woman hugging herself

Learning to Trust Yourself Again

Healing from an unhealthy or toxic relationship involves learning to trust yourself again.

Unhealthy relationships erode your ability to trust yourself

Unhealthy or toxic relationships can destroy your trust in others. For example, if your partner cheated on you or called you derogatory names, it makes sense that you may have trouble trusting that your next partner won’t also betray and hurt you.

Unhealthy relationships can also destroy your self-trust. Abusive or hurtful behaviors chip away at your self-esteem and ability to trust your instincts and judgment. They include:

  • Questioning your abilities
  • Criticizing your choices
  • Not asking about or caring about your opinions, needs, interests
  • Making all the decisions or telling you what to do
  • Saying or implying that you’re inferior (stupid, incompetent, etc.)
  • Calling you derogatory names
  • Threatening to leave
  • Gaslighting and lying
  • Blaming you for their actions/choices

These behaviors create an atmosphere of insecurity and encourage unhealthy dependency. People who exhibit abusive, toxic, or narcissistic tendencies want you to think that you can’t live without them; they need to be needed. And they accomplish this by convincing you that you’re incapable.

Click here to read more about Relationship Red Flags.

Signs of self-doubt

A lack of self-trust is often experienced as a sense of unease or feeling anxious or on-edge. More specifically, when you don’t trust yourself, you may do some of the following:

  • Criticize yourself for not having seen the red flags or for staying in the relationship for so long.

  • Second-guess yourself and doubt whether you’re capable of making good decisions, taking care of yourself, or being single.

  • Question your perceptions or memories.

  • Wonder whether you were to blame or whether things were really as bad as they seemed.

  • Use unhealthy coping skills such as drinking, smoking, cutting, or other forms of self-harming.

  • Feel depressed, hopeless, or anxious.

In short, when you don’t trust yourself, you’re not sure what to think, feel, and believe. This can be very upsetting and confusing; a lack of self-trust makes almost everything in your life harder. However, self-trust can be rebuilt. Let’s take a look at how to get started.  

How to trust yourself again

To trust yourself, you need to believe and act like you’re valuable and capable. You need to know that you can count on yourself, that you’re going to do what’s in your own best interest rather than abandoning yourself to make someone else happy.

Of course, these are difficult things to do, especially when you’ve experienced the trauma of a toxic or abusive relationship. So, let’s break it down into smaller pieces that you can work with. Here are some ways to rebuild self-trust:

  • Keep your commitments to yourself. When you trust yourself, you know that you can count on yourself, that you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do – because you matter. You can start by setting a small, manageable goal that you know you can accomplish, like brushing your teeth every night before bed or throwing away the old birthday cards your ex gave you. The key to building trust in yourself is making a commitment that you are 99% sure you can stick to. And as you build self-trust and confidence, you can set bigger goals and take more chances. But to begin, set yourself up for success.
  • Establish strong boundaries. When you trust yourself, you’re confident that you can keep yourself safe. Setting boundaries is a way to protect yourself from physical and emotional harm. Your boundaries tell others how they can treat you, what’s okay and what’s not okay. And if the other person won’t respect your limits, you will take action to protect yourself (such as leaving the situation, hanging up the phone, choosing not to spend time alone with them). Setting boundaries is a skill you can learn. Start by identifying a safe person and practice setting a boundary with him or her. With practice, you’ll gain confidence and be able to set more boundaries with more people.
  • Be authentic. When you trust yourself, you know that you will be true to your principles, that you won’t abandon your values, beliefs, and needs to fit in. You need to believe that you’re acceptable and lovable just as you are and you can tolerate disagreements, criticism, and even rejection. Again, start small by expressing an opinion or idea about something low-stakes (such as what you want for dinner or what music you want to listen to in the car) and work your way up to expressing ideas that feel riskier.
  • Listen to your feelings. When you trust yourself, you appreciate and use the important messages that your feelings contain. Your feelings are valid and have a purpose. When you avoid, minimize, or doubt your feelings, you’re discounting a big part of who you are. You’re missing the opportunity to understand yourself and what you need. And your feelings can help you make decisions. For example, when you notice that you feel afraid or angry (and you value those feelings), you can take steps to keep yourself safe. You can read more about listening to your feelings here.
  • Take good care of yourself. When you trust yourself, you know you will take good care of yourself. Self-care isn’t always enjoyable. It includes doing things that are in your own best interest, even if they’re painful or unpleasant, like going to the dentist or having a difficult conversation. Of course, self-care is essential to stay physically and emotionally healthy, and making your own health and happiness a priority, is a concrete way of valuing yourself.
  • Don’t judge yourself. When you trust yourself, you treat yourself with kindness and honesty. It’s not fair to use what you know now to judge your past behaviors. It’s okay to have regrets – to wish you’d done things differently – but it’s not helpful or kind to criticize yourself or dwell on them. Self-trust means that you know that you did the best that you could, even if you’d do things differently now. You can forgive yourself for past mistakes because you know you’re doing your best. And as imperfect people, we all make mistakes, even when we’re doing our best. Read more about self-forgiveness here.
Learning to trust yourself again rebuild self-trust

Learning to trust yourself is a process

Learning to trust yourself takes time, just as developing trust with others takes time. Self-trust will develop as you practice keeping commitments to yourself, setting boundaries, being authentic, noticing and valuing your feelings, taking better care of yourself, and being kind to yourself. Doing these things isn’t easy, of course! But with intentional practice, you can gradually rebuild trust in yourself.

©2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of Canva.com.

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Sharon Martin

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Do you hold yourself—and perhaps others—to extremely high standards? Do you have a nagging inner-critic that tells you you’re inadequate no matter how much you achieve? Do you procrastinate certain tasks because you’re afraid you won’t carry them out perfectly? If you’ve answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, chances are you’re a perfectionist. And while there’s nothing wrong with hard work and high standards, perfectionism can take over your life if you let it.

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Sharon Martin, DSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and author specializing in codependency recovery. For the past 25 years, she’s been helping people-pleasers, perfectionists, and adult children overcome self-doubt and shame, embrace their imperfections, and set boundaries. Dr. Martin writes the popular blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

8 thoughts on “Learning to Trust Yourself Again”

  1. I just want to thank you for all the amazing helpful information you share. You are a very special person. You help others and ask nothing in return. Thank you so very much. You have helped me and I am sure thousands of others.
    Sincerely Margie

    1. I totally agree with Margie! Sharon my name is Sharon also. I have a lot of special Sharon’s in my life and you are one of them 😊thank-you for your wisdom. God always gives the necessary tools to help us in our journey thank-you for making yourself available to share them.

  2. Hi Sharon,

    I like your approach to this topic; you emphasize that, in learning to trust ourselves, we need to develop confidence in our abilities to attend to our own needs. We need to become our own best friends. As you say, if we love ourselves unconditionally and remember that our feelings are valid, we will have a strong foundation to support the incremental change you encourage.

    I think that there’s also a lot to be said for how self-doubt can come from within us. Doubt can help us learn from our mistakes, take preventive measures, and adapt. But this doubt is only useful when we regain confidence in our abilities so we can once again move forward; if our self-esteem is low, it is possible to become trapped by our doubt.

    The good news is that all your advice gives us a clear path for recovering from this kind of doubt, regardless of where it comes from. Your strategies are flexible, yet durable. Thanks for sharing them!


  3. Thank you for this. I’m in process of healing from living in a dysfunctional home with a narcissistic step father. He very much made us doubt ourselves. Now as an adult I struggle with trusting my decisions. Even though I have an amazing life! I didn’t know where to start and this very much helps.

  4. How do you handle loving your parents and seeing their goodness but also being haunted by memories of really hurtful, scary times? I know that nobody is perfect. I know that life and being a parent is hard. I love my parents and appreciate them and their sacrifices. I didn’t have a horrible life by any means. But I do have memories that won’t leave me alone and when they resurface over and over again, no matter how long, no matter how much I forgive, no matter how much I say I’m over it, I end up reliving them in the present and experiencing the anger and anxiety all over again. I go through cycles of depression and anxiety that seem to be related to these memories resurfacing. They are from early childhood. I watched my parents grow into better people though and go for long periods of having a good relationship and not thinking about the past. When I bring these memories up to my parents or other family, I am told that I am wrong and need to forgive and let go. I have taught myself that I’m bad for having these memories resurface. I want to let them go but I need help reframing what may have happened or been intended back then. Maybe my young mind took things out of context. How do you heal from parents that hurt you but also were good to you. Am I just a whiny, attention seeking brat?

  5. Another great article. One thing I have been practicing is going with my first choice. My first idea. With the narcissistic relationship I was always spinning around with what to do.
    I am 12 months out of this relationship and the choices I make now I own them.

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