Note: the information in this article was gathered from personal experience, reflection, and work with my own feelings. Take it as you will.
Definition of Self-Mistrust
An attitude towards one’s actions and capacity to make decisions that is distrustful, usually based off of past evidence of mistakes and in general a lack of progress towards goals that one thinks are important or are anticipating with impatience.
Probable Symptoms of Self-Mistrust
- Wild theories about the integrity of one’s own actions
- Rampant self-doubt
- Trying to avoid circumstances, feelings, and situations that could occur
- Impatience with the speed of one’s progress towards goals
- An inability to let go of past mistakes
- Constantly berating and hounding one’s self about past mistakes
- Feeling on-edge like you could make dire mistakes at any time, afraid of your own decisions
- A belief in the lack of integrity of one’s own decisions
- A rigid moral system – trying to follow it or constructing one for one’s self (may indicate distrust of the present and future self’s ability to make good choices)
- A desperation and impatience to improve one’s self, as if trying to escape one’s own imperfections
- Guilt over past actions
- Attachment to the way things were, or to old ways of doing things, and thus a resistance to trying new things, new approaches, and to learn
- Closemindedness, or a resistance to new information
- A dislike of change, or a hope that things won’t change
- Anxiety (e.g. about yourself and what you might do, about life, changes, and new possibilities)
- Finding yourself objecting to the events of life, as if they’re personally hurting you
- Liking to feel “better than” other people (since it insulates you from mistakes and weaknesses that might re-open wounds of self-mistrust)
- A sense of disconnection from others
- Feeling threatened by criticism
- Feeling self-important and puffed-up when praised (rather than just appreciative or cautious, for instance)
- A sense of dependence on others and circumstances
- Reliance on beliefs about reality being true, trying to defend beliefs from attack, getting angry for the sake of defending beliefs, feeling threatened by attacks on beliefs (rather than trusting in one’s ability to be fine no matter the reality, due to one’s ability to perceive, understand, look for the truth of the matter, and respond)
- Confusion, panic (due to lack of steady self-reliance)
- Despair, powerlessness, hopelessness (not relying on one’s power to respond)
What causes self-mistrust
1) Impatience for an alleviation of suffering
One of the main causes of self-mistrust seems to be impatience. Why? Because the self, when it’s suffering, out of a desire to get out of that suffering, could get impatient with the process of getting out of the state in which it’s suffering. The side of the self that would get the blame for being in suffering is most likely the part dealing with decision-making and action, since it’s the side that could act to solve the self’s suffering. The decision-making side, on hearing the blaming and complaining from the suffering side, could start to believe it and get down on and doubtful of itself, thus causing the effects of self-mistrust. One side doesn’t trust the other to get the job done, or to make good decisions. And if this lack of trust is believed, it can cause a person to doubt their own actions, and to nervously move forward in life, or even perhaps feel guilty.
2) Focus on past mistakes and patterns
Another distinguishing characteristic of distrust is its focus on the past. Past actions that had unwanted consequences, as well as patterns of behavior that seem suspicious or wrong, can be pointed to as evidence for why a person is not to be trusted. Often when these arguments cannot be overcome due to a lack of contradictory evidence, mistrust can take hold of a person. This focus on the past actually reveals a key weakness of mistrust – its lack of focus on the present and future.
Working through self-mistrust
1) Allow trust to counter the arguments of mistrust
One of the keys to mistrust is to allow the side of one’s self that advocates for trusting one’s self to counter the arguments of mistrust. Whereas mistrust looks to the past, trust can exist with respect to the present and future. What does this mean? It means seeing the quality of one’s present intentions, as well as trusting that those intentions will guide a person to a future where those intentions are carried out, even if they haven’t been in the past.
For instance, if you hurt someone in the past but didn’t mean to, or even hurt several people and didn’t mean to, you can still see your own will to not hurt others in the present, as well as your striving to understand how you might be able to not hurt others in the future. While maybe you can’t trust yourself to never hurt anyone again, you do not know whether or not you will hurt others again. If it is your intention not to hurt others, then even if you do, there is still no reason to distrust one’s self, because your intentions are still to not hurt others.
2) See that the cause of mistrust is suffering, not untrustworthiness
The other thing that greatly helps in trusting one’s self is simply to see that the cause of one’s mistrust is not that one is inherently untrustworthy, but just that the mistrustful side of one’s self is suffering and impatient.
For instance, if hurting others causes you pain, anxiety, and frustration, you might get impatient to solve the issue of why you’re hurting others, or feel enraged at yourself for ever doing anything that could cause hurt to others. But while the thoughts might be inherently mistrustful, saying things like “you’re just a jerk who can’t do anything right”, the reasons for these thoughts are what can alleviate the self-mistrust and doubt that can come from believing such thoughts. The reasons are just that “not doing something right” causes disturbance to you, and, impatient to escape that disturbance, you’re blaming and shaming yourself for having made a decision that produced a disturbing situation.
Keep in mind, though, that simple reflection on these things may not be enough – a mistrustful side of one’s self might very well keep insisting on its attitude, and how you can’t be trusted, until its complaints are satisfied. Here is an exercise to help guide you through the process of regaining a sense of self-trust:
- Write down, on a piece of paper or in text, all the reasons why you can’t be trusted. Also include the emotion behind this mistrustful voice – draw a face or write out a description of the emotion.
- Now write out all the reasons why you can be trusted, and include the emotion behind the side of you behind this more trusting voice.
- Now, the two perspectives established, allow them to talk back and forth with each other as if they were two characters arguing over whether or not you can be trusted. Keep going back and forth between them until both sides are satisfied.
This little process may sound simple, and it is, but it also involves looking for the truth behind whether or not you can be trusted, which can be hard to discern. Hopefully with the help of this article you will have gained some ground in terms of being able to argue that trusting yourself is ok, mainly with these arguments:
- In the present, your intentions are not to create more problems for yourself, even if you have a tendency to.
- The future is uncertain – you may be totally done with creating problems for yourself, or you might continue to do so, but the uncertainty means that you cannot claim to know that you will continue to “mess up” into the future.
- Mistrust is not necessarily based on a genuine or accurate judgment of character, but instead on impatience and suffering with respect to your own problems. Just because you can’t produce results as quickly as you’d like doesn’t mean that you’re not to be trusted with the process of pursuing those results.
Benefits of working through self-mistrust
- More self-confidence
- Greater peace with the activity of leading your own life your own way
- A greater feeling of ease with respect to identifying and responding effectively to problematic situations
- A reduced burden from your past mistakes
- A greater ability to deal with other people not trusting you
- Greater access to creativity, since there’s a greater sense of allowing (e.g. to experiment, have fun with things, and be imaginative)
- Greater centeredness – not as easily knocked into emotional mayhem or despair
- Greater connection to the reality of yourself as you are in the moment, and thus greater awareness of your intentions and power to choose and adapt
Articles related to Self-Mistrust
- Impatience – Impatience to alleviate suffering seems related to self-mistrust, and parts of the self lashing out with mistrustful ideas towards the self who might be blamed for the suffering. So, understanding impatience may help not to jump into unfair self-blame and negativity
- Anxiety – self-mistrust seems to contribute to anxiety in that one may not trust one’s self with the acts of understanding and responding to reality as it changes. There can also be anxiety as a part of self-mistrust with such ideas like “if I trust myself, bad things might happen”
- Powerlessness – if you don’t trust yourself enough to use your power to choose, you might not use it, and myriad issues that could be dealt with, utilizing that power, might crop up
- Overcome Fear of Repeating your Mistakes
- The Importance of Making Mistakes (talks about the longing for a sense of non-judgment towards one’s self)
- Becoming at Peace with Your Own Path (about dealing with doubts and frustrations with your own path through life, in comparison to others who seem to be confident and have it easy)
- Honorable Self-doubt (about a side of one’s self who pursues being honorable but who can often fall prey to self-doubt when he thinks he’s done the wrong thing)