The 4 Ways Your Self-Doubt is Showing Up + Using Experiments to Build Self-Belief

Stephanie Wasylyk
7 min readJun 14, 2022

“I said no to something! I was invited to dinner with some friends, but I said no because it was our last night on holiday and I wanted to try a new restaurant instead.”

This report came from a proud client who, historically, was terrified of offending people, so she would bend over backwards to make clients (and friends, family, even strangers) happy.

I could see the sense of relief on her face and hear it in her voice, because nothing came back to haunt her after this act of speaking up for her own wants.

This is the power of experiments.

I’ve written before about self-doubt and the concept of an Inner Protector. This is a part of you that’s there to keep you safe from perceived psychological risk. We all have this part of us, it’s completely normal, and also sometimes downright frustrating! Your Protector has the best of intentions, but it can often get in the way of you doing something you really want to do.

One way to help your Protector along is to teach it a new belief. As you can imagine, that isn’t something that happens overnight! Your Protector is smart and will use every tool at its disposal to keep you from doing the thing you want to do. So, to teach it a new belief, we need to give it some new evidence. This evidence isn’t exactly meant to prove them wrong, but rather to add nuance to the belief and make it less black and white.

This is where experiments come in to play. If we run little, low-risk experiments, we can add colour to the belief and build our self-belief, self-trust, self-acceptance, and self-worth.

The Four Faces of the Protector

This framework is called The Four Faces of the Protector, and was developed by Sas Petherick who trained me to be a self-belief coach. You can learn more about her and her work here.

It can be helpful to first understand what strategy our Protector is using, so we can design an experiment to counteract it. By getting to know how our Protector shows up we can recognize it when it surfaces, and we can better learn how to handle it when it does.

Your Protector likely shows up in one of these four ways, but of course they may act differently in different areas of your life. Instead of thinking of yourself overall as you read these, think of specific situations and track which one showed up at which time.

The Critic

This is the mainstream view of self-doubt. The Critic comes armed against “feeling” too much, and their aim is to be perfect. They fear losing control and not being good enough, so they overwork trying to get things just right. They believe that what they produce is what they’re worth, so they are constantly doing more to prove their worthiness.

The Martyr

You likely think of this as a self-sacrificing parent or caregiver, but The Martyr can show up for any of us. They deeply fear being abandoned, disliked, or having conflict, so they ignore their own needs, saying yes to everything, and exhaust themselves through over-giving. They usually don’t have very firm boundaries and have the belief that they don’t matter as much as other people.

The Bystander

Especially susceptible to “analysis paralysis”, The Bystander is all about waiting for everything to align before taking action. They can stay in research-mode for far too long, confusing themselves with options and delaying making decisions because they’re afraid of making the wrong choice or looking foolish. The Bystander will never have enough information and will continue to search for answers without doing anything.

The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat thinks the world is harder for them than anyone else, so they get overwhelmed and tend to rely on others to get them through it. They feel helpless, can be disorganized, are unable to solve problems, and choose not to try at all. They struggle to keep promises, and fear being held responsible for their actions, so life can feel very chaotic.

A reminder that none of the four faces is better or worse than another, they are not your personality, nor are you forever stuck with one. These are completely normal ways that our Protector uses to keep us safe and knowing about them gives us the ability to make new decisions about how we act and react.

What is an experiment?

Experiments are “simple” little actions you can take to collect data and see what happens if you try something differently. We use experiments to give our Protector new information to work with, and to add colour to its black and white beliefs. Sometimes the experiments seem simple, and intellectually you believe they’re easy, but we can see how powerful our Protector really is when these simple experiments become a challenge.

Designing Experiments for Each of the Four Faces

As you can imagine, each face would necessitate a different type of experiment. One main distinction is that The Critic and the Martyr tend to over function (they already DO so much to keep them safe), therefor we need experiments that encourage them to get in touch with their feelings more. The Bystander and The Scapegoat tend to under function (they stay safe by doing nothing), so we need experiments that encourage them to take action.

Use this chart for ideas:

How to Do an Experiment

Start with this rough structure:

1. We could start by identifying the Protective Belief (that’s a topic for a future article) but often my clients just come to me with some sort of exasperated statement like “I’m just not good with uncertainty” or “I wish I could just say no”

2. Decide what you’ll change your actions to

3. What data will you collect before, during and after each experiment?

4. What are you trying to find out?

So it might look something like this:

I will change my actions to ___ so I can learn if it’s true that___.

Examples of Experiments:

· I will not check email until 9am after I’ve done my exercise to see if it’s true that my business will fail if I don’t answer emails immediately.

· I will share my opinion when I’m asked for it (like “what do you want for dinner?”) to see if it’s true that it’s safe to ask for what I want.

· I will follow up when invoices pass their due date to see if it’s true that clients will get mad at me.

· I will do small things that I’m uncertain about to see if I can move forward without a lot of data.

· I will take opportunities to say ‘no’ if I don’t agree or don’t want to do something to see if it’s true that I can’t put my needs first.

· I will take time out of my day to draw instead of work to see if it’s true that working more and working harder produces a better product.

· I will notice when clients are upset and see if I be content, even when a client is unhappy.

Tips for Your Experiments:

· Keep the experiments small — something that doesn’t feel too scary, something you’ll actually do

· Make them frequent — the more data we collect, the better

· Try them for a certain amount of time (maybe 2 weeks or whatever makes sense) so it seems doable

· Make them fun or silly when possible — this is the best way to disarm your Protector

· Be sure to collect data and reflect for each instance of your experiment. Notice what comes up, what you resist, why you do or don’t do the experiment, etc. ALL data is useful data. Not doing the experiment gives us just as much information as actually doing it.

Remember, the point of the experiment isn’t just to “do” the experiment. Regardless of if you do it or not, it’s the data you collect that’s important and helps thicken the narrative for your Protector.

Finally, you should know The Critic showed up big time for me while writing this, mixed with a little Scapegoat. My Protector really wanted me to get this article “right” and not leave anything out so you could understand it and so I don’t look stupid. I had physical resistance writing this, where I had to force myself to just get on with it. I kept taking breaks, flipping to other screens, and procrastinating doing any more work on it. I even told at least 3 people that writing this was sooooo hard today. Meaty, information-heavy topics like this really activate my Protector. But each week I write, which is my own experiment. I need to thicken the narrative that if I share my knowledge, thoughts, and feelings, I’ll be criticized and I’ll look bad. It’s probably true sometimes, but not all the time like my Protector would have me believe. Some days are easier than others, but I just keep experimenting.

If you’d like some help designing experiments for yourself, or navigating the Four Faces of your Protector (among other things), let’s talk. Doing this alone is very likely to bring up even more protective bahaviours like procrastination, perfectionism, avoidance, and more, so it can be helpful to have another set of eyes on it. You can book a (free) gift session with me here and get an experience of what coaching with me is really like.