At some point in the course of your life, you have probably heard someone say, “Just trust yourself.” While we may agree this is a good idea, it can be hard to understand and even harder to do. What does trusting yourself even mean? And what does it look like to bridge the gap between self-doubt and confident trust? Let’s start with what it means to trust.
The dictionary’s definition of trust is as follows: a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. Trust is, in part, about belief. We believe someone will follow through with what they promise, so we trust them. We believe that a website is reputable, so we trust the information we find on it. Maybe we trust our parents or loved ones to show up when we need them. This can be applied to many situations. Trusting yourself, then, is in part about believing yourself to be reliable. Can you reliably discern your emotions, gut instincts, and intuition or are you constantly second-guessing yourself when it comes to decision making?
Trust, whether with yourself or someone else, often takes time to develop and can sometimes feel messy. So, the first thing that you need to give yourself is time. If you were dating someone new, you’d want to give yourself enough time to discern whether that person can be trusted. You would likely engage in a lot of conversations, ask a lot of questions, take note of their patterns, spend regular time with them, etc. In the same way, you must spend time with yourself, ask yourself questions, and begin to notice patterns. In short, you must become familiar with yourself!
It’s important to create space for the deeper and truer parts of ourselves to emerge, which takes patience and intentionality. We often live with a surface-level knowledge of ourselves – we know exactly how we like our coffee, what our ideal vacation looks like, what kinds of hobbies we enjoy, etc. But have we become sensitized to what joy feels like in our body? Sadness? Anger? Regret? Fear? Peace? Can we identify when something just feels “off?” Can we make decisions based on the information our bodies and nervous systems give us? Understanding who you are and how you process emotion is an important part of developing self-trust. It can be difficult to clearly see or understand who we truly are when barriers, such as addictions, attachments, or traumatic experiences cloud our sense of self. Our core self, which is sturdy amid the currents of life, can help navigate us through decision making. Understanding those things that have clouded or silenced our core self is an important part of this process.
What comes up for you when you think of self-trust? Is there a specific event, season, or decision that has caused you to lose trust in yourself? Maybe you made what you perceive to be a bad decision about a relationship or a career, which has caused you to question your ability to choose things that are healthy for you. It may be for good reason that we cannot trust ourselves at times. We have perhaps made choices that have caused us or others harm. This is part of the human condition and can’t be avoided! We will not always make all the best choices; we will sometimes abandon ourselves or hurt others. Trusting yourself does not mean perfection. It does not mean that 100% of the time you get it right. It is a continual process of learning and relearning, because we are always changing and growing.
Self-trust does not mean an absence of doubt in the same way that faith does not require us to be without doubt. It is unrealistic to think that we can always 100% trust ourselves without any doubt, and that is not the goal. But self-trust does mean that we are capable of believing ourselves. Not just believing in ourselves, but believing ourselves. Do we believe our emotions? Do we believe they are valid and take them seriously? Do we believe our needs are valid or do we tend to dismiss what arises within us? We believe a bridge will carry us across the water, so we drive on it. We believe our emotions are valid, so we act (or don’t act) on them.
Oftentimes we make decisions that aren’t right for us because we aren’t paying attention to what’s happening inside of us. We are on autopilot. We do what others want, what we think we should do, or what a past version of ourselves might do. There are some very simple ways we can begin to develop a more curious relationship with ourselves, which can lead to greater self-awareness and self-trust:
Presence. Start by giving yourself 10-20 minutes/day to just be with yourself without distractions. Get in a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. Maybe grab a journal if writing helps you stay present. Soft instrumental music might also help you enter into this moment. When you really want to get to know someone, you give them your full attention. This is one way to move beyond our surface-level knowledge of ourselves and others. When we become silent and still, which is no small feat, we often begin to notice the movements of our heart and mind. It may take some time to settle into ourselves and it may feel very uncomfortable, especially if we do not want to look at what is actually happening on a deeper level. There may be resistance to even entering into this first stage of presence, which is often why we do not want to put down our phones, laptops, or to-do lists. We fill our lives with distractions because we do not want to see what is underneath it all, but that is the only way of knowing yourself and trusting yourself. To choose to be present to yourself is an act of courage.
Listen. The gift of presence is that it allows us to listen in a more nuanced way. It may take several minutes for your mind to stop racing, and that’s okay. You do not need to be in a completely zen state of mind – you just need curiosity. When you’re ready, begin to ask yourself: How am I feeling? What am I carrying? What am I noticing about how my body feels? What am I worrying about? What brings me joy? Just notice without making any judgments about what it means. You can either take a mental note here or jot something down in your journal or on a piece of paper.
Believe. Once you have noticed what’s happening on a deeper level, repeat this to yourself either out loud or silently: I see you. I believe you. I hear you. You may even want to write it down. This is the practice of believing your experience. It is an intentional moment where you allow yourself to be seen by yourself. You notice your feelings and you choose not to dismiss them. You may not feel seen or understood by those closest to you, but you can choose to believe your own internal experience. Remember, belief is essential in this process of developing self-trust. This means that you do not need to argue with yourself. When noticing a fear, you do not need to mentally respond with “well but I shouldn’t feel that way because…” or “stop being so sensitive, it’s not a big deal.” The practice of believing ourselves is about accepting what is true, not what we wish to be true. The truth is, I am feeling…I am longing for…I am afraid of. Choosing to accept your experience regardless of external validation helps you develop a more secure and trusting relationship with yourself.
Assess. Given your internal experience, which you have deemed valid, is there anything that you need to pay closer attention to? Oftentimes, we want to trust ourselves because we want to know how to act, how to live, how to decide, how to be in the world. Based on the things that came up in the previous step, is there anything that you think needs more attention? Maybe you noticed anxiety around a certain relationship or decision, or maybe you found yourself feeling excited about the hope of a new job idea. Whatever it is – spend some time reflecting and/or writing about that particular thing. Is there a shift that needs to occur? How might the information you received about yourself inform your life moving forward?
Trust. This is the part where you act. We trust people based on their actions, not based on their thoughts or feelings. We notice our thoughts and feelings, believe them, assess them, and then have the opportunity to act from a place of inner knowing. The more we live from that centered and convicted place, the more we will trust ourselves to act out of that place going forward. Like any relationship, it builds over time.
We often don’t learn how to trust ourselves because we’ve got so much mental and emotional input that we can’t parse through what’s what. At times, we can’t make sense of any of it, so we just plow ahead without really knowing how we got from point A to point B. We are more prone to trust that which is clear; a website that has clear information will feel reliable. As you gain clarity about yourself, you are more likely to trust yourself to make decisions grounded in what you know to be true. We cannot guess the twists and turns that we will inevitably face, but we are capable of living from a place of inner conviction and deep self-knowledge. This process is always shifting as we change and attune ourselves more sensitively to the inner movements of the mind and heart.
Return to this practice as often as you are able. We are constantly receiving new information and our bodies are constantly trying to integrate new things as we move through life. Do not hesitate to reach out to a therapist if you need help understanding and trusting yourself. We are all in process and we are not meant to walk the road alone; sometimes the things that cause us to doubt ourselves are too painful to look at on our own. Feel free to schedule online or call 267-662-1800 to schedule an appointment with a therapist at The Center for Growth.