Last week, I celebrated 5 years since opening my private practice, Malta Counseling. In reflection of this journey, I’ve been thinking a lot about my path of developing self-trust (an ongoing process), which allowed me to choose to start my own business.
Five years ago, when I opened Malta Counseling, I took a big risk as I left a stable government job which offered me job security, a good salary with the potential of regular pay increases, good health benefits and perhaps even the eventual possibility of career advancements. I had thought about the possibility of leaving agency work before, but for all of those previously stated reasons, I never really considered it in a serious way. It had always seemed to be a bit of a "pipe dream"...an option that was only really possible for people with a lot of external resources or safety nets, and a level of internal strengths and capacities that I perceived were far greater than what I had to offer.
For several years prior to opening Malta Counseling, I had gone through some big life challenges and transitions, which brought me to recognize deeply entrenched patterns of self-doubt with which I had been moving through my life. I had made so many choices in my life according to what I believed I was “supposed to do” and in an effort to “get it right”. I honestly did not have much experience with sincerely asking myself “What do you really want and need?” with a willingness to then really listen for the answers and to honor my authentic wishes by trying to manifest my aspirations. Rather, I was operating on my conditioning…a sort of program that ran in the background of my mind...whose main function, ironically, was to keep me emotionally and physically safe.
Anxiety and self-criticism were deeply rooted, automatic programs that ran on repeat in my inner world. They manifested in a disempowered body whose movements were closely monitored, whose words were carefully filtered, and whose freedom to choose was significantly restricted. As my awareness of these patterns grew, I began to see the many ways that they were blocking me from ever truly knowing my authentic self and expressing my true potential. I would never live a fulfilled, satisfied life that way.
The other thing that I realized was that these patterns were actually substitutions for my own judgement. At some point along the way, I unfortunately internalized the idea I could not trust myself. I could not rely on my own judgement for guidance because I did not have a sincere sense of self-trust. Conditioned responses of “doing what I was supposed to do” or “the right thing”, were sort of rules on which I could rely, in lieu of my own personal discernment. As you can imagine, and perhaps relate to, this over-reliance on rigid rules can eat away at a person’s sense of human-ness. It can create feelings of loneliness, inauthenticity in relationships, and distance or separateness from others. Seeing all this, I understood that I needed to learn how to relate to myself differently.
I did some big emotional work. I found a therapist who helped me unpack a lot of stuff – guilt, shame, fear – that I'd been carrying around for a long time. I was introduced to mindfulness and self-compassion practices, which allowed me to see myself with kinder, sweeter, more loving eyes. From this view, I saw a human being who was trying so hard to "get it right"...to be so likable, so helpful, so good…a vulnerable and lovable little girl inside. Self-doubt helped her to avoid shame and judgement by advising her to stay quiet and avoid risks which she feared might otherwise expose her inadequacies and imperfections. I learned to stay present to her fears with compassion and to honor what she was attempting to protect against. And I learned how to help her. I helped her by collaborating with her – by holding a space for her to explore and discover her own answers without urgency or threat of shame. I helped her “to know that it was okay to not know” and to be in the process of learning. I helped her to know that there are ways to land softly when things don’t work out as planned and that it is okay to try different things, and to explore her potential without having certainties as to the outcomes.
Which leads me back to my decision to open my practice five years ago. To take risk involves allowing for uncertainty...it means not knowing how it all turns out – a vulnerable position. It means accepting the possibility of many different outcomes and trusting that we will be able to respond in meaningful ways to whatever comes. That is self-trust. It is different than self-confidence and self-esteem, because it is not the belief that we can/will succeed or that we have superior capacities or qualities. Self-trust is the sense that we will meet whatever comes...that as life unfolds, we will be able to show up for it and rely on ourselves for guidance and protection. Self-trust is an empowered and compassionate position that knows how to lead with courage, even in the midst of uncertainty, struggle, or difficulty. It is not conditional to positive outcomes...in other words, it is not given or withheld based on how things turn out.
Self-trust is also not a permanent, concrete state that endures once you have your first taste of it. I most certainly am not moving through life free of self-doubt and anxiety. In my opinion, the work of developing self-trust really goes into the category of “life work”. But each time we practice it, we strengthen it. It’s a lot like building trust with another person. At first, we may take small risks of sharing with them or relying on them. Then, as we find that our risks are honored by being received with kindness and care, we build our sense of trust that we can do so again and perhaps with more at stake.
In our relationship with ourselves, as in any relationship, there will be ruptures in trust at times….something that causes us to ask, “Can I really rely on you? Will you really be there for me when I need you? Do you really care? Will you truly always do your best to keep me safe?” In our interpersonal relationships, ruptures in trust, do not have to mean the end of the relationship. Instead, they can be opportunities to turn toward each other, to seek to understand how the rupture came to be, to bring compassion to each other for the internal or external conditions that contributed to the rupture, and to re-set intentions about how we wish to navigate similar challenges together in the future. When each person engages in that process with sincerity and with intentions to truly listen, understand, heal and grow the relationship, they often come out of that process with a stronger sense of trust then they had before.
In a similar way, as we practice turning toward ourselves with a compassionate attitude and with intentions to sincerely listen and understand, we are able to discern where or how we got off track without shaming ourselves for it and commit to any changes or adjustments that will support our well-being. We can then re-align our aim and move forward, knowing that we have more insight then we did before, which will serve to guide us wisely on our path forward. Through this process, we come to authentically know ourselves, our intentions, our wishes, and to honestly acknowledge our potential pitfalls or responses which do not lead us in our intended direction.
Finally, just as it does harm to our sense of trust in another person when they repeatedly break promises to us or they commit to changes and then do not follow through, it does harm to our sense of self-trust when we engage in those kinds of patterns with ourselves. Therefore, we need to take our commitments to ourselves seriously if we are to build our sense of self-trust. Our commitments to ourselves must be heartfelt and sincere, rather than rooted in "a should", as we are more likely to struggle to follow through with commitments that do not have sincere meaning to us. It is important that we are able to know that we honored the commitments that we made to ourselves as best as we could, or to at least know that we have grown from our missteps.
Self-trust provides the gift of freedom. Freedom to try. Freedom to fail. Freedom to make mistakes, grow, learn, refine, reset, restart, and try again. It offers us the opportunity to know ourselves authentically and it gives us the option of sharing ourselves fully with others. It allows us to make decisions by considering our options with an open heart and an open mind…so that we can arrive at our choice through our own wise discernment – not through some external measure of right and wrong. Self-trust allows us to lay down our own path as we walk it…to truly embrace this journey of life.
I am incredibly grateful that what unfolded in my life as I engaged in that embrace, was the opportunity to grow my own business and do the work that I set out to do over these past five years! I am excited to continue to meet my path and grow with it as it unfolds!