The Silent Struggle: Self Doubt

By Calisha Bennet

Many a time throughout my life have I had a desire to do, create or pursue something beneficial or amazing yet I would find myself seeking encouragement and approval from others close to me before deciding that I was capable enough of embarking on the project or goal.

It was only until recent years that I was able to recognise that I had this ‘need’ for approval and a subconscious desire to be believed in by someone else, before I could believe in myself. What I recognised in myself was that I suffered from self doubt (alongside some childhood self esteem issues).

So throughout my journey as a young person, a married woman, a mother, a homeschooler, a community volunteer, youth mentor and Islamic teacher – I silently struggled with self doubt.

I lived in doubt of my potential.

I  lived in doubt of my abilities.

I lived in doubt of my worth.

I lived in doubt of my value.

I silently struggled and suffered from self doubt.

Not only did self doubt delay the pursuit and execution of my ambitions and goals, it also held me at the mercy of the opinions of those I sought reassurance from. Now this was dangerous at times because we all know how often it is that those closest to us can be the ones to harshly critique and shut us (and our goals) down!

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”
William Shakespeare

I decided that I’d had enough of feeling unsure of myself and of seeking external approval. It was draining and simply not helpful to the ambitions that I envisioned for myself. I had to deal with the one responsible for my self doubt – I had to deal with ME.

The first step I needed to take was to understand self doubt. So let’s look at the definition. What exactly is self doubt? Self doubt is defined as a ‘lack of confidence in oneself and one’s abilities’.
To carry self doubt means you might constantly second think yourself and your decisions, you might find that hold yourself back or put yourself down. You might not allow yourself to entertain the thought of pursuing future ideas and possibilities.

For the convert Muslim, carrying self doubt can lead to various detrimental consequences such as:
– studying or practising the faith insincerely (in order to feel accepted and worthy in the Muslim community).
– practising the faith at a pace that is either too slow (due to inaction attributed to self doubt) or too fast (due to a desire for the approval of others).
– a delay in the progress of your Islam due to feelings of unworthiness and ‘not being a good enough Muslim’. For example not wearing hijab at all despite wanting to wear it occasionally to try to get used to it. Self doubt might cause a sister to feel that because she’s not wearing hijab full-time then perhaps she shouldn’t even bother at all. Another example is not praying at all due to feeling inadequate for praying a few times per day.
– not wanting to attend Islamic events/gathers/mosques due to not feeling like a ‘good enough’ Muslim (when in fact it is your place and right to attend just as much as anyone else).
– being harsh on yourself for indulging in some haram to the extent that you feel worthless as a Muslim and are considering leaving off practising (or leaving Islam altogether a’uthubillah).

Struggles with self doubt are more common than we realise and even a Companion of the Prophet SAW expressed a type of self doubt as follows:
One day, Abu Bakr (R) met another companion, Hanzalah al-Usaydi. As they were good friends, Abu Bakr asked: “How are you O Hanzalah?”
This is how the conversation transpired:
Hanzalah: “Hanzalah has become a hypocrite.”
Abu Bakr: “Subhan Allah! What are you saying?”
Hanzalah: “When we are with the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) he reminds us of the Fire and the Garden until it is as if we are seeing them with our own eyes, but when we depart from the Messenger of Allah, we attend to our wives and children and businesses, and we forget a great deal.”
Abu Bakr: “By Allah, we experience something similar.”
Following this, Abu Bakr and Hanzalah both felt the need to seek the counsel of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Hanzalah: “Hanzalah has become a hypocrite, O Messenger of Allah.”
The Prophet: “Why is that?”
Hanzalah: “O Messenger of Allah, when we are with you, you remind us of the Fire and the Garden until it is as if we are seeing them with our own eyes, but when we depart from you, we attend to our wives and children and businesses, and we forget a great deal.”
The Prophet said: “By the One in Whose hand is my soul, if you continued as you are when you are with me, and continued to remember (Paradise and Hell), the angels would shake hands with you in your homes and on the streets. But, O Hanzalah, there is a time for this and a time for that, (he said it three times).” (Muslim)

This hadith shows us how common it is to experience self doubt wherein a righteous companion of the Prophet SAW was worried about his standard of faith due to the ups and downs in his awareness of the afterlife throughout the day! So we are not alone in our struggles!

Self doubt can often be rooted in our childhood and the way in which we were spoken to as a child by our parents, family members, friends or even teachers. Sometimes it can creep in later in life if one has come into regular contact with a spouse/friend/co-worker etc who is negative of critical. Other times it is something which some of us struggle within our own selves. We might struggle with conscious and subconscious fears about ourselves, the world around us or our goals and ambitions.
These negative interactions or thoughts can eventually shape your self talk which can develop as a habit of fearful and negative thinking.

Some of the manifestations of continuous self doubt are:
– self loathing
– a negative attitude about ideas and life in general
– irrational fear of new things or the unknown
– self hate
– fear of change
– being ‘stuck’ where you are
– inaction and lack of productivity
– deep discontent and dissatisfaction with your life

“Fear and self-doubt lead us to believe the risk associated with trying something new is greater than the risk of remaining in our current situation.” Jeff Barton

Here are some steps to help you overcome self doubt:

1. Engage in self reflection – assess yourself and see if you struggle with self doubt. Where did it originate? When do you struggle with it? Remember as good old Dr Phil McGraw says ‘You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.’ And more importantly as Allah SWT says: Allah does not change the situation of a people until they change what is in themselves. (Quran 13:11)
2. Give yourself credit when it’s due – you probably don’t realise how amazing and capable you are. Try to look at all you’ve achieved so far in life and acknowledge your worth!
3. Avoid perfectionism – take imperfect action and make things happen!
4. Let go of comparison to others – we are ALL struggling in some way and we ALL have different achievements, traits, talents and qualities. That means we are ALL unique – so no comparing!
5. Have self compassion – Whether you realise it or not Allah SWT loves and values you dearly so how about you give yourself some love and value too!
6. Change how you see yourself – Say no to negative self perception and see yourself in a light of honour and respect. This is what Allah SWT wants from you!
“Try to inculcate within yourself the thoughts and the emotions which are pleasing to Allah swt. For He Sees our thoughts just as He Sees our actions. So strive not to think any thoughts which He might not like. I know it’s not easy but you must make the effort. Always remind yourself that He is aware of your thoughts and imaginations and knows what is in your heart.” Zakia Usmani
7. Take action – Staying where you are will you give you the same unsatisfying results in life. Commit to changing for the better and do that by taking action!

You can doubt yourself all you want, you can have zero self-confidence and you can worry every minute of every hour, but if you take action, you build confidence. Jeff Barton

A few years ago I decided to let go of self doubt once I realised the damaging effects that it had on me. I no longer wanted to self-loathe, or seek approval, or ‘need’ others to believe in me or delay my goals and dreams. By letting go of self doubt and facing my nerves and fears head-on I was able to stand in my own, on my own and bravely live the life that Allah SWT has entrusted me with. I invite you to do the same.

I leave you with an empowering hadith of the Prophet SAW and a lovely quote by Marianne Williamson:

“Seek out that which benefits you, seek help only from Allah and never say you can’t do it.” Muslim

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Marianne Williamson

About the author:
Calisha Bennett
is the daughter of an Australian convert father and Cocos Islander mother. She is a home-schooling mother of 5 with over a decade of experience as an active speaker, community teacher and mentor of Muslim women, converts and youth. She is the founder of Developing Diamonds which provides identity and success coaching, workshops, courses and retreats for Muslim women around the world.

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