Some self-disclosure here—I’m a rather sensitive person and I often tend towards self-doubt, thinking something is my fault if it doesn’t go well and lots of critical voices in my head always. With time, I’ve learned to see this as a strength since it means I’m constantly evaluating myself and pushing myself to become better. However, often in the day to day, this self-doubt can be difficult. And especially so in the field of social work, where decisions made often have far-reaching repercussions.
Over the years I’ve had to develop methods to help me not to linger in my own self-doubt and to feel more confident in my decision-making. I’m guessing there are other social workers out there who have struggles with self-doubt as well, so wanted to share the methods I’ve used and continue to use today, to help feel confident and to shake off the nagging self-doubt voice. These are applicable to non-social workers, as well so feel free to share with others you know who might find these ideas helpful.
1. Regular self-reflection.
This almost seems counter-intuitive, but I’ve found it to be very helpful. For years, I don’t think I recognized or acknowledged my struggles with self-doubt and so maybe didn’t realize I needed the extra support. It can be helpful to talk with your supervisor about your own self-doubt so that they can help you process what is reality versus what is going on in your mind. Once you become more accustomed to those kinds of questions, you can ask them of yourself. This will help you to be able to figure out what is the truth in the situation compared to thoughts based on self-doubt. Are there tangible things to be learned that will help you improve your practice in the future? If so, learn from the experience and move on.
2. Continued professional development.
I love learning…and have found that when I know more about myself, about the profession, about current practices, current issues, etc., the more I feel like and am a competent social worker. It’s interesting, but I feel this area has actually gotten harder to take time for as my personal life has gotten busier and required more of me. I didn’t realize how much I craved professional development until I did take two days a few months ago and went to a conference that for me was all about professional development. I left feeling so recharged, confident, excited…and during a timeframe when if I had not gone I probably would have felt professionally drained and would have questioned myself lots and lots. By taking the time for professional development, one grows. And when you know you are growing, self-doubt can take a back seat.
3. Be aware of your biases.
Letting my supervisors and/or trusted colleagues know my biases and asking them to push me on certain topics based on my own self-awareness has been extremely helpful. Self-reflection leads to self-awareness. I know most of my biases…and have been sure to share the ones I know about with my supervisors. Often this has been within the context of case-specific work. When I know I’m struggling with a decision because of my own experiences and biases I share that.
I think it’s so important to know and acknowledge my lens and share it with others, not to convince them that my lens is right, but so that they can help by asking further questions and making sure my assessment is based on all of the facts of the situation. Having others there to help me explore means a more collective decision-making process as well, and more minds and eyes on the situation generally lead to better, more well-thought-out decisions and less self-doubt.
4. Learn from perceived mistakes and trust your gut.
I’ve been in the same general profession, a social worker in child welfare for over a decade. I’ve seen my successes and I’ve seen my failures. There are, sadly, cases I worked on over 10 years ago that I ran across again because of failed adoptions or failed reunification…adoptions and reunifications that I was in some capacity a part of. And hearing about these cases breaks my heart and makes me want to crawl under a rock because of my participation in something that did not turn out to be the positive ending that I thought it would.
But, once I’m ready to pop my head back out and again go back to #1 and reflect, usually there is some wisdom gained. Sometimes it means I realize I had a gut reaction, and the next time someone else brings me a gut reaction about a case I will push them further—will point out the importance of the decision and will ask what else can we assess so that the gut reaction isn’t just a gut. If you are a natural self-doubter and in social work, then PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, trust your gut. And then dig…you may find something concrete to support your gut. I’m 98% sure of it.
5. Practice self-compassion.
No one is perfect. Even those who don’t struggle with self-doubt are not perfect. As a natural self-doubter, you are also a natural self-improvement person and that is actually a sign of a true leader. You will take the time to recognize what you need improvement in and improve it. And when you doubt yourself and it’s not warranted, with time you will learn to treat yourself with the same compassion that you treat others with. I’m still working on this piece, but am realizing how important it is to treat myself as I would a friend–listen, acknowledge, support, and be kind. By doing so, I can move on and be better next time, without unnecessary guilt to hold me back.
Do you struggle with self-doubt in regards to your decision-making and/or work life in general? How do you help to overcome it? Do you (like me) see this as a potential strength? I’d love to hear from you so we can learn from one another!
Rachel Castillo, MSW is a licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker and has been working in the area of child welfare for over 10 years. She is the founder of www.socialworkcommunity.com, a website/blog with the goal of creating a positive community for social workers to gather, connect, and inspire one another. Rachel is also a proud mama and is always on the lookout for ways to improve her own self-care as well as encouraging those around her to do the same.