Trust is a feeling, a choice and a skill.
Trusting ourselves and others is a courageous act.
Trust as a feeling
The feeling of trust is personal. Generally, if someone or some place is “safe” then we feel relaxed and we can let our guard down. The experience of letting our guard down isn’t something we can know intellectually. It’s a felt sense in the physical body. Maybe it’s a lightness or a noticeable reduction in tension in the body; shoulders are down, jaw isn’t clinched, belly is soft. It can also include less mind chatter. Our antennas aren’t up scanning for potential threats and therefore our minds aren’t running scenarios.
The feeling of trust is also related to our belief system. How we view the world and the people around us. Again, the question of safety is a big one. If the world doesn’t appear a safe place where we can move around freely and speak up for ourselves, then we will act defensively for protection.
Think about the people you trust. What qualities do they express that create safety? When you are with them, what does your body feel like? What are your thoughts like? And most importantly, how do you feel about yourself when you are in their presence?
When we feel safe and supported, we often have faith to take risks. We might feel anxious about a new job or beginning singing lessons, but we move forward because we believe we are capable of handling the uncertainty that comes with something new. A sense of calm, centeredness and compassion can help create confidence and faith in ourselves.
Many of us grew up without a solid foundation of trust. Even if our parents were reasonably healthy, as kids we often interpret adult behaviors or simple daily events, as confusing. Confusion creates lots of mental chatter where we try to figure things out. As kids we don’t have the intellect or the understanding of why things happen in our lives. Confusion rattles our foundation and we end up with self-doubt. And self-doubt makes internal confidence hard to come by.
Trust as a choice
As kids we didn’t have a choice about who we trusted. We had our caregivers, our teachers, coaches, clergy, neighbors, and we had to trust them blindly. We needed them to survive. We really couldn’t screen our babysitters or the people our parents let be around us. We might have been afraid of them, but we pretended to trust them, and this pseudo-trust continues into our adult lives.
Without choice in who we trust we learn to handle conflict or difficult feelings in unhealthy reactive ways. We might not know how to speak up for ourselves or we doubt our needs are important. When become dependent on people to do the right thing, we get further away from our personal power and confidence.
Trusting is scary and being a creative species, we try out a myriad of ways to handle that fear. We may lean towards people pleasing or we may be overly controlling and critical just to name a few. Without being allowed to explore our own sense of what was safe and what wasn’t early on, we are still in the dark about the feeling of trust and safety.
Creating choice involves working with our fears. When its scary to trust, we close up instinctually. Like a turtle going in its shell. We know from the questions above, what trust feels like. It’s a relaxation. It’s an openness. We are allowed to decide who we come out of our shell for and who we stay protected from. We take that important information of how trust feels, and we use that as a reference. If I am feeling tight in my body and my mind is racing, then I am not safe, and I have the ability to leave or simply not participate or even say “no”.
Being mindful of the signals and not being reactive to the fear or the mind chatter is very important. When you are open to listen to yourself and act in your best interest, you develop a sense of inner trust that you can handle (un)safe situations. When we have choices, we feel more powerful.
Trust as a skill
For most of us getting closer to our emotional selves feels unpleasant. So much of how we act in life is to protect us from unpleasant emotions. Emotions can be intense, and we need guidance to go into the dark places. Mindfulness practices are extremely useful in creating the inner guidance needed to develop the skill of working with emotions. This work is pivotal because it builds self-trust.
Being able to name the emotion that we feel is first and foremost. We need to recognize the kid in us that had a feeling and wasn’t able to express it. The mindfulness skill of labeling is helpful here. Get to know what your top 10 emotional hits are. Anxiety. Sadness. Irritation. Restless.
Being able to put a label on the emotion helps to understand what you are dealing with. The skill here is to begin catching yourself in an emotion and then having a few emotional words to put to the experience. The following are a few additional steps to try after labeling the emotion.
Use your voice and name the emotion out loud. “I am angry at _______ because of ______.”
Check in with your body and see where the emotion lives. “Anger feels like my throat is tight and my jaw is clinched, and I am hot.”
Write down your observations. Get it out of you and somewhere you can interact with it.
Write a few sentences to yourself or your kid inside. Acknowledge that you have a feeling and it’s a signal that directing you to something that needs attention.
Let yourself know you have a choice about how to proceed. You don’t have to pretend or close up and just get through it.
See what that feels like to listen to yourself. This is you becoming your own friend.
When we are friendly towards ourselves, we start to feel safe inside. And we all know by now that safety creates trust. What also creates trust is our ability to listen and then attend to what is needed. That creates self-reliance which is directly related to trust.
There is so much more to learning self-trust. These three components are a great way to begin to look at the concept of trust and break it into parts to explore. Trust can feel like it exists, or it doesn’t, but there are levels of trust and these steps can start you in the direction of understanding your personal relationship to trust.
Look for more information on developing trust coming soon!
*Thank you The Courage To Trust by Cynthia Wall, LCSW