“Everyone in your life has the potential of betraying you,” said Cynthia Wall, LCSW, a psychotherapist in private practice in northern California.
They may leave. They may pass away. They may make a rude comment. They may cheat. They may lie. They may disappoint you in many different ways.
“We can’t count on anybody 100 percent.” This doesn’t mean we should isolate ourselves or harden our hearts.
But it does stress the importance of being able to trust the one person we know we can count on: ourselves.
As Wall writes in her book The Courage to Trust: A Guide to Building Deep and Lasting Relationships, “The person you need to trust first is yourself. No one can be as consistently supportive of you as you can learn to be. Being kind to yourself increases self-confidence and lessens your need for approval. Loving and caring for yourself not only increases self-trust, it also deepens your connection with others.”
Self-trust means that you can take care of your needs and safety, Wall said. It means you trust yourself to survive situations, and practice kindness, not perfection. It means you refuse to give up on yourself, she said.
In The Courage to Trust Wall lists other components that encompass self-trust. They include: being aware of your thoughts and feelings and expressing them; following your personal standards and ethical code; knowing when you need to care for yourself first; knowing you can survive mistakes, get up and try again; and pursuing what you want without stopping or limiting others.
If you don’t do these things, you’re not alone. None of us were taught to trust as children,” Wall said. Instead, we were taught to be dependent. Maybe you had parents, family, friends or mentors who modeled trust and gave you positive messages about yourself.
Maybe you didn’t. But whether you had this or not, you can learn to trust yourself. Wall describes trust as a skill all of us can learn. She suggested these tips for beginning the process.
1. Avoid people who undermine your self-trust.
The people who undermine your self-trust are the ones who use you or don’t want you to succeed, Wall said. They’re the “dream smashers and naysayers.”
While you probably didn’t have control over having negative people in your life when you were a child, you do have control today. Think about the individuals who surround you. Do they support you? Do you really want them in your life?
2. Keep promises to yourself.
Developing self-trust also includes becoming your own best friend, Wall said. And that includes keeping promises to yourself. “Making a commitment and keeping it builds trust.”
For instance, you might make the commitment to create and sustain a boundary. You might make the commitment to take a walk or see the doctor for a checkup. You might make the commitment to go to bed earlier or go to church every week.
(Find out if you’re a good friend to yourself, and what you might need to work on here.)
3. Speak kindly to yourself.
When clients bash themselves, Wall wants to know whose voice they’re really hearing. It may be the voice of a parent or teacher or someone else who sent you the message that you weren’t good enough. “Everyone has these awful voices in their heads.”
Fortunately, this is a habit you can reduce or even eliminate. For instance, the next time you make a mistake and blurt out “You’re so stupid,” catch yourself, and instead say, “That’s OK. It was just a small slipup,” or “Yes, that was a big mistake, but I’ll learn from it, and I love myself anyway.”
Being understanding toward yourself when you make a mistake helps you be more understanding toward others when they do the same, Wall said.
She also recommended readers check out the work of Sharon Salzberg, who focuses on meditation; Kristin Neff, who focuses on self-compassion; and Brené Brown, who focuses on vulnerability and shame.
“Trust is the heartbeat of every significant relationship, with yourself as well as with others,” Wall writes in her book. In fact, the relationship with yourself is the foundation of all other relationships.
Again, self-trust doesn’t mean that you always trust yourself to say the right thing or make the right decision or follow every rule, she said. It’s not about perfection.
Self-trust means that you trust yourself to overcome a slipup or failure. As Wall said, “I’m trusting myself not to do an A+ job but to survive.”