Countering the ‘secret doubt’

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated July 01, 2012 12:00 AM

 I don’t know if it happens to all public figures but I — and my friends who live public lives — especially those in showbiz, often experience this. I am talking about how we who live public lives react to adulation and criticism.

It feels strange that even when one delivers a good performance and gets generally good or even outstanding reviews, things can turn sour because of a few negative reactions. Public persons are sensitive to public reaction, especially to the negative ones, even in the face of overwhelming positive reviews. And sometimes it does not even matter if the bad review is fair, balanced or spiteful. A bad review is a bad review and it is painful.

The public person will almost always focus on the singular bad review in the midst of the many raves and be disproportionately affected by it. Such is the nature of fame.I have often asked myself why this is so. Perhaps it is because on a white page, a tiny stain becomes more evident. Or maybe because public life carries with it the great self-delusion that one is perfect to begin with.


But then, I have found that this rule seems to apply to almost everyone else as well, even to ordinary, non-public persons who live more mundane lives. The one bad or even only mediocre grade on a report card, for example, can totally eclipse the glory of an otherwise outstanding academic performance assessment. After living as long as I have, I have realized a few things. One of them is that there is good and bad in everyone. That is something anyone who has ever wronged or been wronged discovers in a profound way.I have also thought a lot about why, in our minds, the bad easily overshadows the good, and why we project this to the world.

I am not sure if there is any merit to these thoughts but here goes:The crux of the matter lies in our propensity for self-rejection. Deep down, we feel we are not good enough, bright enough, worthy enough, deserving enough to feel otherwise. Julia Cameron, author of the book, The Artist’s Way refers to it as the “secret doubt” that we all harbor deep down that makes us feel we do not deserve to lead creative lives.She defines secret doubt as “the doubt that we are really creative and deserving of the care we need.” This is the major stumbling block to living a vibrant, productive and creative life.

This is probably similar to what Original Sin is about in the Christian matrix, that we are born “damaged” and in need of repair and salvation, and Jesus alone can save us.In creativity workshops that I give, I always stress the fact that the very first thing one must do to be creative is to “show up.” If we don’t show up, none of our dreams, aspirations or ambitions can come true. Extend this thought to achieving personal joy and happiness. If you do not show up for what makes you happy, it won’t and can’t happen.

But even as you show up for whatever it is you want for your life, there is something else that shows up as well. It is self-doubt, self-rejection, the crosstalk inside ourselves that questions why we are even falling in line for bigger dreams and joys. Self-destruction is a constant temptation.I am not sure if we were we born this way. But I tend to believe the psychologists who say that conditioning —how one was raised — could have much to do with excessive self-loathing.

Any quest for self-liberation, whether personal or spiritual, must consider this dilemma. The aim is to conquer self-defeating attitudes, to neutralize destructive self-talk so that more of the good in us can shine and lead us to live more happy lives.It is sad that mostly, we are in denial of what is good, wonderful and creative about us. We are born with more power and potential for good than what we can imagine but we insist on leading downgraded lives.

The apt Buddhist imagery of the son or daughter of the king who insists on begging in the market place comes to mind. We must treat ourselves in a manner that is befitting our real stature as creatures of God.I am not sure if one can eradicate or neutralize destructive self-talk completely. And perhaps we should not totally eradicate it since a healthy dose can keep us grounded.

There is a place for healthy skepticism, which has a balancing role to play, that is quite different from the secret doubt mentioned above.The secret doubt is probably one major reason why people strive for popularity, power, success and admiration, because it frees them from self-loathing. But when we fail and fall, the secret doubt bounces back and expresses itself ever louder about how right it is about us, and that we are actually worthless and unlovable to begin with. 

I leave you with a quote from Henri J.M. Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest who wrote, “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

The spiritual exercises that work for me are self-affirmations that remind me of the good inside and counter the self-loathing. These are: that I carry within me the Creator’s DNA and so I can’t help but be creative; that I am a force of good; and that I am capable and powerful enough to create things and situations in images and likenesses that reflect the greatness of the Greatest Artist of all.Try this exercise.

Choose your own affirmation. It works.

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