Shaping Self-Trust

Is self-trust teachable?

Posted Jan 05, 2009

Self-trust is the first secret to success
-- Emerson -

So what is self-trust, really? Webster defines it as "self-confidence" while other dictionaries characterize it as "self-reliance" and "faith in one's self." All of these miss the precise mark to me. Cynthia Wall, author of The Courage to Trust, explains trust as a both a learnable skill, emotion and a choice to be made in each moment. Accepting this it appears both as a cerebral choice and emotional ability to develop trust. I believe self-trust is a learned skill to rely upon one's inner resources (i.e. emotional, mental and physical) to navigate the world.

Crafting the conditions

Are we born with self-trust? Does life somehow beat it out of us? Is our society, schools and systems structured to diminish this natural instinct? Often, I think so. So what can we do as leading-edge parents and educators to ensure that our children grow up relying upon their own abilities, wits and senses? I believe a whole darn bunch. Children naturally turn to us for guidance, like we did with our parents, so now we can mindfully send messages that encourage their ability to extend trust to themselves.

Crafting the conditions where self-trust can flourish is a topic of enormous import and one I don't take lightly. It feels like climbing Kilimanjaro so keeping that in mind recognize we may only get glimmers of the trek today. With that said, I have found both scientifically and practically a few pivotal concepts key to the expansion of a child's ability to trust him or her self such as:

* Feeling Unconditional Positive Regard - Carl Rogers, Father of Humanistic psychology, coined the concept of unconditional positive regard. It is where a child (or adult) is feeling completely accepted without any judgment or condition. Being raised in an environment where you do not doubt your Self is an ideal place for the unfolding of self-trust.

* Recognizing Strengths - Every child needs a little guidance in helping understand, recognize and own his or her unique strengths (i.e. basketball, playing the piano, mathematics). For example, the more Sally appreciates she is a talented singer she develops a positive sense of her singing ability. She trusts her ability to sing well in front of others. It is a form of self-trust.

* Looking Within - As Carl Jung so eloquently stated "Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens." Guiding children to look within themselves for answers is a process of teaching self-trust. Some lead-in questions may include: How do you feel? What do you think? What is your sense? A habit of internal searching forms, reliance on self develops and often trust ensues.

Creating the environmental, emotional and habitual inclinations for children to begin recognizing their selves as skillful is of enormous benefit. It stimulates their ability to extend smart self-trust.

One success story is Cindy, age 10, who was taking her weekly history pop-quiz. It was a tough one. Although tempted she declined the cheat sheet being passed around. It just didn't feel right to her. Before the day ended most of her cheating peers were discovered, given detention and had their parents called. Trusting herself helped avert this problem for Cindy.

Self-trust is also not static. Parents and children make mistakes. Sometimes a child makes a mistake in choosing a friend. Can she then choose better next time? Will she have the trust in her self to do so? Self-trust can be lost and restored. Teaching your child that betrayals and mistakes are valuable lessons is a key process in restoring self-trust. It encourages a child to risk trusting his or her self again.

The creativity connection

"Creativity comes from trust" explained author, Rita Mae Brown. I believe this to be true. A child's creative expression emerges when they trust their instincts and allow them an outlet. Self-trust appears to be the precursor to creativity and intuition. Alan Alda explained creativity as going into the "place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition" and this seems right to me. A child with a healthy sense of self-trust is more akin to freely explore his creative abilities.

In my experience, I have discovered that creative child development programs are the most powerful. Such activities allow the child's left and right brain to wire together in service of mental (i.e. cognitive processing, memory, language), emotional (i.e. teamwork, self-regulation) and physical development (i.e. coordination, motor activities, movement). Amelie, age 4, played the tambourine along with the 3-piece band at my last Creativity Day Camp. Before long Jacob on drums and Christina with her bamboo flute (both age 5) joined this musical ensemble. Each trusted their creative instincts, learned how to play along and grew together.

Success factor: Self-trust

So much hinges on self-trust in this world. I believe it is the key that unlocks the doorway of creative freedom and personal truth. A child that learns to rely upon his or her instincts in life accompanied by analytical insight is one that is prepared to face the unknown. And to me life always feels like stepping into the great unknown. How about you? Certainly, it is for your child.

By Maureen Healy
No portion of this may be reproduced in any form without written permission by author.  (c) 2008
Follow Me on Twitter (mdhealy)