Do you have an inner voice whose criticism stops you speaking up at work, giving public presentations or asking for a pay rise?

If so – you’re not alone.

Our recent public survey found that more than half of women said their self-esteem impacts their day-to-day choices and stops them from seeking new opportunities.

So our therapists have shared tips for women on how to manage their self-doubt and thrive in the workplace.

You’re not an imposter!

“It’s important to remember that even the most seemingly confident colleagues may be suffering inside and exhausting themselves with masking and getting through the day,” says Dee Johnson, therapist and BACP member.

“The constant pressure, in an aggressive and competitive environment, to be the best, keep your job and status is all driven by fear. And when the healthy and good stress that we need to drive us and up the ante becomes a crippling and destructive fear we need to seek help and support.”

Dee suggests keeping a journal that reflects the facts vs the fiction of the imposter voice in your head.

“You are not a magical creature that can read other people’s thoughts, particularly when you have convinced yourself that people are thinking you’re useless,” she adds.

Our member Nicola Saunders, an integrative counsellor, agrees it’s important to remember that your thoughts and beliefs about yourself are not facts.

“They’re simply a product of information you may have received from the people around you, and then you focus on evidence to support the theory. By default, we then behave in a way that continues supporting the theory,” she says.

“For example, suppose we believe that we are not good enough to stand in a room full of people and deliver a presentation. In that case, we are unlikely to seek out opportunities to do something like that, and therefore, this reinforces our belief that we are not good enough.”

What does confidence look like?

BACP member and counsellor Pallvi Dave thinks it’s important to consider what images we conjure up when we put the words, women/confidence/workplace, together.

When we think about women’s confidence at work are we talking about the defined meaning or are we talking about what we might have observed growing up, or what society or cultural norms have determined?                                                                                                                                                                                     

“Whose definition have we internalised and if necessary, how easily can we detach from it?  If this is where the sticking point is, how are women supposed to feel confident in the workplace if they do not know what confidence looks like in a way that feels meaningful.”

Dee recommends visualisation techniques: “They really do help! What we focus on really does grow, so start imaging a confident you, being good at what you do - but not perfect, that’s a whole other issue!”

Don’t self-sabotage – believe in yourself

“Inner confidence is a deep-rooted sense of self from within, it’s more than self-belief, visualising and affirmations,” says BACP member and counsellor Catherine Gallacher.

"It’s when we’re prepared, in the moment being present, fully engaged, feeling safe, knowledgeable, mindful of our inner self-talk and managing our feelings of self-doubt.

“When you learn your triggers, how you sometimes self-sabotage success and confidence, it’s easier to reframe your experiences more readily for success.

“Believe you are worthy, make things work for you. Being your own best champion is key to self-confidence.”

Nicola agrees that the thought of placing ourselves in a situation that could reinforce that we are ‘not good enough’, can be enough to prevent us from exploring opportunities or taking a leap of faith.

“The fear of being rejected and for others to think we are not good enough is just too overwhelming. Therefore, we can retreat to a place of safety and don’t do it. Imagine what it would feel like to take the stage, even though it’s scary, and come off knowing that you did it!

“The more we do scary things, the more comfortable we become. Look at your list of the good things you believe about yourself and repeat those to yourself every day, multiple times a day.”

Manage your inner critic

“Check how you speak about yourself”, says Dee,there’s a good chance it’s not great – the negative and detrimental words can flow so easily.

“Such as, ‘I am rubbish, useless, pathetic, unattractive etc’, and we become what we repeat, we start to believe that internal bullying down talk, and in turn tell other people this, almost give them permission to see us that way even if we present it in a ‘jokey’ way.”

If it feels a bit cringey to start doing daily positive affirmations Dee recommends just silencing the inner critic.

“Simply put, if you cannot say anything nice about yourself, don’t say anything!”

Nicola says thinking we’re not good enough prevents us from taking a leap of faith and exploring new opportunities.

“The fear of being rejected and for others to think we are not good enough is just too overwhelming. Therefore, we retreat to a place of safety and don’t do it. Imagine what it would feel like to take the stage, even though it’s scary, and come off knowing that you did it. The more we do scary things, the more comfortable we become.”

Check your language and be heard

Dee says: “Check how much you say ‘fine’ to people when you really are not. People pleasing means you’re training other people to not recognise that you have needs, opinions and want other things.

“Changing these behavioural response takes time and be aware that it may not always go to plan at first, which is ok and to be expected, it’s all about building new skills.”

“Don’t apologise for wanting to speak or ask for something – how many times do you say ‘sorry’ when speaking or making a request? It minimises your value to self and others by being apologetic about yourself. Stop diminishing your voice!”

Need more support

Our self-esteem is like a pendulum; it changes depending on the feedback we receive from others,” says Nicola, “If somebody is critical of us, it plummets, and if somebody is complimentary, it swings the other way and makes us feel good (if we can receive the compliment).

You deserve to see yourself through incredible eyes. If you feel that some support in making these changes would benefit you, please seek help from a professional.”

Dee agrees: “Learn to ask for help, and check out your people pleasing responses, where you put everyone else’s welfare and needs before your own, it can feel really uncomfortable to prioritise your own needs, so you may need to process this with a therapist.”