy, self-esteem draining self-doubt.

Second, gain clarity on the feedback you are receiving. As you reflect on the feedback, ponder the merits of it. Journal about it and roll it through your mind to gain perspective. Is the feedback specific, true, healthy and growth-enhancing, or is it vague, downgrading and worthy of being tossed away?

Third, obtain feedback on your feedback. Obtain feedback on the feedback. Do you have a trusted friend with whom you can share the information? Is there someone whose judgement you trust who can give you more perspective? Share the feedback with them and ask them for additional feedback.

Fourth, take time to reflect and percolate on this information. Having stepped away from the feedback and percolated upon it, as well as listened to a trusted friend or counselor, what is the net result? What is your best judgment on the matter? You will know, as you listen to your soul, whether this feedback is helpful and what you need to change and what you need to discard.

Finally, move forward with confidence and note the results. You are now in a position to determine whether the information causing self-doubt is valuable and worth incorporating, or whether this feedback causes you harm. If it causes harm, you may need to erect boundaries to guard yourself from future criticism. If the feedback is actually helpful and needed, use it for that purpose.   

In summary, we all need feedback in order to grow. We often don’t see ourselves as well as some others see us. We must strike a balance between being overly influenced by others and being insulated from others gentle, generous information. Inwardly we strike the balance between being overly critical and letting ourselves dismiss important information. Achieving that balance is an ongoing process—we never fully arrive. 

Do you struggle in setting healthy boundaries, where you listen to but are not overly influenced by what others think? We at The Marriage Recovery Center are prepared to walk with you through this growth process. Please feel free to contact me at or email us at

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