Yes, the last two years have been rough.Pandemic. Environmental crises. Economic upheaval. And while these alone are enough to cause us stress, there’s another piece to this equation we haven’t discussed much: Despite the swirling mire, we’re expected to carry on. We’re just not always sure we can.
I don’t mean to sound bleak — we certainly have days when we’re in control and can go about our business without too much struggle. But the increasing weight of responsibility has surfaced all kinds of mental health issues. Mixed in among depression, anxiety, and fear: self-doubt.
To be sure, self-doubt is normal. But experienced regularly, it can derail us. So, it’s important to get at the root of it. As therapist Ben Ringler writes, we can find that root in our superego.
Think of the superego as a protective layer. Sigmund Freud originated the term and concept, identifying our tendency to be self-critical as a reflex. He posited that this develops in childhood with the internalization of parental correction. There are other theories about how the superego comes to be, but regardless, it continues into adulthood as a nagging “you can’t/you shouldn’t” voice, fueling self-doubt.
So how do you conquer the superego? As spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle would say, “Observe your mind.” In other words, make a habit of consciously cataloging moments when your instinctive response to a situation is “I can’t…” or “I shouldn’t…”
This takes practice, but awareness is often the hardest part of getting beyond the harsh criticism of the superego.
The next step is comparing the criticism with observable reality. If your mind is telling you, “You can’t do this,” can you think of something similar you’ve done successfully that would negate that statement?
For example, if your mind is telling you you’re going to screw up the next work meeting, you could identify something similar as a counterpoint: “I was able to present new strategy ideas to my team just last week, and everyone seemed to like what I shared.”
If you struggle to really overcome your mind’s critical reflexes, be patient. It takes time to retrain your superego to be more empathetic and supportive.
Also, keep in mind that while this may get you on the path to overcoming the negativity of your superego, you may still need the support and guidance of a psychotherapist. Don’t be afraid to reach out for additional help — it may help you tackle that self-doubt much more quickly.