Many of us have experienced trust issues at some point in our lives.
Sometimes it is caused by a parent who always forgot your soccer team playoffs after promising to attend or the high school frenemy that talked you into dumping your boyfriend, only to swoop him up for herself. It could stem from your college roommate, who talked you into getting a truly awful lower back tattoo when trashed one night or the boss who took all of the credit for your hard work on a major project.
Between rallying cries about alleged “fake news” and worrying about COVID-19 exposure from others, it feels like public distrust has reached new heights these days. But none of that compares to the serious funk that descends when the person you really distrust is yourself.
“One of the things that is so hard about not trusting yourself is that you become literally stuck in self-doubt,” said Clinical Psychologist Kristina Hallett, PhD, ABPP. “That’s the bottom line. And when I think about self-doubt, I believe that is fully connected to the concept of feeling not good enough. If we took all of the problems in the world that people have, put them in a colander and strain them, what would be left is some version of ‘I’m not good enough’ at the core of everything.”
However, it does not have to be that way any longer. If you are ready to overcome self-doubt, here are four ways to build greater trust with yourself:
Yes, your body is still pulling in oxygen when you are not trying. When facing a situation that causes you to doubt yourself though, the first step is to slow down and consciously take a breath.
“That is because all of these other things, whether it’s self-doubt, anxiety, depression, whatever you want to call it, means that your limbic system and your amygdala is activated,” explained Hallett. “And as soon as you are activated into fight, flight or freeze, then it is much harder to make a cogent database decision.”
“Taking a couple of really slow, deep breaths from deep in the diaphragm tells our limbic system that you are not in immediate danger of being eaten by a predator which then lets our prefrontal cortex, or our thinking brain, to start assessing the situation,” she continued. “Taking those breaths grounds you in the present moment.”
2. Practice self-compassion.
Have you found that constantly beating yourself up and second-guessing decisions seems to make everything worse? It is time to bring on some self-compassion, being honest yet kind with yourself when assessing a circumstance.
“Trusting yourself is only going to come when you’re able to see yourself and treat yourself with self-compassion,” said Hallett.
Practicing self-compassion proved to be transformative for Candice Smith. An award-winning, Harvard-educated sex expert and educator specializing in intimate communication, she is the co-founder of Tango, a wellness company that shows other couples how to build intentional, healthy, and playful intimacy into their relationships with experiential kits. So it was surprising to learn that Smith did not trust herself for years when it came to intimate relationships.
Growing up, she did not have any sex education or role models for healthy intimacy. Smith became sexually active at age 16 but didn’t know how to advocate for herself. When sexually assaulted in high school, she blamed herself for enticing the guy. As a result, Smith had deeply unhealthy intimate relationships in my twenties.
“My body essentially became a weapon that I used against myself,” she said. “Sex was a way that I expressed that I needed love, but it wasn’t a way that I expressed love.”
Recognizing her lack of trust in this area, Smith dove into research on arousal and pleasure. It became clear that she had not learned how to heal from her unresolved trauma and baggage from the past. Adopting a kinder, more compassionate attitude towards herself, Smith sought help from a therapist.
“It really started to help me unpack a lot of toxic patterns that I was unaware of,” she explained. “My heart and mind were in the right place. I had a mission to learn how to love myself so that I could love others and love more fully in the bedroom and outside of the bedroom.”
Understanding her triggers and resulting behaviors helped Smith stop the self-sabotage. Today she proactively advocates for herself in intimate relationships, her career and all aspects of life.
3. Take a third-person perspective.
Dropping self-judgment allows you to gain more freedom. Taking a third-party perspective, like a benevolent yet emotionally uninvolved bystander glancing at your life, can help.
Hallett cites the example of asking for a raise. Rather than trying to talk yourself out of the ask or question the worthiness of your contribution, Hallett says to drop the judgment and go to the data like a third-party would.
Dispassionately look at what the job entails, how long you have held it, accomplishments in the role, your last raise and more rather than assuming the company cannot reward your efforts because of the economy or other factors. Getting into that mindset will help you more successfully negotiate the salary increase you deserve.
4. Listen to your voice first.
Everybody has an opinion. The one that counts the most in your life though is your own. Rather than constantly soliciting the advice of others before acting, see what rings most true to you as the starting point.
Hallett shares that over 20 years ago, she spotted a bright yellow Nissan Xterra and thought it was beautiful. She really wanted to purchase one, but her husband and friends talked her out of it, saying she would get sick of the color. “Not only did I not get the car, but I knew I was doing it because of other people’s opinions,” Hallett said. “I was very well aware of that.”
But the car stayed at the forefront of her mind for years. The next time Hallett needed a new car, she tried to find that vehicle and learned the company had stopped making them. A few months later, she came out of a hockey game and saw a bright yellow Jeep Renegade in the parking lot. The next day, she leased that same car.
“There was still negative feedback, but the difference was, it didn’t matter,” she added. “Because every time I looked at it, I smiled. For me, it was a happy color. I thought it was really cool and I liked the way it looked.”
How have you built greater trust with yourself?