Wouldn’t it be something to start the New Year off without that nagging, ever-present feeling of doubt? Just think what life would be like without those voices in our heads questioning and second guessing every decision we make?
It’s true that one of the fiercest battles we, as TBI survivors, find ourselves engaged in, is the battle against doubt. After a Brain Injury, self doubt creeps in on us, spreading like rust, rotting our confidence and certainty to the point where we become frozen; unable to act, react, or make decisions.
The brain injury itself does not necessarily create the doubt in us. Much of the doubt we feel is a by product of having so many of our abilities, and so much of our past, ripped away. Since we can no longer rely on either our bodies or our minds the way we used to, we constantly doubt our abilities and perceptions, and this is made worse because our wiring does not work the way we have become accustomed to.
The doubt we feel affects us like this: just as we are trying to find our place in the world following TBI, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to make decisions and take actions . On top of that, the idea of actually taking a risk seems incredibly far-fetched and destined to fail. We want to act, but doubt has surrounded us like the green slime; freezing our feet to the ground, and locking us in agonizing powerlessness. Doubt is paralyzing. It is deadly and all-pervasive, and after a brain injury it oozes uncontrollably from every pore in our body.
Also, often that doubt is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you doubt yourself to begin with, and then things go wrong, you say, “See? I told you so.”
What should we do? How do we fight back?
Well, let’s first take a look at what that doubt actually is. The doubt we feel is insidious and deep-rooted. It is not going to just disappear by saying we should doubt ourselves less. The doubt we feel only took the instant of your brain injury to make inroads into your psyche, but now it’s there, firmly ensconced, always ready to pounce when you have to make a decision or undertake an action . The tough thing is there is nothing you can do to actually rid yourself of the doubt; you have to work around it.
“Hmmmm,” you think as you scratch your chin thoughtfully, “Work around it? I want it gone.”
Sorry. Won’t happen. Just like your brain injury, some element of doubt will always be there. The doubt will be lurking, like a thug hiding in a dark alley, waiting for the right time to pounce, and you need to be aware of that in order to beat it. Doubt will be waiting for you to mess up, and when you do, doubt will sit there, holding its belly while it laughs, shrieking, “There! I told you so!” The trick is you have to figure out ways to overcome the doubt, and replace it with confidence.
You need to be stronger than the doubt. How? Although it seems a little backward, fighting doubt isn’t the battle we need to concentrate on. We fight doubt by regaining our sense of self so we feel whole again. Only when we have won the long battle to win back our self-confidence and our sense of self can we move forward in such a way that doubt is not a hindrance. When we focus solely on getting rid of the doubt, we neglect the bigger picture. The bigger picture is how you, as a human being who has been through a traumatic experience, can recapture the feelings of trust and belief in yourself.
Recapturing the ability to trust and believe both in yourself and what you are doing, will enable you to overcome the doubt. That, however, is a big job. Trusting yourself is a difficult thing to do after a brain injury. We need to start small and work our way up. Start by trusting your instincts. You were born with these and developed them, and they didn’t leave with your brain injury.
Develop a map of your values, or standards you follow in life so you learn to trust your ability to do the right thing. Start by taking on, and winning, small battles. Develop a “way to be” based on your standards and values, and learn to be consistent so you and others can trust your behavior. Erasing the doubt is all about re-establishing yourself as a vibrant human being. The road is long and tedious, and you’ve got start with small victories to build yourself up to a point where you can trust and believe in yourself again.
Again, that trust and belief didn’t leave your body as a result of your brain injury. They are simply on vacation waiting to be called back to work when you are ready. Together, trust and belief will help to restore the confidence and the core beliefs you need to overcome the doubt.