“If you can’t trust me, who can you trust?” When I was growing up, that’s what our sketchy neighbor Mr. Dillard used to say all the time. Even as a kid I remember thinking, “I bet he doesn’t even trust himself.” I know I didn’t.
A friend of mine made a really bad decision recently. He did it for all the right reasons, though. He was seeking connection, love and a meaningful relationship. Despite warning signs, he misled himself and got into a mess with an alcoholic narcissist who trashed his heart and tried to undermine everything he believed about himself. Luckily, he realized his mistake fairly quickly and got outta there.
It broke my heart when he said to me one day, a month or so later, “I don’t trust myself anymore.” We learn to trust ourselves gradually over time. We have to forgive, love, and be compassionate to ourselves. So many people I know treat everyone else in their lives better than they treat themselves. Give yourself a break, and learn to trust yourself.
When we trust ourselves, we can trust our decisions. Sam trusted himself when he took the plunge with the wrong woman, and then he stopped trusting. He had to regain his own faith in himself… and he did. He knew that ultimately the best person to make the right decisions for him is him. No one else can do that for him. Is he going to be right 100% of the time? No. Neither are you. Neither am I.
But allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes. We learn nothing in life if we never take risks, never trip and fall, never stray off the path and get back up. Don’t beat yourself up for those mistakes. Instead, thank yourself and your foul-up—whatever it is—for the lesson it taught you. Approach every moment with the gratitude it deserves for helping you along the path called life.
What turns your desire to trust yourself into an everyday reality? Work on the following steps.
- Disarm your inner critic. Your inner voice can be your friend… or not. Turn it into an ally, rather than a sabotaging, undermining critic. First, notice the way your mind works, with 60,000 thoughts per day, and at least 40,000 of those are repetitive. Listen in. Do you hear the negative buzz that you can so easily create with casual, but harmful, self-talk? “I’m an idiot”—when you forgot your wallet at home. Really? An idiot? Or just a normal human, perhaps…. “I’ll never get a date”—when the first three women you asked out said they were busy. Are you sure that means it’s hopeless? Probably not. Don’t judge yourself by saying, “Wow I’m an idiot loser for having so many negative thoughts,” but instead just notice them and the feelings they produce. Then label the feelings. This allows you to distance yourself and observe them without participating in the negative thoughts and feelings. Banish that not-helpful critic and invite another voice in. A voice that will reframe those thoughts into something empowering to move you forward.
- Get to the root of how you feel. Sometimes negative thoughts are particularly disturbing or crippling. Beyond the “I’m an idiot” thoughts that do enough damage as it is, there are some that strike at the very core of your being, and keep you stuck in negative patterns and habits of mind and action. Dig deeper when you identify those thoughts. What do they reveal about beliefs you have about yourself? Work on rewriting those beliefs. Blow that negative thought out of the water by turning it into a positive affirmation. “I’m not loveable” becomes “I am worthy of love.” Say it. Mean it. Every day. Be aware: Denying your thoughts and feelings will give your inner critic a smorgasbord to feast on. What we resist persists so it is best to deal with them head on.
- Take responsibility. Whatever your past decisions were, and whatever their consequences, good or bad, own them. And honor them. And forgive yourself, if needed. Maybe you need to make amends to someone you hurt. “I’m sorry that I disappeared. You did not deserve that.” Then forgive yourself. Just as important is to make amends with yourself: “I don’t deserve to be put down by myself for the stumble that led me into that bad situation.” Then forgive yourself.
- Live in alignment with your core values. Your integrity is the thing that makes you worthy of trust. Stay true to it.
- Practice unconditional love… with yourself. The understanding, compassion, and kindness that comes from unconditional love is what you deserve from yourself at all times. You love your dog even if he pukes on the bed. You love your child even if she fails a history quiz. Can you please just do that for yourself? You’re human, after all.
- Develop and keep personal boundaries. Doing so is part of honoring yourself. Sam realizes now that by plunging into a relationship with a woman he suspected to be petulant and unreliable he was not honoring himself or his boundaries. (If you find you need to rationalize your choice to let someone in… look closely at what you are doing.)
- Pay attention to your gut. Whatever you want to call it: your intuition, your vision, inner wisdom—you have a sense of “knowing” that is felt rather than thought. Do not dismiss it. (Sam now sees how systematically he refused to pay heed to that sick feeling in his gut.) Honor your inner wisdom, because it is part of you, and has your best interests at heart.
- Look at yourself from a different perspective. For example: how would your best friend treat you right now? If she or he would be nicer to you than you are being to yourself, that’s a clue that you need to readjust your default mode to “love yourself.”
- Practice self-honesty. Self-trust requires—demands—self-honesty as much as it does self-love. Don’t kid yourself. Don’t negotiate terms with yourself. Don’t fudge the truth with yourself. If you can’t count on yourself to tell you the truth, that’s a problem.
- Eliminate toxic relationships. Seems obvious, but it’s hard to do sometimes. But no one has the right to put you down, take advantage of you, manipulate you, or question your worth. If someone in your life is doing that, kick ‘em to the curb and honor yourself as you deserve.
- Pursue what is right for you. And who gets to decide what that is? You!
- Keep your promises to yourself. Did you promise yourself that after working twelve hours a day, seven days a week, you’d take two days off? Don’t break that promise or you’ll be bitter and fall into victim mode. You won’t be able to trust yourself next time you make a promise like that.
- Reward yourself. You will never regret taking that weekend fishing trip with your buddies. You may regret not doing it, though. If you quit smoking, landed a new job, turned your negative thinking into affirmative self-loving thoughts—whatever the accomplishment, honor yourself for it and accept the reward you offer. And you know what? Reward yourself just for being you. No terms and conditions necessary aside from that.
If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust? Remember the relationship you have with yourself is the most important. All your other relationships depend on its success.