How to Build Self-Trust
Human interactions require a basic level of trust to function, and that includes interacting with your own brain and living your own life. Like me, however, you have probably made a few [million] mistakes during your years on the earth. If you dwell on them too much, or others like to throw them in your face, that can erode confidence. Eventually, you may start to doubt not only your abilities, but your character and your motives and whether or not you even deserve to take up space on the planet.
Without the confidence that comes from a primary level of self-trust, you become paralyzed. If you can’t trust yourself, how can anyone else trust you? If you can’t trust yourself, how can you trust anyone else? Your ability to manage relationships and lead your life begins here. Not that you see yourself as infallible, but you have a foundation of confidence from which you can build. Where does that come from? And how can you rebuild it when it cracks?
Thankfully, the elements of trust have been widely studied and are universally acknowledged. Trust requires three ingredients: credibility, authenticity, and empathy. And though typically when discussing trust we talk about how to build trust with others, today let’s look at how to cultivate these three elements in your own life so you can trust yourself.
Credibility: Be honest with yourself.
The first step to trusting yourself is to make sure that what you tell yourself makes sense and is true. Acknowledge both your strengths and your weaknesses, your successes and your failures. Most people lean too far in one direction. They either aggrandize or belittle themselves. It is not honest, nor does it build credibility and trust, to ignore either the positive or the negative. To build self-trust, don’t sugarcoat the negative, but don’t turn a blind eye to the positive either. You build confidence by facing reality.
How you speak to yourself matters. Stop lying to yourself!
And your self-talk, by the way, includes more than the verbal chatter going on in the background of your mind. It includes your nonverbal communication, too. Do you walk and talk the way a credible, trustworthy, authoritative person walks and talks? Or do you shuffle and mumble and shrink back? An amazing thing happens when you present yourself with confidence: You not only look more confident, you become more confident.
Authenticity: Be true to yourself.
The second step to building self-trust is to live according to your values. Perhaps nothing erodes confidence more than living a double life. Does who you look like on the outside match who you are on the inside? I’m not saying you shouldn’t dress yourself up for certain occasions—there’s nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward. But even when you are intentionally trying to make a good impression with your work or dress or nonverbal communication, it needs to align with who you are on some level.
This can be hard! You are vulnerable when you let your real self be seen. Not everyone will like it. As both Brené Brown and Susan David say, “Practice courage over comfort.” Courage comes before confidence. You have to take a few risks to show up and be fully present sometimes.
But while some people may not like your authentic self, most people do appreciate authenticity. They certainly trust what’s authentic more than what’s fake. And that includes you. You trust yourself more when you know you aren’t being fake.
Empathy: Be kind to yourself.
You can’t trust someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart. You can’t trust someone who’s out to get you or who you think wants to hurt you. So, the third step to building self-trust is to treat yourself with kindness and generosity. Be honest, as I said before, but let go of judgment and forgive yourself for your mistakes.
What does your inner voice sound like? Is it encouraging? Or is it a jerk? Get rid of the hatefulness and speak the truth tempered with gentleness.
There’s a fourth ingredient to building self-trust that applies to all three of these elements: Practice good boundaries. Be willing to say “no” to yourself and to others and then stick to it. This increases credibility because it requires an honest assessment of what you can (or will) do or not do; and as you consistently maintain and enforce your boundaries, you can rely on yourself more. Boundaries also communicate authenticity because they are how you prove what you stand for and believe in—by saying “no” you express your values. And boundaries are intrinsically kind; it takes clarity to support and care for people—whether yourself or others.
Trust must be earned and cultivated. You can’t just decide to trust yourself more—you have to practice the traits that get you there. And when you trust yourself, others can trust you, too. The same ingredients that build self-trust also create a firm foundation for all your relationships. But it has to start with your relationship with yourself.
Be honest with yourself. Be true to yourself. And be kind to yourself.