Changing self-doubt into self-confidence

Mary wants to trust her husband. He's been a good provider and she has no reason to suspect that he's been unfaithful or  would do anything harmful to her emotionally, financially or otherwise except… he's coming home later than he ever did in the past with some dubious excuses. He's not been putting his whole paycheck into their joint account as before.  He's not been giving her the attention he did previously. He gives her plausible excuses for his behavior but they seem different from in the past – the excuses are vague  such as "well, it makes sense not to keep all that money in our checking account".

His answers to her puzzled queries raise many questions in Mary's mind: "Does he have our best interest at heart? Is he not telling me because it's financially complicated? Is he siphoning off funds to spend on drinking? On drugs? On gambling? On a lover? Is he planning a divorce?  Is he hiding some other serious problem?" He tells her more and more that he needs some form of relaxation; he needs to play tennis or go sailing or go to the football games with his buddies. She is excluded since this is his "unwind time with the boys".

Here's the problem. Mary is living with chronic doubt and anxiety. He tells her he was at work late. Then she hears that a friend saw his car at a local restaurant. He explains that away. Every time she finds a discrepancy between his words and his actions, or she hears contradictory statements from him, her anxiety escalates. What if he has a lover?  Or what if he's a closet drinker? What if he's a gambler?  What if  (fill in the blank)? Those what-ifs leave her with a chronic sense that her world is messy.

The upshot? Mary begins doubting herself. Maybe he is fine and her questions are unreasonable. Maybe she is driving him away. Maybe, in some way that she doesn't understand, she did something wrong. Maybe she's too sensitive or too  suspicious.  She hates living with this anxiety and self-doubt. She doesn't know how to answer these questions. She tells herself "Don't think about it - it only stresses me out. I can't deal with this." Mary tries to bury her doubts; she soon finds herself suffering from depression. Why?

What can you  do when you doubt the sincerity of anyone who matter's to you, for example, the honesty of your partner, the genuineness of a friend, the integrity of your boss or of a co-worker, the sincerity of your child  or relatives? 

When people such as Mary have real evidence to raise questions in their minds about another person's character, too often, instead of pursuing those questions until they get clear answers, they start doubting their own judgment "Maybe I am too suspicious. Maybe I am too sensitive."  Why does this happen?

Mary starts by doubting her partner. She asks him questions. He gives her vague answers and he shifts the focus to her. He accuses her of being ridiculous and paranoid; he reminds her of times she thought she was right in her judgment but she was wrong. So far this is not a problem if Mary can retain her own independent judgment. Suppose she thinks "Yes, I've been wrong in the past – but there are also times when I've been right.  I still deserve to have my own questions answered. These are not questions I manufactured without a shred of  evidence; these are questions arising from his contradictions. (He's at work – but his car is at a restaurant; money is disappearing without a good explanation; he is playing tennis more often than in the  past; he excludes me more and more with no good reason.)"

Unfortunately Mary shifts her focus to herself. "Maybe I'm too sensitive. I read into everything. I make a  mountain out of a molehill. What if he's innocent and I'm driving him away with my questions?" When Mary shifts her focus to self-doubt, rather than to fact-finding, one typical effect is that she emotionally gives up. She feels trapped – she still has her doubts about her husband but she has abandoned her means of resolving them – her thinking mind. The upshot: an ever-growing sense of helplessness, anxiety and depression.

Now for some help for Mary: she needs a means to judge whether her own suspicions are reasonable. If they are, if she has some evidence to suspect her husband, then she  needs to pursue this evidence responsibly and tenaciously. She has a right to know the character of the man she is married to – her wellbeing and happiness depend on this.

Here are some tips for dealing with a situation in which you are doubting someone close to you (e.g., your partner, your child, your friend):

  1. Make sure your suspicious are valid: i.e., that you have some evidence that makes you doubt the other person's character.
  2. Think of reasonable alternative explanations that might explain his  discrepancies in a positive manner (e.g., maybe he has been secretive because he's planning a surprise party for you).   This does not mean that you know this to be true. At this stage of your  suspicions you are drawing a mental range. At one end of the range, he or she is deceitful and dishonest  -- someone you need to write off. At the other end of the range, he or she is a decent  person who is planning a surprise for you or has understandable and rational explanations for the discrepancies. You are trying to identify where this person falls along this range.
  3. Don't accept vague  answers to your questions. Rephrase and repeat each question until you get answers that make sense, until you gain clarity. Fine-tune your questions to the specific concerns you have. Don't apologize for  asking questions (e.g., "I was just wondering…" "I don't mean to be nosy but..."). Be confident ("I am disturbed by...").
  4. Don't let the other person shift your focus to self-doubt. When people try to get away with something, they become masters at shifting the focus away from themselves and focusing it on the questioner's vulnerabilities. They often try to induce self-doubt and unearned guilt in their  victims. (Many politicians are experts at this.) Don't fall into this trap. If you doubt your own mind it will mentally paralyze you. If you believe the motor in your car is not working, you will give up  trying to use it. If you think your own motor, your mind, is broken, you may also give up. The result? Depression.
  5. Be aware that if the other person is guilty of doing something underhanded, then he or she has methods to cover this up.  What methods? Such people minimize or deny their own behavior. They may try to case you out. They figure out what you want to hear and tell you just that, to throw you off the trail of their deceit.  Be one step ahead of them by knowing their typical methods.
  6. Ask yourself how you would  answer someone asking you the same question if he found discrepancies in your words or actions and you were innocent.  What tone would you use? How would you clarify any misunderstandings? Then compare this to his behavior. Is he behaving as you would behave if you were innocent?  Or is he behaving as a deceitful, crafty person would behave?
  7. Don't be afraid of mental effort. The feeling of self-confidence, "I have a right to make sense of my world," and the willingness to clearly think things through, earns you a sense of inner confidence and gives you a means to deal with others – it's the best help for anxiety and depression.

When you have doubts about another person's character, you want to hold your own head up high and respect your own mind. Instead of passively drowning in "what-ifs" with no clear answers, you become a fact-finder par excellence. You know you have a right to the truth and you have a right to pursue contradictions in another person's words or behavior until you can make sense of them. If you have this mindset, you will be much less vulnerable to anxiety and self-doubt. You will know that you have a right to make sense of your world, to pursue the truth and to act accordingly. Then, even if you find out bad news, that the person you care for  (a husband, a child, a friend, a boss) has been deceitful, has drug or alcohol problems, is gambling, etc., you can manage this truth so much better – because you will judge him rather than damn yourself. You will not be swallowed up by self-doubts.

If Mary followed these tips, she might say to herself "I was a mess before. I sensed something was wrong but I didn't have solid evidence – so I doubted myself and I remained  passive. I was anxious and depressed. When I realized that I have a right to know, to have my questions answered, that I don't have to passively live with my doubts, I felt much stronger, much better. My  mind could relax even as it went on a hunt for answers. I no longer doubted myself. My anxiety lifted. I didn't have to remain in the dark. I was in full gear. When I found out that my husband was a closet  drinker and that he was having multiple affairs, I didn't swim in self-doubts. I didn't waste my energy thinking `Maybe it's me. Maybe I was driving him away with my questions. Maybe I was too sensitive or imagining things.' Instead I thought – `He is wrong! I don't deserve to be treated like this. I deserve respect.' "

When you have doubts about someone, become a detective and pursue your clues. In doing this, you win the major battle – you are respecting yourself, your own mind, and you are working to protect your happiness.