Can You Trust Yourself?

What you do under pressure answers the question

Trust is the foundation of a healthy relationship with yourself and others. When you trust yourself you are in tune with your instinct, the instantaneous wisdom that tells you what is true and false, what to avoid, and what to embrace with your whole heart and soul. Since you stand on solid ground you feel confident, from the Latin confidere, to trust.

By contrast, lack of confidence is often based on the fear of abandonment. The fear is not that others will abandon you, although they may, but that you will not hold your ground under pressure. For example, when loved ones or authority figures disagree with you can you agree to disagree, or do you defer to their judgment to gain their approval?

The consequences of ignoring The Voice That Knows can range from disappointing to disastrous. What you believed was true turns out to be an illusion. Those you thought were wise are fools. Adopting their ideas may have caused you to lose your health, money and hope for a better future.

Living in Doubt

When you doubt yourself you feel unstable and unsure. The need for certainty can be so intense you succumb to the influence of people who appear to have it all together, or who offer a quick fix. Until you realize appearances can be deceiving, and that success is a long, slow process, hasty choices program the brain to expect failure.

Just as a tsunami breaches floodgates doubt swamps the boundaries of the rational mind with adrenaline. A steady stream of this hormone causes sleeplessness, burn out and chronic illnesses. To regain control we compensate with distractions like hoarding, isolation, obsessive-compulsive and addictive behavior.

Paradoxically, letting go of the need to control prepares the brain to trust since openness is the precursor to change, the more openness the greater the opportunity for growth.

However, the brain is wired to stick with what is familiar and therefore comfortable, even when it does not work. This is why change is so difficult: we want to be sure before we take the leap. While we all need certainty, too much of it numbs instinct. Unless you balance certainty with disruption life settles into a stagnant routine.

Living With Trust

Learning to live with trust can be as simple as telling someone you love what he does not want to hear, and then hanging in there with the anxiety this provokes. You will know you did what was best for both of you, but only after you take the risk.

Another small step that develops self-trust is to see the positive in what appears as a negative, as when someone criticizes you. Either the critic is wrong or right, determining which is the case will help you to ignore the critic, or thank her for the correction. Meanwhile, you learn by watching your reaction.

You can also look at your daily habits to see what is working, and what no longer works, like imagining worst case scenarios, holding on to possessions that have outlived their usefulness, or eating to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Listening to these feelings takes courage, doubt’s antidote. But if you feel what you feel all the way they will pass, leaving you with increased self-awareness.

How Trustworthy Are You

What do people do consistently that develops trust? What traits inspire confidence, personally and professionally? To see how much you trust yourself make two lists of trustworthy and untrustworthy characteristics. Here are a few examples.

Trustworthy traits

  • Patient
  • Honest and direct
  • Competent
  • Open to correction
  • Optimistic, sees obstacles as challenges
  • Kindhearted, tolerant
  • Good humored
  • Respectful (they also expect respectful treatment)
  • Brave

Now, ask yourself if you possess the above traits. What you cannot claim as yours could be the reason you lack confidence. Working on these traits will help you to become a person you trust.

Next, make a list of characteristics that cause you to distrust people, at home and work. What do they do consistently that causes you to mistrust them? The following traits are the opposite of the above list.

Untrustworthy traits:

  • Impatient, touchy
  • Dishonest, passive aggressive
  • Incompetent
  • Close minded, defensive
  • Pessimistic, sees obstacles as bad luck
  • Self-centered and critical
  • Can’t laugh at themselves, or see the humor in situations
  • Disrespectful, yet expect to be treated with respect
  • Cowardly, avoidant

If you winced when you read certain of the above characteristics, you are not alone. We all have our light and dark sides. Acceptance of both is a sign of maturity. You are well aware of what you could be, if you did not temper selfish impulses with thoughtfulness.

On the other hand, trying to be too selfless leads to martyrdom, the most subtle ego trap. The truth is, when our needs go unmet we get angry, just as we feel content when needs are met.

Anger is the most difficult emotion to express. Sometimes this is because we feel guilty about being angry, so we suppress it, or misdirect it into bodily pain.

Often, anger is the result of unrealistic expectations. We send mixed messages and then wonder why people mistreat us. In this case, anger tells you someone crossed your boundaries.

Just acknowledging you are angry will help you figure out what or who is angering you. Then, as intelligently as possible, you can do something about the anger.

Suzanne’s Story

One of my clients was always angry. The cause of her discontent was perfectionism, the belief she was never good enough no matter what she achieved. She projected her lack of confidence onto outer circumstances. She thought if she had more: more approval, more money, more…the list was long, she would be happy. Predictably, Suzanne woke up every morning dreading her day.

In my experience, anger that lasts more than 30 minutes is a habit not a genuine feeling. Stored anger is a way to validate feeling like a victim. “Woe is me” and “it’s all their fault” keeps us from being satisfied with who and where we are, and from taking the action that will solve our problems.

Like Suzanne, when we believe we are powerless victims our minds are ever in the future or in the past, not in the present moment. Ironically, the present is the only time we can feel content. Contentment does not mean we stop improving. It means being content is the improvement.

Over time, and with a great deal of effort, Suzanne redefined success to include acceptance of her own and others’ limitations and strengths (the two lists above). Working within the existing structures in her life she began to trust the process of life, and to be patient with the slowness of change for the better.

Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the Sacramento/San Francisco Bay Area and the author of the best selling career guide, Work with Passion, How to Do What You Love For a Living, Her website is workwithpassion.com.


Originally published at thirdage.com on September 18, 2017.

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