I had a chat with one of my team yesterday. In their tone of voice, in their questions — I heard myself, and some things I struggled with so much of my adult life.
And that’s what’s driving me to write this blog post today.
I want to discuss how self-doubt, lack of self-worth, and low self-esteem were big obstacles in my life — to some degree I think they still are…
But most important — how I overcame this crippling self-doubt that pervaded my life in all of its facets.
But most notably, my relationships.
When Did I Begin To Doubt Myself?
My heart pounded as I walked across to the astroturf.
It was one of my first training sessions with Uxbridge FC alongside my cousin at the local astroturf pitches.
The floodlights on the pitch, the rowdiness of the crowd all running around and laughing….and then there was me.
On family holidays I was the quiet one.
On family holidays I was an easy target.
On family trips to the park, I was afraid to play football with my cousins. Afraid somehow of what they might say — preferring instead to play on the swings — sometimes by myself.
It was weird.
Because at the same time — I would try and climb slippery rocks when on family holidays. I would opt to go for trials with a football team almost two years older than me in an environment that massively intimidated me.
There was nothing on the surface to suggest I was nervous at all.
But it was a fear I felt in my heart.
A tortured sensitivity.
I didn’t know it for what it was back then, I was just painfully aware of its existence.
I could sink or swim on the basis of the opinions of those around me.
If I wasn’t the golden kid in someone else’s eyes.
If I wasn’t accepted by the ‘in-crowd’ — I’d feel crushed.
‘Hello hello — who’s this then — Shiva’s little Indian brother!?’
Several of the players on the team laughed as they looked up at this tall, stick-like kid wearing large thin football boots who looked like he’d be in danger of falling over if the wind blew too hard.
His eyes looked down nervously at the floor, his unstyled hair flailed in the wind and he had a permanent look of having been caught in the middle of some illegal act strewn across his face.
Making fun of him was fun!
My uncle hit the indicator on his BMW as he pulled up outside of my parent’s home. My cousin Shiva was in the front, and I was in the backseat.
They’d been chit-chatting and I’d been sighing silent sighs of relief as we’d driven away from football training.
My nerves, which were a trainwreck, would settle in direct correlation to how far away from the football pitches we drove.
‘How was football training today Deeps?’ he asked as he half turned around from the driver’s seat to look at me.
The nerves and tension flooded back inside of me as the sincerity I felt from such a normal question overwhelmed my emotions and there was no holding back.
The nerves flood back, the fight in me was lost, and I burst into tears and cried and cried.
It was weird for my uncle and my cousin.
I was 13 years old, seemingly confident, and a pretty good footballer. What was going on?
Recognizing My Self Doubt
‘Looking back on it — that’s not even my first memory of ‘that feeling….You know I don’t remember much about my childhood but if you ask me about feelings of fear and deep insecurity…well I remember it like it was yesterday’
I cycled through moments like this one I had during my childhood years, and there were several I could think of.
The swings at my uncle’s home and accidentally kicking my younger cousin in the face. My family laughing at me when we were camping on a family holiday. My mum being unimpressed by my GCSE results and telling my proud tutor that all would be better if I just learned to clean up after myself.
The list grew quickly in my mind. I could remember the people, the words, the context, the environment. I could remember it all.
It is still almost like the blueprints of insecurity have been sewn to my mind.
Perhaps it’s what they call ‘the lightbulb memory effect’ — that we remember vivid moments of high emotion, but even now at 34 years old…
I have clear visions of each of these moments of my childhood. Outside of these ‘types’ of memories — it all seems a little bit hazy.
Beginning To Act Upon My Issues Of Self Doubt
“What do I do, Ragni?”
I looked up at my cognitive behavioral therapist with a plea for help in my eyes, and a ‘true’ vulnerability I was displaying to her that was a rarity for me.
I was 26 years old and was in danger of blowing up yet another romantic relationship in my life.
And I was tired of it. So so tired of it.
And this woman, this human being — was someone I didn’t want to lose.
She was different. Strawberry was not like the troubled relationship partners I’d been in relationships with before.
I didn’t understand what my problems were during those years. The years of turbulence, of anger, of pain.
Of name-calling, insults, abuse, and all of the chaos that my life was awash with.
I’d been in and out of relationships since I was 18 years old up to 25 years — and in the women, I was together with — I would just lay the blame externally for most of it.
I would see THEM as the problem and too little to no work on my own obvious issues.
I’d seek constant reassurance, I’d want words of comfort constantly, and was nothing like the strong-minded and confident man that I represented myself as.
I weight trained, I took care of myself, I began running marathons, I was excelling in my professional life…and yet personally I was a mess.
There was no relationship I was part of, and no person I got close to without chaos ensuing.
When tossing all of this over with Ragni something became clear –
All of these years of self-doubt in relationships, and feelings of limited self-worth…
Of not being enough — of not being loved and encouraged and told how brilliant I was by my parents, of seeking horrible and hurtful things to those who were close to me…
I realized — it was ANYONE who I became close to — not JUST my romantic relationships.
It was friends I got close to, people I went into business with, my loving family.
Without exception, in all of these areas, turbulence would ensue and I needed to be wanted, I needed to be loved, I needed approval so badly.
I fought back the tears….
Coping With Low Self-Esteem
My journey to even get into therapy had taken 18 months all by itself.
Some remote part of my brain realized I was in trouble and had my own troubles when I came out of a turbulent relationship where I was being abused.
This time there was no fooling myself from there being something that was deeply wrong with my own self-worth.
There I was, as a successful recording studio owner, with two studios, 3 engineers, a growing roster of clients, and trapped by my own doing in a relationship with a woman who was hitting me out of the slightest perceived moments of jealousy.
She’d punched me, fist closed in the chest, mouth, broken a vinyl from my recording studio around my head.
I was physically bigger and stronger than her, had my own income — yet became emotionally dependent upon her approval.
I’d sit in her room on the bed in the shared accommodation she lived in, almost holding my breath sometimes hoping I’d get through the morning and escape her wrath.
The radio needed to be on, and there was a morning ritual that was to be followed — during all of which she was in a foul mood for.
If we were to switch to the radio station or otherwise I’d be met with venomous looks.
This would later extend to her giving me aggressive stares when I would go on to meet her family and hear more about their lives.
The Penny Dropped In The Park
After a recording session in my studio at my parents’ place — we’d sometimes go to the local park for a walk around before heading back.
Somehow, unsurprisingly we’d got into an argument again — this was all our relationship seemed to compromise of those days.
Things came to a head when she said — ‘I need a real man — not someone like you, who can’t take what I dish out’.
The look of disgust that poured across her face as she looked at me said it all.
My heart lurched as I bent my back slightly, hunched my shoulders in, and tilted my head down in shame.
The relationship wasn’t working, but she wasn’t wrong.
Where was my self-respect?
How To Treat Self Doubt
If you’ve ever suffered under the wrath of another person’s fist or had your world rest too heavily upon the approval of others — then crippling self-doubt and low self-esteem are definitely issues (like myself) to be addressed.
My turning point came at a moment I’m not proud of — but just after receiving several blows to my face, I lashed back and slapped her across the face — causing the inside of her cheek to bleed.
And that was the moment everything changed.
My brother came in the middle of the night to pick me up and take me home…and the next morning I was on a call to the Samaritans to talk about how I felt.
Before this, aside from 5-minute chats here and there with my brother who’d become aware of the situation — not a soul in the world knew about the issues that had been plaguing me for a decade by that time.
I’d always feared judgment, in the same way I judged myself, in the same way I’d heard my mother judge me growing up as not being good enough and so not feeling worthy enough of the love that I craved…
And in its garbled and disorganized fashion, I poured out my soul to an anonymous human being who just sat and listened on the other end of the line, without judgment…as I spoke out aloud and began to lead myself to the decisions I already intuitively knew.
I’d see her two/three more times in my life before I never saw her again, and that was the turning point in my therapeutic journey.
That was the true turning point — when the long walk back to sanity and emotional stability began.
Recovering From Crippling Self Doubt
People will lie to you and tell you it’s something that you can fix in a weekend or even fix in a month.
Those memories I’ve shared with you all happened when I was 24/25 years old. It’s taken 5–6 years of various assortments of therapy, books, deep work, and more self-help to get me to a good place in my life.
It was something I realized was hopping back every relationship in my life — and I needed to learn to cope, to let go, to make peace with self-doubt — and to put it into a box that could be dealt with.
She was not the only person who saw my dark side, but what became different was that I wanted to change, that I was tired of repeating history. And I’d seen patterns of behavior that weren’t helping my life in any way.
Curing Perpetual Self Doubt
The cure is a weird word, but certainly something you can work towards.
My journey began with the Samaritans, moved into psychodynamic therapy where a lot of time was spent talking about my parents. This didn’t help much in the end. In parallel with this, I was reading books such as:
- Loving What Is, by Katie Byron,
- Too Good To Leave Or Too Bad To Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum,
- The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell
Psychodynamic therapy moved into relationship counseling, then group therapy — neither of which I liked — before I finally found Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which was an absolute game-changer for me.
This process of discovery and work took several years, involved upset, tears, heartache, and emotional turmoil for much of it.
The crippling self-doubt I kept in relationships, and the lack of love I felt for myself, and the ugly manner in which it manifested is something I will write more about one day (you can read more of my journey in my newsletter).
But for now, to my team-mates, I’ll tell you this.
The journey to freedom from fear, freedom from self-doubt in relationships, and being able to step into your own sunshine, your own warmth is the most monumental journey I’ve made in my life.
And when I turned 30, and I finally let go of self-doubt and learned to love myself…well….
It’s no coincidence that that’s when I started Pearl Lemon, my own company, where I can share my journey with my teammates.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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