“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good
we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”
– William Shakespeare
Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride are referred to in Christian teachings as the “seven deadly sins.” These, to the Roman Catholics, are the cardinal sins. If a person commits any of them, he is believed to be cut off from God’s grace.
Actually, the Bible does not specifically mention the concept “seven deadly sins.” But in Galatians 5: 16-19, fifteen acts of the sinful nature are identified – sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies. Perhaps St. Gregory the Great, during his reign as Pope (590 – 640 AD), wanting to be concise, shortened that long list of capital vices.
All Christian faithful are being called upon to not commit those acts of the flesh. St Paul said that believers are free but he implored them not to use their freedom to indulge the flesh. That, definitely, is easier said than done.
I think St. Paul (who wrote the Galatians) and St. Gregory may have overlooked another human frailty that should have been added to the list of sins. There exists another spiritual infirmity that I believe should be considered as equally harmful as any of the deadly sins. It’s called self-doubt.
My proposition (that self-doubt be classified also as sin) may not be considered seriously. Many might even say it’s preposterous.
Is self-doubt just an ordinary flaw in a person’s character? Is it really a bit too much to consider it a sin? Is it not a serious offense – something that when committed could ruin a person’s life?
Allow me to argue my assertion that self-doubt is a sin. For those who do not believe in the concept of religion, think of self-doubt not as a sin but an injury you inflict upon yourselves.
In this article, we will define self-doubt, strictly, as “the feeling of not having confidence in yourself or your abilities.” The concept of doubt being discussed here does not refer to that philosophical function “to cast doubt.”
The definition above (the one before the disambiguation) makes self-doubt sound harmless – not something immoral or demonic that would make the moralists and bible scholars (both past and present) look at it as a sin. That’s probably the reason no religious movement, Christianity included, classified such human inadequacy as a sin. You might also refuse to accept that it is an injury you inflict upon yourself.
Self-doubt, however, is not as simple as it seems. This impotence of the human spirit has grave consequences not only to the person having it but to the family where he belongs and to the society where he lives. A person plagued by it will be less-productive or not productive at all and is definitely not going to contribute anything to his family and society.
In arguing that self-doubt is a sin (or a self-inflicted injury) it is important to review the nature of sin from a philosophical standpoint.
“Sin is said to be a moral evil” (O’Neil, 1912). This brings us to another question – what is evil? St. Thomas defines the word (evil) as a privation of form or order or due measure. “Evil implies a deficiency in perfection.”
Self-doubt is clearly an imperfection. It indicates the absence of confidence which is considered essential for a person’s well-being and is a requirement in the pursuit of what Abraham Maslow refers to in Psychology as “self-actualization” or achieving one’s full potential. Sin is a diversion from the perceived ideal order of human living (Hyde, 2018). A person doubting his capabilities veers away from becoming the best that they can be and reduces their chance of living life to the fullest.
It could be argued that there are a lot of other negative human characters that may indicate imperfections. But none is as damaging to the person as self-doubt. Something is wrong with a person if he lacks confidence and has a very low (or no) feeling of self-worth. These are conditions that may lead to failure and unhappiness.
In addition, philosophical or moral sin is a human act not in agreement with rational nature and right reason. (Hyde, 2018).
It is not considered reasonable to doubt one’s capabilities. It is a person’s moral obligation to believe in themselves. It is not right to think one would fail even without really trying. A person needs to have faith not only in God (if he happens to believe in one) but also in themselves.
Allowing self-doubt to reign is depriving the self of discovering one’s potentials. When a person decides to doubt themselves, they eradicate their ability to fulfill their goals and to achieve their dreams.
Failures are indeed impossible not to happen. But even if one fails in several attempts to succeed they should decide not to stop trying. There’s a long list of famous personalities (like Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, and Henry Ford) who had their share of failures but never gave up.
But is self-doubt a self-inflicted injury?
“Sin, also, wounds the nature of man.” This is what the Catholic teachings assert.
“Self-doubt destroys the heart, mind, body, and soul. It is one of the major obstacles to living the life that people truly deserve. This unhealthy food for the soul drags down a person’s spirit, crushes his ambitions, and prevents him from achieving all that he can (Thalk, 2013).
Doubt impedes a person’s development. It is the biggest roadblock to self-actualization. Self-doubt prevents people from becoming the best they could be, from realizing their full potentials, and from achieving their dreams. Shakespeare stressed, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” Doubt could possibly kill more dreams than failure ever did.
Some degree of self-doubt is generally held to be normal. It can be helpful in some cases, as it often leads to introspection and enhanced performance. But it may require medical help when it becomes debilitating, affects daily function, or impedes performance at work or school (Self-doubt, n.d.).
There’s no immorality committed when one doubts himself. Why should it be then considered a sin?
This brings me to the last among my arguments to convince you that self-doubt is a sin.
A sin may either be a sin of commission or a sin of omission. Sins of commission are sins we commit by doing something we shouldn’t do and sins of omission are sins we commit by not doing something (Sins of Commission vs Sins of Omission, 2015). The seven deadly sins are all sins of commission except sloth.
Sloth – extreme laziness or the failure to act and utilize one’s talents – is considered a sin of omission. I think self-doubt belongs to that category. If sloth made it to the list of the deadly sins, self-doubt should be there also.
“Self-doubt,” is just as damaging (perhaps more damaging) to a person than this sin called “sloth.” Actually, in some instances, a person’s failure to use his innate talents starts with his inability to believe what he is capable of doing.
I hope that the arguments I presented above about self-doubt are convincing enough that from this point on you would move as far away from it as possible.
Conquer your self-doubt and start to nurture self-belief which I think is the key component of the value system of the few men and women who scaled the heights of success.
Hyde, J. (2018). The book of sin: How to Save the World, UK: Soul Rocks Books
O’Neil, A.C. (1912). Sin. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 24, 2020 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14004b.htm
Self-Doubt (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.gootherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/self-doubt/
Sins of commission vs sins of omission (2015) Retrieved from https://www.revelation.co/2015/07/21/sins-of-commission-vs-sins-of omission/
Thalk, C. (2013). Self-doubt destroys the heart, mind, body and soul. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/self-doubt_b_2960936
On Self-Belief and Other Related Constructs
As the term implies, self-belief is a person’s faith or complete trust and confidence in their abilities and skills and value as a human being. Consider it as a combination of self-confidence and self-worth.
Self-belief is an essential component in a person’s pursuit of success and happiness. If you don’t have it, don’t expect to achieve anything for without self-belief a person will never succeed in any kind of endeavor. But too much of it is not good either. An exaggerated opinion of one’s own qualities and abilities is called self-conceit. The Greeks refer to it as hubris.
Self-belief is a concept not difficult to comprehend yet not too many really know how having or not having it would affect their lives in general. Some may have chosen to disregard it not fully understanding the possible negative consequences for neglecting it.
If you won’t trust in your own abilities and skills… if you won’t believe that you are valuable, no one else would. If you want others to believe in you, you have to convince them first that you believe in yourself. And even if nobody believes in you but yourself, you are in a strong position in life.
The issue is not what other people say and think about what you can and can’t do and achieve but rather whether or not you believe in your own capabilities and worth as a person. The disbelief of people around you won’t move the needle of your success. It is your self-belief that would. People not believing in you won’t kill your dreams and ambitions, your self-doubt would.
Self-doubt is by no means just a simple problem. It is a very serious one. A person is in serious trouble when they doubt themselves and when they think they are worthless. The failure of people to develop self-belief stems from them not understanding the nature of self-doubt. In a separate essay – “Self-doubt: The Unknown Sin” – I discussed the said concept extensively.
Self-belief should serve as the starting point of all self-improvement activities. Any personal growth and development program should start with the elimination of self-doubt. Imagine self-doubt as old wineskins and all the attitudes, beliefs, and skills you need for self-improvement, altogether, like new wine. You should not pour the new wine into the old wineskins. The Lord Jesus Christ warned – “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins (Mark 2:22).”
There are several constructs that are construed to be the same or somewhat related to self-belief, namely self-concept, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-image. These concepts have been explored extensively and a vast body of literature has been created for each of them. There are numerous articles available explaining how similar and different are they from each other. But if you examine the bottom lines of the said constructs, all of them lead to the notion that people need to develop their faith or complete trust and confidence in their abilities and skills and also to value themselves as human beings.
The primary objective of all activities recommended by experts for the improvement of self-concept, self-esteem , self-efficacy, and self-image is the development or strengthening of self-belief. If all ideas related to these constructs are to be synthesized into one single idea, very likely that that the term self-belief would be used.
This article does not intend to deal with specific details about these concepts but only their definitions to see how they relate to self-belief.
Let’s take a look at self-concept first. As explained by McLeod (2008), self-concept is a general term used to refer to “how people think about, evaluate, or perceive themselves. To be aware of oneself is to have a concept of oneself.” Additionally, “self-concept is an overarching idea we have about who we are—physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and in terms of any other aspects that make up who we are (Neill, 2005).”
Your self-concept is a collection of your beliefs about yourself. Being aware of what beliefs you hold about yourself is instrumental in the development of self-belief. Your self-concept would help you identify what negative perceptions you hold about yourself. Self-belief doesn’t mean ignoring or sweeping under the rug what you consider as your weaknesses but rather accepting them. But accept them only if after serious introspection you will find them to be true. What comes next after that is you exerting conscious efforts to address them. Self-concept enables you to identify what are your problems and deficiencies which need correction. The process of self-improvement includes not just finding and developing your strengths but also identifying your negative attributes and getting rid of them.
What about self-esteem? This concept refers to the extent to which we like, accept or approves of ourselves, or how much we value ourselves (McLeod, 2008).” Harter (1986) added that “self-esteem is the evaluative and affective dimension of the self-concept, and is considered as equivalent to self-regard, self-estimation, and self-worth.”
Think of self-esteem as a self-appraisal that leads to an honest valuation of yourself. The more positive is your self-appraisal (or the stronger your self-belief is) the higher is your self-esteem.
Low self-esteem – a person’s failure to value themselves as a human being – leads to a variety of problems that can affect a person’s personal and professional pursuits, health, and relationships.
If we go back to the definition of self-belief at the beginning of this article, we can say that half of this construct is self-concept and the other half is self-esteem.
Next is self-efficacy. Bandura (1994) defines the term as people’s belief about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves, and behave.
The foregoing definition shows the thin line that separates self-belief from self-efficacy. That thin line may not even exist.
“People with a strong sense of self-efficacy,” as Bandura explained, “develop a deeper interest in the activities in which they participate, form a stronger sense of commitment to their interests and activities, recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments, and view challenging problems as tasks to be mastered.”
These exactly are what people with a strong self-belief (are and) do – they know what particular skills and capabilities they have, nurture and use them as leverage to achieve success; they are not afraid to fail and when they do they bounce back; and they face and conquer challenges and difficulties.
Seemingly, self-belief is just another word for self-efficacy.
Now, let’s take a look at self-image. The Meriam-Webster English Dictionary defines the said construct “as the way you think about yourself and your abilities or appearance.” That, too, is almost exactly how we define self-belief.
According to Dr. Maltz (1993), “Whether we realize it or not, each of us carries a mental blueprint or picture of ourselves. It may be vague and ill-defined to our conscious gaze. In fact, it may not be consciously recognizable at all. But it is there, complete down to the last detail. This self-image is our own conception of the ‘sort of person I am.’ It has been built up from our own beliefs about ourselves. But most of these beliefs have been formed from our own past experiences, our successes and our failures, and the way people have reacted to us.”
Bob Proctor once said that when you stand in front of a mirror you see a reflection of the physical you. But that’s not the real you. You also have a picture of yourself in your mind. That, according to him, is what Dr. Maltz postulated – that people have two images of themselves, the one that’s coming back from the mirror and the other one is their inner image.
The kind of inner image, that self-image you hold constitutes your self-belief. If you have a poor self-image, it means you don’t have faith in your skills and capabilities and that you have a low self-worth.
There are plenty to learn from the literature and studies conducted on self-concept, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-image. Anybody serious about developing a strong self-belief should take a look at them. What I presented in this article about the constructs aforementioned barely scratched the surfaces of each of them.
Let me end with a quote from Alexander Dumas:
“A man who doubts himself is like a man who would enlist in the ranks of his enemies and bear arms against himself. He makes his failure certain by himself being the first person to be convinced of it.”
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).
McLeod, S. A. (2008). Self concept. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/ self-concept.html
Neill, J. (2005). Definitions of various self constructs: Self-esteem, self-efficacy, self-confidence & self-concept. Wilderdom. Retrieved from http://www.wilderdom.com/self/
Harter, S. (1986). Processes underlying the construction, maintenance and enhancement of the self-concept in children. In Suls, J. and Greenwald, A.G. (eds), Psychological Perspectives on the Self. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, vol. 3, pp. 137–181
Maltz, M. (1993). Psycho-Cybernatics. New York: Prentice Hall Press.