Advice for Teens Struggling with Self-Doubt with Therapist Katey Nicolai, PhD

Mental Health Questions Answered: Overcoming Self-Doubt

Hi! I'm Dr. Katey Nicolai and I'm back to answer more of your questions about mental health. If you have questions or want to learn more, reach out to me at Joon Care!

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Hi I'm Dr. Katey Nicolai and I'm back to answer more of your questions about mental health! 

How can I overcome self-doubt?

Self-doubt can come from a lot of different places. It can be a momentary lapse in your confidence due to something difficult happening at work or school, or it could be a more long-standing issue. For example, maybe you've always been someone who struggled with self-confidence because of the family that you grew up in. Or, maybe you're struggling with a mental health diagnosis right now like depression or anxiety and that involves patterns of thinking that cause you to question yourself and think negatively. 

Let’s do a bit of self-assessment. Is your self-doubt pervasive? Or is this a temporary situational self-doubt that will resolve in time?

If it's more pervasive, ask yourself:

  • “Is this having an impact on my functioning and relationships?”
  • “Is this something that's preventing me from achieving things or making connections to people?” 
  • “Is there a negative track running in my mind all the time?”

If these questions resonate with you, you might consider allowing yourself to take that first step and get into therapy. Trying to open up to someone and find tools that apply specifically to you is a really good place to start. Often it doesn't take as long as people fear for them to come up with more practical tools to use in their day-to-day. It may only take a couple of weeks for you to start to change your pattern of thinking and develop more positive perspectives on life. 

One small trick that you could try practicing daily is, instead of aiming for all positive or all negative thinking all the time, try to aim for more balanced thinking. So, if you notice yourself being self-critical in a moment, rather than trying to flip that all the way into all positive thinking, ask yourself “how can I make this thought more balanced?” One possible (negative) outcome in this situation is I fail and everyone judges me, but a more balanced perspective is that there's a chance I could do well

How can you try to balance some of the negative thinking with some more positive thinking? Try to at least split it 50/50 to begin with. Start with a smaller approach toward overcoming that self-doubt and grant yourself a little bit of grace as you work toward it. 

What tricks are there for loving yourself more?

I love the way this question was asked. Having a healthy and positive relationship with yourself is really essential for all healthy relationships. We've all heard that cliche before, but this can be something that we struggle with for a variety of reasons. Maybe you grew up in a family that didn't lend itself toward healthy relationships. Maybe your relationships have been strained with your family over time. Or, maybe you're struggling with a mental health diagnosis that involves a lot of negative and self-critical thinking like I mentioned above. 

One trick that you can try day-to-day is speaking to yourself in a kinder way. The same way that you would speak to a friend. When you catch yourself thinking negatively, pause and ask yourself “Would I speak to a friend this way?” Most of the time the answer is no because a lot of our internal monologue can be a lot more negative and biting when it's inside away from everyone's viewing eyes. So instead, think if your friend were facing the same problem or same dilemma, or they made a similar mistake, what advice would you give them? What approach would you take? Then try to note the differences in the way that you talk to yourself and the way that you talk to a friend. Over time, try to take small steps toward being more loving to yourself, treating yourself as your own friend. 

If this seems daunting it's because it can be hard to accomplish this on your own, which is why I always advocate for reaching out to a therapist to help you with practical steps along the way.

How can I conquer body dysmorphia? 

This is a fairly specific diagnosis, but we can broaden this out to include anyone who is struggling with negative feelings about themselves, their body, or their appearance. This includes struggles with disordered eating, struggles with the way we perceive our bodies to be, and the way we think others are perceiving our bodies. More generally, these are struggles with self-confidence and worrying about other people judging us.

So, what’s the best way to overcome this? Usually it's best to find a therapist that can help you with these specific concerns because they will be able to get to know the true nature of the symptoms and struggles that you're having and give you personalized recommendations for how to overcome these symptoms. But, I think similar to the the solutions that I presented above, often the journey towards more self-acceptance–whether it has to do with food, body or general self-confidence–is a lot more than just waking up overnight and suddenly finding that you've struck inspiration and you suddenly love yourself again. Similar to other changes it takes time. It takes commitment. And, it usually takes much smaller steps in the beginning than you realize. Even making one small shift like beginning to notice the way that you speak to yourself on a day-to-day basis can be the impetus for small change over time. If you're struggling with a diagnosis like body dysmorphia I really recommend you get some professional help with that, but one thing that your therapist is likely going to work with you on is setting small manageable goals week to week that help to change your thinking over time. So start slow but commit and reach out for therapy if you can.

How do I know when I need therapy? 

This is kind of the overarching theme of all of the questions today. I think anyone can use therapy but one good rule of thumb to know when therapy might be necessary is when you notice that the problems that you're having day-to-day are getting in the way of accomplishing things like going to work effectively or getting good sleep at night. Maybe your relationships are starting to suffer, you're having trouble connecting to other people, or other people are noticing that you've changed. These can all be good indicators that it's time to get some assistance with some therapy. I think there's been a lot in social media lately that's working to destigmatize mental health and helping folks to understand that there's a much higher percentage of folks who could benefit from therapy at any given moment. So why not reach out, why not receive support and help and connection when you can?

So, how do you know when you need therapy? I think the answer is always, but how do you know when it's the right moment? It's when life is starting to be a struggle and it's the right moment for you to ask for help and connect to somebody.

Thank you all for submitting your questions. I'm so happy that I got to spend a little time with you and I look forward to doing it again! If you have more questions feel free to reach out to me at Joon Care and I look forward to talking with you guys again!

July 26, 2022
Katey Nicolai, PhD | VP of Clinical Services

Katey Nicolai, PhD | VP of Clinical Services

Katey Nicolai, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Seattle Pacific University. Dr. Nicolai provides services to adolescents and adults using evidence-based treatment rooted in cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic therapies, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy, interpersonal therapy, and family systems. Dr. Nicolai has specialized training in treating trauma and PTSD, personality disorders, self-harm and suicidailty, family problems, emotion dysregulation, and mood and anxiety disorders.

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