My heart sank into my stomach, painful and stabbing all the way down. My guts twisted so tightly that I couldn’t breathe.
I watched my nine-year-old boy, despondent on the sofa, head hanging low with tears streaming down his face. The end of my relationship had hit him so hard. After my last personal disaster, I’d promised myself I would make better life choices. It wasn’t only me now—I had my son to think of, too.
But I hadn’t made better choices at all and now we were both suffering.
My lack of self-trust was kicking my ass. Most of my major life decisions seemed to blow up—my old defense of blaming other people or bad luck wasn’t working anymore. For the first time, I was willing to accept responsibility for the poor choices that repeatedly put me in the path of disaster—and with that came the painful realization that I didn’t trust myself to make better ones.
Not trusting yourself sucks. It’s a miserable feeling wrapped in shame with a shiny silver bow on top—because we don’t dare show our lack of self-trust to others. That’s a dysfunctional secret we’d rather keep to ourselves.
I also didn’t have a handle on what self-trust even was. Trust is a big word that had little meaning to me. But I knew I’d have to figure it out to develop the self-trust I’d been lacking. Unfortunately, I had no f*cking clue how to do that.
It was a short time later that I came across Brené Brown’s SuperSoul Session with Oprah Winfrey: “The Anatomy of Trust.” She simply and powerfully breaks down trust into digestible elements using the acronym B-R-A-V-I-N-G. She discusses it in the context of relationships, but I applied it to learning self-trust, and it would profoundly change my life.
Trust begins with boundaries. Not only do we need clear boundaries around the behaviors we’ll accept from others, but more importantly what we’ll accept from ourselves.
Many of us have allowed ourselves to be treated poorly—by others and by ourselves. We haven’t advocated for our own needs and we’ve placed the needs of others ahead of our own. We’re left feeling disconnected, wounded, angry, and resentful. We know we deserve better, but don’t do what’s necessary to get it.
The best way to develop self-trust is to learn how to say “no.” Boundaries are f*cking hard to learn—but it’s perfectly healthy to let people know when something doesn’t work for us. Whether we need more time for ourselves personally or professionally, boundaries are what allow us to take care of our needs.
When we make choices to take care of ourselves, doing it once in a while isn’t going to cut it. We don’t need to be perfect, but we do need to be consistent—that’s what reliability is all about. It’s also learning to manage how much we take on, both professionally and personally. The risk is that we take on so much that we can’t follow through and our reliability takes a hit.
For the people-pleasers and perfectionists among us, this can be a challenge. But it’s a critical skill to learn to develop the self-trust we want.
Speaking of perfection, we need to give that sh*t up. We’re going to make mistakes, and we’ve got to allow ourselves to make them. As a perfectionist, I learned that perfection was the only way to keep my self-esteem afloat. Living that way comes with a tremendous amount of pressure, and when we fall short of perfection, we can be brutally hard on ourselves—judging ourselves much more harshly than we’d ever judge someone else.
While perfection doesn’t build trust, accountability does. We own our mistakes when we make them, and make amends to set things right. It’s a wonderfully human cycle that repeats throughout our lives. Holding ourselves accountable is vulnerable and honest.
It’s all we’d ask from anyone else, so it should be all we ask of ourselves.
Are we trustworthy with people’s stories?
We’ve all made the mistake of sharing something that wasn’t ours to share. Someone has trusted us with their story, and we’ve not honored that trust. We understand how that affects trust with another person.
What we don’t often think about is how we honor ourselves when we share our own stories.
We’ve also made the painful mistake of sharing our stories with those who weren’t worthy of hearing them. For different reasons, we gave our stories away and were hurt badly. It’s a cruel irony, but our self-trust gets battered at the hands of those truly untrustworthy.
“Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: ‘Who has earned the right to hear my story?'” ~ Brené Brown
If we can learn to share with the people worthy of our vulnerability, our trust in ourselves and others will grow.
We can’t trust ourselves if we don’t act from a place of integrity.
This means practicing our values, not just professing them. When we act on what we believe is right even in the face of extreme discomfort, we’re acting in integrity. It’s not easy to choose what’s right over what’s convenient or easy, but that’s exactly when integrity matters most.
I’ve always had trouble asking for help—I thought it was a sign of weakness. I’ve gone down with too many ships because I was unwilling to ask for help.
A big part of self-trust is learning to be vulnerable with ourselves first. That means allowing ourselves to struggle, fall apart, cry, and reach out for help without judging ourselves harshly.
I had it backward. I thought less of people for needing help, and less of myself too. I hadn’t yet learned that vulnerability is actually a superpower, but I know it now.
We can credit ourselves for doing the best we can, or we can pick ourselves apart for every misstep we make.
Do we allow that we’re doing the best we can at any given time? When we give ourselves the most generous interpretation of our actions and intentions, we show ourselves the empathy and compassion that build trust.
B-R-A-V-I-N-G is a life changer. The revelation that trust is built during all the small and seemingly insignificant moments changed my life. The universe presents us with countless opportunities to show up for ourselves each day and build trust—all we have to do is take them.
There’s nothing we can’t learn to do for ourselves. We deserve to feel whole and healed by meeting our own needs and taking care of ourselves.
The work might be hard and uncomfortable sometimes, but it can transform our lives. So let’s be brave, stand up for ourselves, and go for it. We’ve got this.
“I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me, ‘I love you.’…There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” ~ Maya Angelou