When Self-Trust is Shattered… and How to Retrieve It

by | Feb 18, 2024 | Trust Yourself | 9 comments

“Babies are born wizened with instinct. They know in their bones what is right and what to do about it. It is innate.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves

We are born whole. We are born in touch with deep, bodily wisdom about what we need and when we need it. Babies know when they’re hungry, tired, and need to be changed. They know when they need to be held (which is almost constantly) and when they don’t want to spend time with an adult other than their parents. Our instinct, our wildness, and our self-trust are intact.

Then begins the process of either building or destroying healthy self-trust.

Our culture does a fantastic job of encouraging parents to distrust their own and their baby’s innate knowledge. We tell parents to “get babies on a schedule”, which means only feeding them every three hours and making sure they nap three times a day at the exact same time. It would be so nice if babies could be trained like robots, each one squeezed into the same societally prescribed box of desired behavior. But they’re not. Each and every one of them is born with a unique internal blueprint of neurological and spiritual wiring, which informs their needs and rhythms.

The shattering continues, for our culture is heartbreakingly set up to almost guarantee that our inherent, natural self-trust will be damaged throughout childhood.

Sometimes self-trust is destroyed in subtle ways as parents transmit the message that they know what’s best for their child. Other times self-trust is overtly annihilated by siblings (especially older siblings) who insist on playing the devil’s advocate. When a child says, “I want to eat an orange,” and the sibling says, “But an apple would be so much better right now,” a piece of a child’s innate self-trust is broken. In more significant ways, this could look like a child who devotes themselves to sports to please a parent when at heart they’re an artist.

Other times self-trust is damaged socially by peers in school or intellectually by teachers who are trained to see outward achievement as the yardstick by which they measure success, supported by a culture that uses left-brain, school-smart intelligence as a way to measure self-worth. A child who enters school feeling confident about herself can easily find her self-esteem in the gutter by the end of her kindergarten year if she’s a right-brained, visual-spatial learner, or is very active in their body and struggles with the basic rules and tenets of the school system. We dive into this in depth in Week Two of the Trust Yourself course.

I want to make it explicitly clear here that I don’t blame parents, teachers, or caregivers for operating in ways that might damage self-trust; they’re merely following in the footsteps of the mindset and value system that they inherited from their parents, teachers, and caregivers. It’s the culture at large that is at fault – a culture that measures worth based on externals (looks, body, grades, degrees, money, achievements, awards, status) and encourages us to outsource our innate knowing from birth.

I also want to be clear that some babies do just fine on a schedule and many children thrive in our mainstream school systems. The point here is that there are a myriad of ways that self-trust can be damaged, and when you can identify those ways, you’ve taken the first step on the road to reclaiming what is rightfully yours. This is some of what we explore in the course.

Self-trust is our North star. It’s the crystal compass that allows us to know ourselves and love ourselves, to make decisions with more ease, to stop seeking outside approval, and it’s an essential prong to healing intrusive thoughts at the root. If you’re ready to repair your self-trust, please join me on this 19th – and final – live round of Trust Yourself: A 30-day course to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt. The course starts on March 2nd, and I look forward to meeting you there.

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9 Comments

  1. Thank you for this reminder, Sheryl. 🤗 It is grounding to receive. ❤️

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    • I’m so glad it was grounding, Jamie 🤗🤗🤗

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    • Dear Sheryl,
      I have a felt sense knowing that, behind my projections about my partner being not enough, lies my wounded self, whose self-trust has been eroded by family and society, plus the difficulty of transitioning into adulthood.
      Nonetheless, It seems that a shadow part of my psyche still automatically projects onto my partner ‘s screen, which makes me feel guilty because I am not actively choosing it. I know better than this, and I’m 100% aware that the real issue lies within myself, as I am deeply committed to this work.
      Is It possible to definitely “stop” projecting or Is It more about redirecting the projection to our own blind spots (aka pack of self trust) when It arises?

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      • *Lack of self trust

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        • We can’t stop projecting altogether. It’s more, as you say, about recognizing the projection as a mirror and redirecting to our own inner areas that need attention.

          Reply
  2. I appreciate your wisdom so much. I’ve been following your work for 15 years from my engagement to now raising a highly sensitive child in this world. I have had to endure so much pushback for my choices to do a home birth, allow my children to sleep with me, to feed them when they asked, to allow them to choose what to eat, to ask them to tune into what their bodies want, to let them go to bed when it feels right for them, and to allow them to unschool. It’s overwhelming at times to try to stand against a culture designed to override our needs and not recreate that experience for my little ones (well…not so little anymore, my oldest is still in that delicate space between innocence and teenager). If it were not for your work I’m not sure my kids would be nearly as grounded in their own self-trust and truly happy as they are today.

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    • My heart is so warm reading this, Amanda. Thank you for taking the time to share it. 🙏🏽🙏🏽

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  3. Important topic thank you! Have been reading through a lot of your blog while struggling with a relapse… what is hard for me while getting better is that – yes I know my fear-brain reacts badly to big change and uncertainty which brought on this relapse because of my first pregnancy… and after I went through anxieties around this, which I could handle my brain started to attack my relationship again.
    Now I struggle with high anxiety and feeling something is wrong and while reading I wondered, I am so unsure at the moment and numb or overridden with anxiety – what if I am just afraid to make this scary step and that’s why I do not want to leave? (something (breaking up) I do not consider during the long times when I am at peace…. but if that is my fear – to end it – maybe my brain is now trying to convince me to stay… eventhough I do not want to also when my brain bombards me with all the reasons why it won’t work…
    Did I misunderstand something in your posts (thinking about the post: “Something is wrong” for example –
    “The problem is that, especially if you’re highly sensitive, this natural and healthy tendency ramps up into overdrive in the face of any risk, making us more risk averse than the average person. And without being willing to take risks, we will never step outside our comfort zone and live life to its fullest. We won’t try new things, we won’t change our routines and, mostly, we won’t love fully. Life becomes very narrow when we choose to listen to Fear’s endless warnings and live inside our safe bubble.”
    Maybe you could tell me if my fear is reading into something or if I misunderstood something. Thank you already for your great work!

    Reply
  4. I think, with some modalities, there is also the propensity to encourage the outsourcing of trust to one’s therapist. And this, in my view, can be wrong.

    Reply

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