The Doubt Trap and Veteran Mental Health

 I don’t know what it is about Wednesdays. It always seems to be Wednesday when I doubt myself the most. Maybe because that’s when I have the most time. Too much time, to consider what happened the previous two days or what is going to happen in the next two days. Maybe that’s the true meaning of “hump” day? The highest part of the week, the workday that is equidistant to the solace of the weekend.

What is it about doubt? We can be the most accomplished of professionals, have experience coming out of our ears. There may be certainty and truth to backing up our thoughts, and still we may doubt. I don’t read minds, but I can imagine that there are some of you reading this saying, “No Doubt! No Fear!” You may be fooling yourself, but you’re not fooling me: I know that there is still sometimes a small voice in your mind saying, “Yeah, but…”

Doubt is a natural reaction to uncertainty. We check to see if we’re on the right career path. There are questions about whether or not we’ve done all we could to raise our kids well, or prepared for an event or meeting. We doubt our commitment, our ability, even our sanity at times.

Doubt is a part of our lives, but like other thinking traps, it can bind us so much so as to paralyze us. It’s this over-application of doubt that traps us, makes us stuck and stagnant. Not sure what’s ahead, we tell ourselves, so we might as well not even bother moving forward.

That’s the kind of thing that makes us mission ineffective.

So what purpose does doubt play in our lives? Here are some doubts that I have seen with the veterans I’ve worked with:

We Doubt Our Own Ability

This is not just in veterans, but impostor syndrome is real. It certainly exists in veterans; they can be some of the most accomplished, professional military service members in the world, but will still doubt themselves and their abilities. They could have led a squad in Afghanistan, or a company in Iraq, but there is still something about the unknowns of their post-military life that make them question themselves: “Am I REALLY as squared away as I think I am?

We second guess our career choices, our resume, our clothes. Is it professional enough? Is it neat enough? Does it present the right information, or send the right message? We second guess leaving the military, wishing we were back in, where things made sense. Because that’s one of the problems with doubt: things just don’t make sense. 

We Doubt Our Ability to Deal with Others

“I just don’t know if I can handle this person” is another sentiment I often hear. “Handle” often means coping with the emotions that are generated out of our interactions with them. The other person…our coworkers, students, “civilians” as some veterans describe those who have never served. Anyone who is an “other,” who doesn’t “get it,” who hasn’t “been there.” This may move beyond a doubt into a certainty…I know I can’t handle this person.

What this often means is that we can’t handle ourselves, we lack the awareness there is something within us that might need to change. A way of thinking or some judgement that we can’t let go of. Anyone can “handle” anyone else, but if we think we can’t then that’s true. The trap of “can’t” is just as much a cage as the trap of “doubt,” and is in our control to release.

We Cast Doubt on our Past

“I just don’t know if I did enough.” The shadow of doubt looms large over our past. Was my service enough…I didn’t deploy, I didn’t do what that guy or gal did. I “barely” served or “only” served in peacetime. Disregard the fact that the military is an inherently dangerous occupation at all times, the doubt that we cast over our past can hold us back from moving forward. Make us fell like we’re “less than” capable. When regret and remorse over the past becomes stronger than our motivation to move beyond where we’re currently at, then we are effectively trapped.

We often take events in the past and carry them into the present. The doubts come with additional emotional baggage…guilt, shame, anger. I “should” have done things differently. Again, these traps will keep us focused on the past, rather than being attuned to the present and what’s currently in front of our face. Allowing the past to remain where it is supposed to be…in the past…can relieve us of the doubt that we continue to carry.

We Cast Doubt on our Future

The future is the true unknown. There is no telling what’s going to happen when we get there. Despite the unknown, we stare into the future with burning eyes, willing the truth to reveal itself. We also stare at it with doubting eyes. Am I doing enough, we tell ourselves, is this going to get me where I want to go. Forget the fact that we often don’t know where we want to go; we move forward without a destination just to be moving forward. Instead, we take hesitant steps into the future. We doubt ourselves, doubt those around us, doubt the past. Then we wonder why things are so complicated.

Instead, we can let the future stay where it belongs…in the future. If we focus on doing things well and doing things correctly now, the future will come. We can judge a potential future self negatively, and avoid a potentiality that may or many never happen, and tie ourselves up in knots.

So how do we resolve a crisis of doubt? By assessing whether or not the doubt is necessary, or correct. By remembering the accomplishments of our past. Conquering those doubting thoughts, and stepping out body in spite of them, not hesitating because of them. You can see more on how to overcome doubt by checking out this post. It might just add some certainty to your Wednesday.

The Head Space and Timing Blog is supported by the Colorado Veterans Health and Wellness Agency, a 501(c)3 Nonprofit in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The goal of the CVHWA is to provide military culturally competent mental health counseling to veterans and their spouses, regardless of characterization of discharge, time of service, or era of service. Our vision is to assist veterans to identify and remove barriers to their mental, physical, emotional, and behavioral wellness. For questions or inquiries, contact us!

Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

Leave a Reply, comments are moderated and individually approved.