There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true. ~ Søren Kierkegaard
Most of us, throughout our lives, have doubted our faith in someone or something. Doubt can be defined as feeling uncertain, unsure, distrusting or unconvinced about a person, group of people, idea, belief, and/or situation that is present in our lives.
While doubt and suspicion is a normal and healthy experience in our lives as inquisitive human beings – to a certain extent! – constant nagging doubt is not only an underlying sickness that we must address, but an experience that often points to a much deeper truth we feel inside, but can’t necessarily verbalize or pinpoint.
Unfortunately, when you search for the words “faith and doubt” on a casual internet search, you come up with a lot of articles and websites dedicated to “helping you fight doubt and reclaim your faith”, rather than helping you to sit down, analyze it, and get to the core of what is making you feel so uncomfortable and distrustful. Most of what I have read on faith and doubt doesn’t actually help you go to the root of your decision and listen to what your own gut feelings, and even logic, is trying to tell you.
On my own quest to understand why I was feeling so chronically doubtful about my religious convictions, I came across various nauseating and unhelpful notions that were frequently repeated everywhere I looked:
- “Faith is a fight.”
- “Doubt is essential to faith.”
- “Doubt makes your faith stronger.”
- “You just need to find more encouragement!”
- “Don’t listen to doubt!”
- “Doubt is a lie that the devil/Satan/corrupt influence is trying to pollute you with!”
As I discovered slowly, none of these superficial solutions truly made my doubts dissolve, and in fact, actually exacerbated my disbelief in the long term once the shiny quick-fix veneer crumbled away.
So how healthy is your doubt, what is the source of it, and how can you fix it? Below you will learn from my own personal discoveries and hard-earned solutions.
How “Healthy” Is Your Doubt?
As intelligent, questioning human beings who are trying to determine what to trust, what to value, and what to commit to, it is healthy to feel apprehension, indecision and wavering confidence every now and then in our search for the truthful, the reliable and the personally fulfilling.
However, unhealthy doubt often comes as a result of already committing to, or emotionally investing, into a belief, perception, way of life, person, and/or group of people that we later question for one reason or another.
Doubt becomes unhealthy when it is chronic, when it is unshakeable, and when it looms in the backgrounds of our lives. In my experience, chronic unhealthy doubt is typically characterized by the following:
- Unwavering doubt, suspicion, skepticism, distrust or uncertainty.
- A constant sense of fear related to the belief, perception, situation, person and/or group of people.
- An accompanying sense of guilt and/or shame for feeling such mistrust.
- Emotional restlessness. Usually, this involves heightened irritability, moodiness, and/or depression.
- In extreme and prolonged cases, unhealthy doubt can result in psychosomatic illnesses such as high blood pressure, chronic anxiety or fatigue, depression, weight loss or weight gain, phobias, fibromyalgia and other neuroses.
Re-read over this list carefully. Does it ring true to your experience right now in life? Chances are that if you find yourself reading this article, you are most likely experiencing unhealthy levels of doubt already. But with persistence we can get to the bottom of it – stay with me!
What Is the Source of Your Doubt?
The source of your doubt can widely vary, but in general, it falls under the following categories:
- Doubt in the honesty, truthfulness or sincerity of an idea, belief, situation, people and/or group of people.
- Doubt in the validity of your form of faith, e.g. how realistic, how practical, how factual, how applicable, and/or how probable it seems.
- Doubt in the benevolence of your form of faith, e.g. how altruistic, compassionate, good-willed or humane it seems.
In my experience, unhealthy doubt is often composed of elements from all three categories … which makes it all the more crippling and malignant.
Next, in order to heal the root cause of your doubt, you must identify what is making you question the core of your faith or convictions. To do this, sit for a while meditating on the above three categories. Then, get a pen and paper, or even just a computer Wordpad/Notepad document up, and list up to 5 things that disturb or worry you about your faith or belief (and if you can come up with more than 5, do so!) For example, you might write something similar to what I wrote:
- How can the majority of people around me be destined to burn for eternity in “hell”?
- How can my God order the murder of babies, destruction of innocent unbelieving villages, and the rape of women?
- I doubt that my belief is “the one true path” to salvation or happiness.
- I doubt the truth of a religion that promotes division and constant fear of punishment.
- The people I go to church with seem small-minded, sanctimonious and judgmental.
List your doubts and accept the possibility that you might feel silly, guilty or sound irrelevant at first. Later, upon further analysis and meditation, you will see the value in your 5 points once you have given yourself more time to come to terms with how, what and why you feel the way you do.
How Can You Overcome Doubt?
I struggled through an intense period of doubt for 2 years of my life. Not pretty at all. However, in that time, through trial and error, I did learn not only how to overcome self-deception, but also how to feel more happiness, trust and a sense of self-fulfillment in life.
So how can you overcome doubt? The following points will help you on your journey:
1. Are You Being Unreasonable?
Are your thoughts and feelings unfounded? The answer: most likely not! If you are experiencing chronic and persistent levels of doubt, the truth, more often than not, is that something is not adding up, something is missing, and something is “fishy”. Your quest is to discover what that is, in other words, what doesn’t feel right about the idea, belief, situation, person or group of people.
A good way to do this is by considering what you value the most in life, e.g. sincerity, kindness, transparency, open-mindedness, honesty, loyalty, plausibility, integrity, and so forth. What is it about your faith/belief/allegiance that is not sharing your true values, or actually contradicting them?
2. Learn to Trust Yourself.
In a society that promotes the sickly and self-destructive values of distrust, denial and even disdain towards oneself, it can be difficult to truly value and listen to that place of deep inner knowing within us – our gut feelings, or intuition. Ask yourself, what is so bad or untruthful about listening to yourself, and valuing what you have to say, think and feel? After all, without learning how to love yourself first it is impossible to love others, and a large component of self-love is trust in oneself and receptivity to ones intuition.
3. Take a Step Back and Explore Other Avenues.
Remove yourself from your place within the trees to see the whole forest – in other words, explore different paths, different perspectives and different avenues of experience. This will help you to develop a broader perspective of your problem and gain a “bird’s eye perspective”.
Resist the temptation to go down your usual traditional path of “answer seeking”, and you will open doors you never knew existed that will help to either confirm or deny your doubts. For example, in my case, instead of turning to the scripture to soothe my doubts (which by the way was completely ineffective and self-defeating), I got up the courage to explore different beliefs and perspectives, from other religious texts, to philosophical and spiritual practices.
If you are doubting your faith and trust in a close friend of yours for example, try seeking alternative perspective, e.g. from trusted family members, colleagues, therapists, and even internet discussion boards. Limiting your options only intensifies the cycle of your doubt.
4. Accept the Result.
Doubt is so painful because it leaves us sitting on the fence, not knowing what direction we should take. It leaves our lives at a standstill. But doubt is our responsibility to analyze and explore, and once we do reach a conclusion, even if only a tentative one, we need to accept the result.
If something looks wrong, sounds wrong and feels wrong, or any combination of these, chances are it is most likely wrong and incompatible with who we are, and what we truly need. Accept that you are wrong – or right – and move on, making the necessary changes, however painful or not they are. Resistance to your conclusions will only breed more suffering.
Faith and doubt can be unsettling, disturbing, and even terrifying. But remember that while a bit of doubt in life is natural, constant doubt is unhealthy and needs to be addressed honestly. Often, chronic doubt is a sign that you are not on the right path, or someone or something really can’t be trusted. So listen to yourself and value your instincts.
Any thoughts, advice or experiences on this topic? Please share!