Dealing with Chronic Doubt

by | Dec 2, 2004 | POLITICS

Q: Dr. Hurd, how can I handle my problems with excessive doubt? A: Doubt is sometimes logical — even helpful. For example, you might believe that somebody did something wrong to you, but the belief is based more on emotion than evidence. Your doubt about whether the person did what you fear causes you to […]

Q: Dr. Hurd, how can I handle my problems with excessive doubt?

A: Doubt is sometimes logical — even helpful. For example, you might believe that somebody did something wrong to you, but the belief is based more on emotion than evidence. Your doubt about whether the person did what you fear causes you to hold back from hasty accusations you might later regret. Our whole criminal justice system, in fact, is based on the principle of reasonable doubt, a principle whose intention is to keep the innocent from being falsely prosecuted for a crime.

Doubt becomes a psychological problem when and if a person experiences it all or most of the time, not just for a specific, valid reason but because of one’s overriding views and feelings about the very nature of existence and/or consciousness. Examples of normal doubt in a particular, reasonable context would include, “I have some reason to think that Mary did such-and-such but I’m still not certain.” Or: “I know I’m competent at swimming but I’m not certain I can break that record.”

The neurotically doubtful person, in contrast, experiences doubt because he is doubtful about his ability to cope, to think, to know truth or to draw conclusions of any kind. This is a very serious problem and is often the core reason behind serious issues with depression, panic, anxiety, and many of the other psychological maladies so well documented today. In order to correct this problem, the individual needs to embark on a sustained, intensive program of self-change. The self-change consists of regularly challenging the falsely held notion that he cannot do anything, or most things; this can be accomplished through keeping a daily journal and having regular conversations with a personal psychotherapist. The self-change also consists of taking initially small, yet ever larger progressive steps towards attempting actions that previously have been felt to be impossible and were therefore avoided. The details are best worked out in conjunction with a good psychotherapist. Examples of behavioral change goals can include: asking someone out on a date rather than avoiding doing so, as was the prior pattern; questioning the notion that one has nothing to offer and nothing valid to talk about, and cannot carry on even a simple conversation. For a doubtful person, such seemingly small tasks can seem momentous. Yet if life is to be lived, a course reversal is not optional.

This is a lengthy and often painstaking process but there is no alternative to correcting self-doubt. “It’s easier said than done,” is the absolutely worst attitude to take if change is truly desired. The process will be more effective if the individual goes as deeply into his basic premises as possible. In other words, he doesn’t merely try to correct his tendency to avoid constructive action because of doubt. He looks deeper at his whole philosophy of life (even if it’s only an implicit philosophy, as it is for most people). What do I mean? Many who doubt themselves doubt the efficacy of the human mind in general. They have internalized the prevalent cultural notion that human beings are not merely fallible, but inherently incompetent and/or undeserving to live. In one form or another, and to various degrees, these notions are to be found on the entire spectrum of philosophical ideas

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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