How to Cultivate Self-Trust for #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth
As a child, I remember trust-falling into the arms of friends. I knew which friends would catch me and which might let me fall to the ground and laugh hysterically. Most of the time, I could fall and not worry that I’d get hurt.
There’s a reason we don’t trust-fall as adults. Life experience has taught us that we can fall — and no one will be there to catch us. If it happens even once, we become more cautious and less trusting. When it happens more than once, we begin to lose our ability to trust others.
And, often, to trust ourselves. After all, we begin to think our decision-making skills might be faulty. We begin to second-guess ourselves. Self-doubt breeds more trust issues, which breeds more self-doubt in a vicious cycle it feels impossible to break.
That doesn’t mean we should quit trusting people and double-down on our trust issues. It does mean we should be aware of them. Once we’re aware, we need to start working on our issues.
I’m not going to start trust falling into anyone’s arms anytime soon. I am working on self-trust instead. I’m using that as my foundation to trust others. First, I need to be able to trust my own instincts and judgment. Then, I can use that to determine when other people are trustworthy — and when they aren’t.
That’s step one when we’re building trust — to learn to trust ourselves. We can begin by reviewing every time our instincts were good, and we ignored them. We can establish that as a baseline to prove that our instincts weren’t faulty; our trust in them was.
For those times when our instincts didn’t alert us, we can evaluate if deception was involved. We aren’t responsible for other people actively working to deceive us. We can’t see what someone isn’t showing us. These cases aren’t proof we can’t trust ourselves; they are proof that absolutely anyone can be deceived. In these situations, we need to learn to forgive ourselves for not knowing any better.
Identify Underlying Issues
Of course, the worst situations that destroy our trust often happen without anyone being to blame. For instance, when we fall in love with someone who doesn’t feel the same. We can’t be faulted for loving. They can’t be faulted for feeling differently. Yet, we leave those situations not trusting that our love will ever be returned. We allow that one experience to inform our feelings about future ones.
There are other problems that lie beneath our difficulties with trust. Abandonment, betrayal, and attachment issues can all simmer beneath the surface. If we stop at “trust issues” and never go any deeper, we might be working to heal the symptom rather than the larger problem. I found that abandonment issues were beneath the surface of my trust issues. Working through early trauma has allowed me to address those issues rather than trust issues alone.
Cultivate Trust In Others
When we’ve established a baseline for self-trust and identified any deeper issues, we can then begin working to build trust … by trusting. That will likely sound counterintuitive, but trust is a skill that needs to be cultivated. Finding one trustworthy person in our lives can be a small step to learning to trust others.
But for some of us, it might be hard to identify anyone trustworthy. Here are a few traits we may want to look out for:
- They keep what we tell them in confidence.
- They don’t shame us for our thoughts or feelings.
- They feel safe to share with and won’t use what we share against us.
- They validate how we’re feeling.
- They don’t share other people’s secrets with us, which shows that they can keep ours as well.
Once we’ve identified a person we can trust, we can work on sharing with them — and feeling safe doing so. As we begin to grow our trust in this one person, we’re teaching ourselves how to trust others. It’s a small step, but it counts.
Not everyone deserves our trust. Even if we’re working to build trust, this doesn’t mean we have to give our trust to everyone. That would be a great way to get scammed. Cultivating common sense and discretion is one way to learn which people can be trusted and which can’t, but it also helps to pay attention to red flags.
Ignoring obvious red flags used to be my go-to dating move. I would be attracted, get attached, and allow myself to overlook warning signs. While I’ve never minded flaws in other humans, there’s a big difference between normal human failings and warning signs that a particular human is not a good fit for us. Ignoring obvious signs of cheating or addiction didn’t lead to anything good. So many times, I broke my own heart because I refused to heed my intuition and trust myself.
In short, trust issues were exacerbated because I did not trust myself. Which takes us back to step one. It’s important to pay attention to what we think and feel about a person so that we can learn who gets our trust — and who never will.
We don’t have to do this alone. We can get professional help to guide us through working on our trauma or addressing our trust issues. If we genuinely want to learn to trust others (and to trust ourselves), we may need to get help. Otherwise, we might want to ask ourselves if we’re really working on our issues — or if it’s just something we say.
I had my heart broken recently. While healing, I began to evaluate what I want for my life. I want to be able to love again and be loved in return, but I’m so afraid that I’ll walk into the next relationship with my guard up, unable to believe that anyone could love me back without later changing their minds.
Added to that, my mental health took a turn for the worst, and when suicidal ideation became a recurring pattern in my thoughts, I could no longer trust myself. I headed to therapy — wanting desperately to be able to trust myself and others so that I could have what I want. I knew that the work I was doing alone just wasn’t enough. Admitting that took courage, and it was a huge step toward dealing with my issues.
That’s the choice, after all: we can deal with our issues or we can double-down on them, cultivating our pain rather than our healing. I don’t want to be a person who can’t trust. I want to be a person who can love deeply without always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I want to be able to fall — and trust that I will land safely rather than breaking.