The Psychology of Self Trust
As I would leave my grandparents’ house, I remember my grandmother always reminding that ‘no one will take care of you better than you.’ And I remember thinking it to be such a solitary and exclusionary sentiment.
She was hardened; she was tough. And I always understood it to echo that callousness – ‘You can’t rely on anyone.’ And to some degree, I know that was her intended message.
But beyond that, beyond her years of hardened experience and my years of naïveté, those words have come to reveal a much more inspiring message:
‘Trust in yourself. First.’
But are we born with self-trust and over time, do our societal constructs and expectations diminish what is otherwise a natural instinct?
Is the bombardment of messages – mixed, convoluted and unrealistic as they often are – to blame for slowly eroding the blind faith we once had in ourselves?
The Belly Button Test. Tiger Moms. Thigh gaps. The Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge. Instagram filters. Housewives.
We invented those standards. We created those benchmarks of success. And that’s just in the last few years.
But what’s worse is that we subscribe to them; we accept them. Trust has been described as ‘the juxtaposition of people’s loftiest hopes and aspirations with their deepest worries and fears.’
That is an incredibly messy spaghetti junction of ALL the feels.
As such a critical – arguably paramount – interpersonal construct, complex and multidimensional in nature, it comes as no surprise that it dictates every relationship, least of which is our relationship with ourselves – which, incidentally, is often the most overlooked and undervalued.
So what if, by nature or nurture, you took a misguided and misinformed turn on spaghetti junction, landing you squarely at the intersection of Deepest Worries and Fear?
Because we all make mistakes; we all get lost. And counter to what logic may dictate, we have to climb down; we need to delve deeper into the little voices that tell us big lies to find the ‘off’ switch.
If we can’t trust ourselves, then we can’t influence ourselves and therefore, we can’t expect trust from – or influence over – anyone else.
So to foster existing self-trust or re-establish self-trust, we must introspect, taking our trust temperature often to check for any spikes in highly infectious self-doubt.
Self-doubt: Patient Zero
Carl Jung once said,
‘Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.’
And when it comes to trusting in yourself, nothing could be more critical than exercising a recurrent system of checks-and-balances because self-trust is not static. It is a living, breathing two-headed psychological snake – we must feed our self-trust to feed our outward-facing trustworthiness.
Self-assessment allows for acknowledgment, which yields accountability, in turn, yielding awareness which – last but certainly not least – ignites action. And this is a wash, rinse, repeat life cycle.
And it seems children instinctively know this early on. So quickly and so often, kids make mistakes. But rarely do they punish themselves the way we as adults would be inclined to do.
Because they have yet to be bound by shame, fear, guilt or embarrassment; a child somehow trusts that they are better at accomplishing something than one or two negative outcomes might suggest.
And, for those of us that are parents, our hope in raising our children is to foster that self-trust and provide an environment where it can flourish, so that our children evolve into self-reliant and self-sufficient adults.
Mostly – and in exceptionally dehumanized terms – we want to contribute ‘value-add’ human beings to the world. It’s no different in our professional lives as well.
As leaders, we’d do well to create an environment of self-trust, wherein colleagues and teammates are nurtured – so touchy-feely, I know – in a way that promotes their trust in self, an environment that recognizes that while mistakes are often inevitable, they serve as opportunities for reflection and growth – and not fear or guilt.
If leaders can create a climate wherein emotional and habitual inclinations weigh on the side of positivity and progress, the risk of trusting in yourself seems far less daunting.
So let’s say I have this, uh, friend.
And she – err, um, I mean he – is told that the sun is hot, and a safe distance should always be kept.
But it takes me – I mean, he – getting burned a few times before recognizing the pattern, identifying the core issue – cough STUBBORN cough – and deciding to radio the tower to request yet another flyby, but this time at a safer altitude.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
And this time, I trust that I’ll enjoy the view.