Do you trust yourself? Well-meaning people say to do it all of the time, right? “Just trust your gut,” or “Listen to your inner voice.” Ummm, newsflash: If you aren’t sure you can trust your gut in the first place, this advice only leads to more panic and anxiety. Sometimes you just want to shout, “but, I’m asking YOU! If I knew what to do, I’d do it!”
When I think about some of the most agonizing moments in my life, they were when I didn’t trust myself to make a decision. I can’t quite describe why I didn’t trust myself, I just didn’t. I always knew I was in particularly bad shape when I’d start asking my cab drivers if they thought my relationship was right for me – and no, I am not exaggerating here… When you don’t trust yourself you feel paralyzed and powerless. You. Want. Answers. And, gosh darn it, someone – no, make that anyone – knows better than you do!
Thankfully, over the years (and through some hard work), I have come to trust myself much more. Sure, self-doubt occasionally rears its head; but, for the most part, I’ve become pretty trusting of my gut/inner voice/whatever you want to call it. In my last post, I talked about allowing stillness so that you can listen to your inner voice. But, what about when you hear the voice, and you aren’t sure you can, or want, to trust it?
When I’m talking to friends or clients about the concept of trusting themselves, I sometimes struggle to explain “how” to make this happen. I struggle because it’s impossible to neatly outline a concise process. I could try to come up with some clever acronym or “five simple steps that lead to self-trust.” I could do this…but I’d be lying to you. The process of learning to trust yourself is not an exact science – or, if it is, I sure haven’t discovered it. It’s a dance, and often a clumsy one. The one nugget of advice I can give you without feeling like a total sell-out is, Just Do It. Wait! Before you click close and curse my name for throwing another cliché at you, hear me out…
Mohandas Ghandi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.” When I think back to my own miserable experience of not trusting myself, I actually had the thinking part down pretty well. In fact, I spent a lot of time in my head. The saying and doing parts were where I got tripped up. Those parts required tough conversations. Those parts might make me vulnerable or might cause me to disappoint another person. Those parts were…hard. But, I also hated the not-saying and the not-doing. Avoiding any action created a slow-burning kind of pain; a constant feeling of fear and anxiety that hung over me like a cloud. I guess I finally decided the not-saying and the not-doing were worse.
If you’re stuck in the agony of not trusting yourself to make a decision, I’m sorry. That’s a really hard place to be. When someone looks at me with those panic-stricken eyes and wants so badly for me to tell them what to do, I get it. Part of me wants to take away their pain by throwing out an answer – any answer – but, I know that won’t end their agony. No lasting sense of calm and peace occurs if you just do what someone tells you to do. You’re still going to ask yourself, “did I do the right thing?” So, here we are, back to you. Darn it! How does that keep happening? The thing is, no one can make these decisions for you. Chances are, your “gut” is talking to you and you hear it pretty clearly, but you aren’t sure you want to do anything about it.
Before I scare you off, I’m not saying you have to dump your boyfriend when you get home tonight or quit your job tomorrow. In fact, when the stakes are high, taking some time and using a little restraint is probably appropriate. Baby steps are certainly allowed in the awkward dance of learning to trust yourself. Little decisions and actions can help move you toward honoring your own voice. For example, if you are feeling disconnected from your partner, try talking to them about it. You don’t have to make a permanent decision at the first onset of concern. But, initiating a conversation with your partner is an honest, authentic move – it’s an action in harmony with what you are feeling and thinking. The conversation will help you gain more information. The information may make you feel more or less confident about your relationship. But, more than likely, you’ll feel some relief by having your thoughts, words and actions in closer harmony.
With some practice of flexing your “doing” muscles, you’ll begin to feel a sense of resilience and empowerment. A sense of, “Hey, I can make a decision and the world does not end. If it goes well, great! And, if I decide that I should have made a different choice, I can learn from it and do it differently next time. I can handle things…even hard things.” I spent years agonizing over the decision to go back to graduate school. I finally decided to sign up for a couple of classes and see how it felt. Believe me, I’d have never signed up for those classes if I felt like I had to know exactly how long it would take me to graduate, how I’d find time to study, or how I’d get clients after graduation. I knew in my gut that I wanted to find a way to help people and the rest of the decisions became clearer along the path. And, you can bet I made some mistakes along the way. But, here I am, alive and well to tell you about it!
I could fill this page with references to scientific studies debating what the “gut” is and isn’t and if it’s worth trusting. There are some interesting opinions and studies out there and I encourage you to check them out. But, my gut is telling me to leave you with these two stories:
A woman moves across the country to pursue a relationship with a man who completely had her heart. Six months later, she returns to her hometown broken-hearted because the relationship didn’t work out. She mourned the loss of the relationship for months, but today she feels stronger and wiser for having loved so vulnerably and fully. She knows she can offer that kind of love to someone and knows that she wants, and deserves, the same in return.
A man knows in his gut that he does not want to marry the woman to whom he is engaged. But, the invitations have gone out. The families are anticipating a wedding. So, down the aisle he goes. Two children and a decade later he feels stuck in a loveless marriage because he wanted so desperately to avoid a painful conversation all those years ago.
Which sounds scarier? The doing or the not-doing?
Girl, your roots are so much wiser than you think!
Amanda McPherson, Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern
Supervised by Kat Elrod, LPC-S