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Self-Trust and How to Build It

Stand up to the inner critic.

Self-trust is not trusting yourself to know all the answers, nor is it believing that you will always do the right things. It’s having the conviction that you will be kind and respectful to yourself regardless of the outcome of your efforts.

The definition of self-trust is the firm reliance on the integrity of yourself. There is a difference between a life that is grounded in self-trust and one that is not. When we look at examples of people who are self-trusting, we find that they have clarity and confidence in their choices. They are interdependent, which includes healthy dependency, not overly dependent or hyper-independent. They speak with authority that comes from a deep place within but is not arrogant. They are good observers and have cultivated the ability to learn from their experiences, both the successes and failures.

Because they can trust themselves to not be punitive when they make mistakes, they can look openly at their experience without fear of self-punishment. If my agenda is to protect myself from external or internal recrimination, I am not going to be able to examine my experience because my primary intention is not to learn but to protect myself.

Regret undermines self-trust

The word recrimination has the word crime within it. Many people live with a lot of regret. Some people have the misguided notion that you should not have regrets. That belief causes them to have more regrets. It’s human to have regrets. Only a psychopath or a person who is incapable of learning anything new will have no regrets.

Regret itself is not the problem; what keeps us stuck in regret is the resistance to feeling the full depth of it. It’s overwhelming when we don’t have the inner resources to hold the magnitude of the remorse. There are plenty of means to learn from regrets and to forgive ourselves.

The bigger the regret, the deeper the shame, and the bigger the opportunity. Just like being compassionate and forgiving for another person who may have harmed us, we can focus that same attitude towards ourselves. When we demonstrate that we have learned from the mistake, regret evaporates. Then self-forgiveness and self-trust automatically occur. We are producing evidence that reflects the integration of what we have learned.

Avoiding the inner critic undermines self-trust

People who have not learned to relate to their inner critical voice in a productive way will argue with it or comply with its indictments. When we buy into the negative voice, we diminish our self-trust. Trying to escape the inner critic and ignoring it by drinking or drugging, or other distractions will empower it. The way to build self-trust is to relate to the inner critic and show it that it is taking a seed of truth and blowing it out of proportion. There are ways to get to know the critic by being curious about its nature:

  • What is the inner critic?
  • Where does it come from?
  • What is its intention?
  • What does it want from us?
  • What is its agenda?
  • What is its job?
  • Is it educable?
  • Is there any way other than adversarial to relate to it?
  • How do we stand up to the inner critic?

When we listen to the inner critic, relate to it, and educate it, we stand up to it. A positive shift in our relationship with the inner critic is possible.

Being caught in the past or worrying about the future undermines self-trust

There are so many opportunities all around us that are missed. If we live in a consciousness of regret, we live in the past. If we are fearful of the possibility of future suffering, we are living in the future. While bouncing back and forth between the past and the future, we are missing the present. If we’re not present, we can’t learn and keep recycling through the same mistakes.

As soon as we stop focusing on the future, we will feel anxious and vulnerable. Worry is an expression of an imagined defense to keep trouble away. When we are present, we may feel unprotected. The challenge is to cultivate a courageous heart that can tolerate increasingly longer periods of presence. By cultivating tolerance for being in the anxiety for longer periods of time, we are not enslaved by fear, and self-trust automatically grows stronger.

When we are in the present moment, it is the ultimate protection. The paradox is that it seems like dropping the protection that worry provides is dangerous and puts us at risk. But the vulnerability of pure presence is the ultimate sanctuary. When we are fully present, there is no fear. Often the fearful mind kicks in saying, “While you are not paying attention to all those things you should be concerned about, all kinds of dangers are looming. All kinds of problems need to be solved. All kinds of people are waiting for you to take care of them. Stop indulging yourself in this childish experiment and get on with life. If people see that you are not doing what you should be doing and planning for the future, they will have no use of you.”

The weight of regret and lack of presence can crack us open in a way that we can no longer maintain our previous self-image and world-view. Learning to manage the inner critic will free up the energy that is necessary to develop self-trust. Learning to stay present and coming into the right relationship with the inner critic work together to become a breakthrough for our salvation.

These factors in combination are the beginning of an orientation towards a life where we welcome new insights. Now, no longer so fearful of being open and present in our lives, the anxiety that robbed us of self-trust has been transformed to eager anticipation of future learning. And self-trust will now be our constant companion.

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