9 signs a strong person is struggling with self-doubt, according to psychology

There’s a common misperception out there in the self-development world:

Only insecure people with unresolved trauma and emotional blockage struggle with self-doubt. Only those with low self-awareness get stuck in low self-esteem and listening to their negative inner critic.

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

The fact is that some of the strongest and most emotionally intelligent people out there struggle the hardest with self-doubt and personal transformation. 

Here are the signs that a strong and self-aware person is still struggling with self doubt. 

1) Perfectionist tendencies

No matter how accomplished, brilliant or outwardly respected, perfectionist tendencies can drag a person down into deep self-doubt. 

Outwardly they may be doing great, but inwardly they’re struggling to feel satisfied with even the smallest decision or act. 

As psychiatrist Dimitrios Tsatiris, M.D. explains

“Perfectionists struggle with making decisions because they seek the perfect solution. They expect their decision to yield maximum results. 

“The problem with this approach is that if their decision does not meet their lofty expectations, they are left with regret, disappointment and self-criticism.”

2) Tying self-worth to outer achievement

An overemphasis on achievement and success can be a way to compensate for feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt.

This is part of why it can be hard for others to notice that somebody is struggling:

They see a successful and venerated man or woman, successful in his or her field and outwardly shining. 

What they don’t realize is that this individual is chasing external victory and accomplishment to quiet the increasingly loud inner voice telling the individual that he or she is low-value. 

3) Frequent comparison to others 

Constantly comparing oneself to others may stem from a lack of self-confidence and a need for external validation.

“Unfortunately, with the emergence of the internet, our points of comparison have expanded exponentially because we can now compare ourselves to literally anyone in the world,” notes Professor Jim Taylor, Ph.D

“Thus, we are now exposed to groups that are drastically different from us in terms of wealth, status, power, celebrity, and physical appearance.”

4) Seeking validation and outer approval

Constantly seeking external validation from others can be a sign of a lack of internal confidence and self-assurance.

This isn’t always as obvious as it might seem. 

Strong people who struggle with self-doubt don’t want people to know they’re having issues. So they mask their search for outer approval.

The most common way is by chasing external accomplishments as noted in the previous point, as well as by living up to the socially conditioned role and function they feel they should be. 

By doing the best they can within their role, they reassure themselves of their value and place in society. 

Even as they seek out validation and a sense of security, strong people who struggle with self-doubt are facing the constant specter of feeling like a fraud. 

Which brings me to the next point… 

5) Suffering from imposter syndrome

Feeling like a fraud or undeserving of success, despite evidence of competence, is a classic sign of self-doubt.

This can happen to the strongest and most admirable people we know. 

That’s because it has absolutely nothing to do with how skilled or unskilled somebody actually is and everything to do with what they truly feel about themselves. 

“The irony is, that people with imposter syndrome are often highly accomplished, impressive individuals,” explains psychology author Arlin Cuncic, M.A.

“On the outside, there is no apparent reason for them to feel like an imposter, and yet they still do.”

This makes it all the harder for others to realize this strong person is struggling. 

6) Fearing criticism and censure

A strong aversion to criticism, even if constructive, often indicates underlying self-doubt and a fear of not meeting expectations.

Strong people who struggle with self-doubt tend to live in fear of being “found out.”

Because they secretly worry that they’re not good enough, they take criticism and censure as evidence of this. 

Even if it is constructive criticism or simply a reaction to a small mistake they made, the impact is amplified. 

They worry that the criticism coming their way proves they’ve never been good enough all along, feeding into the perfectionist and success-chasing behaviors I noted earlier. 

This also ties into the next point… 

7) Procrastinating 

Those hardy individuals who struggle with their sense of self-worth don’t always double down on outer achievement and perfectionism to quiet their inner critic

Sometimes they also just hit the snooze button.

Their fear of screwing up overpowers their desire to prove themselves and succeed outwardly. They are full of fear, because they don’t truly believe in themselves and think others are looking down on them, even when that’s almost always not true. 

So they procrastinate. 

Putting off tasks or responsibilities may be a way to avoid potential failure and the associated self-doubt.

Procrastination specialist, author and Cambridge lecturer Dr. Itamar Shatz, Ph.D. explains

“People procrastinate because their drive to delay is irrationally stronger than their drive to act. 

“This happens when their self-control and motivation are weakened by issues like exhaustion, and are opposed by issues like fear.”

This ties into the next point:

8) Negative self-talk and inner monolog

Constantly engaging in negative self-talk, criticizing one’s abilities or worth, is a clear indication of underlying self-doubt.

Even very strong people can struggle in this regard, beset by an inner critic who tells them they’ll never be good enough or aren’t truly worthy. 

This often has roots in early childhood trauma or neglect and can be painful to deal with. 

The negative inner voice is prattling on at many people who look outwardly fine. But inside they are in psychological torment because of the ongoing feeling that they’re just not good enough. 

This ties into the final point in terms of signs that a strong person is struggling with self-doubt… 

9) Self-isolating and staying alone

Strong individuals grappling with self-doubt may withdraw socially, avoiding interactions that might challenge their self-image.

They procrastinate, as noted in the previous point, and they also try to stay out of the public eye. 

They have this fear of their flaws and unworthiness being exposed, and their inner critic starts to take the wheel, convincing them that the best course of action is to hide from public view and stay safe that way. 

As Gary Wenk, Ph.D. observes:

“Physical distancing, quarantines, and lockdowns increased the incidence of depression in adults and adolescents. 

“Past psychological studies documented that people experiencing prolonged social isolation, such as orphans and empty nesters, have an increased risk of depression and insomnia.”

Conquering self-doubt

It’s important to note that everyone may experience moments of self-doubt, and these signs don’t necessarily mean a person is weak. 

Doubting value doesn’t mean somebody doesn’t have value. Not at all. In fact, it often means the opposite:

They just can’t see or fully appreciate how much they have to offer and are lost in a spiral of perfectionism and faltering self-esteem. 

Seeking support from friends, family, or professionals can be crucial for overcoming self-doubt and building resilience.

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