Overcoming Self-loathing and Anxiety, Self-compassion, Uncategorized

When We Don’t Trust Ourselves: How Not to Live a Secondhand Life

All of us face the possibility of living our life secondhand. We live a secondhand life when we live our lives according to what other people think and say we should do, rather than living our life according to what we think is right and good to do.  When we live a secondhand life, we let other people take responsibility for us, rather than taking responsibility for ourselves.

Secondhand vs. Self-Directed Lives

It is easy to fall into living a secondhand life because living the opposite, a self-directed life, requires us to trust ourselves , and I think many of us find trusting ourselves difficult. In fact, trusting ourselves may be one of the hardest things we will ever learn to do.

After all, learning to trust ourselves requires us to recognize that we always have the potential to make mistakes, to look foolish, to annoy other people, and to hurt ourselves and others. Trust also requires us, nevertheless, to place confidence in ourselves that we will figure out the best thing to do, even when we goof up a little or a lot. This is difficult and takes a lot of practice.

The thing is, it is essential to learn to trust ourselves. If we do not, we are always looking to someone else outside of us to tell us what to do about our life. When we are younger, this is appropriate because there is still so much that we do not know, and our parents and other authority figures in our lives DO know what is best for us.

The Directors of Our Own Lives

But as we get older, we are the experts of our lives. We are the closest people to ourselves. We know ourselves and our life situation better than anyone else. When we don’t trust ourselves and we ask other people to tell us what to do with our lives all the time, we end up not really living our lives. We live a secondhand version of our lives, as directed by someone else.

We are supposed to be the director of our “life movie”, so a secondhand life is never as powerful. Living our lives through someone else’s opinions and directions inevitably means we curb what is most powerful and real in us—our goals, our opinions, our passions, our convictions. Our unique light is dimmed when we live a secondhand life.

Secondhand Lives and Authoritarian Leaders

But there is even a greater danger with not trusting ourselves and living secondhand lives. When people do not trust themselves and do not live self-directed lives, they are much easier to manipulate. If you want to control a large group of people, it is much easier if you can convince them that they cannot trust themselves or solve their own problem, and they need some kind of authority figure or great leader to fix their lives.

When people constantly live secondhand lives, it erodes democracy because democracy requires the deliberation of people who are reasonably confident in their ability to deliberate and solve problems together.


When we lead a secondhand life, we tend not to trust ourselves or other people, and this  can cause us to engage in leader worship: we give control of our lives over to someone we believe can save us and our country.

Democracy and Self-Directed Lives

This is dangerous. Democracy cannot thrive in the midst of leader worship. Democracy thrives the more that people live self-directed lives together, trusting ourselves and one another to discover creative solutions to our current problems. When we do this, we multiply our problem-solving and creative capacity.

On the other hand, when we hand our autonomy over to a “Great Leader”, this dramatically reduces our problem-solving and creative capacity. The less we have access to our problem-solving and creativity, the more we rely on force, violence, and fearmongering. If we want to thrive in our own personal and democratic lives together, we have to learn to trust ourselves.

The question now is, “Why do we have so much difficulty trusting ourselves? Why do we often abdicate our right to be the boss of us and instead allow other people to be the boss of us?” I want to discuss four reasons why I believe we have trouble trusting ourselves, and then I will discuss several ways we can learn to trust ourselves.

Why It is Hard to Trust Ourselves

One–Distorted Religious Messages: One of the primary reasons people have difficulty trusting themselves is because of distorted religious messages they have received telling them that they are fundamentally corrupt and sinful and that their sinfulness is what is most true about them. (Don’t worry if you are not religious or don’t believe in God. This item and this post in general are still for you.)

I can’t tell you what to believe (that is your job to figure it out), but I would like to suggest that at the heart all major religious systems in the world is the message that what is most true about us is our God-like nature–it might be referred to as the image of God in us, our Buddha nature, or our Highest Self.

Whatever it is called, the message is the same: Because we are created by God, what is the most true about us is this God-like nature (this is most clear, I think, in Christianity and Hinduism, as Buddhists tend to be somewhat agnostic about God’s existence). This God-like nature contains wisdom, love, compassion, and creativity. It is our light. The more we connect with it, the more we become the truest and fullest version of who we are, and the more we become this, the more we know how to direct our lives skillfully and lovingly together. When we connect with this God-like nature in us, we can absolutely trust ourselves because we connect with God’s light in us.

If you don’t believe in God, one way to think of this God-like nature is to think of it as the highest self—the highest possibility of human wisdom, love, creativity, and compassion that all human beings potentially possess  and that we often see joyfully expressed in the lives of babies or children. (This is often why we love babies and children so much—they represent humanity’s innocent and beautiful potential and our more natural state when we are not deformed by greed, fear, and rage.)

Unfortunately, there are a lot distorted religious messages in the world that seem to ignore this God-like nature in people and, instead, tell people that what is most true and real about them is their sin and horribleness. If I become convinced that my very core is filled with sin and horribleness, it becomes very hard to trust myself. In fact, if I believe that what is most real about me is my sinfulness and horribleness, I am probably filled with shame, rather than trust. (You can read more about shame here.)


Once again, I can’t tell you what to believe, as you have to decide this for yourself. We all know we have dark and bad things about us. However, consider that the dark and bad things in our life proceed from us getting cut off from our God-like nature or Highest Self, which is actually Love. When we get cut off from Love, we do all manner of misguided, wrong-headed, and unskillful things to find it again. I have written more about that here and here.

So when distorted religious messages suggest that who we are at our core is sinful and bad, they are mistaking the result of us being cut off from who we are with who we actually are. When we reconnect with Love, our God-like nature, or Highest Selves (what I have called the Wise Self in other posts), we are in the best position to trust ourselves.

I think this sentiment is beautifully expressed in a passage from the book of  Romans in the New Testament: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”[1]

This is a passage about being connected with the Light in us–God’s Light–and learning to trust our thinking and judging capacities again, rather than trusting all of the messages that would lead us away from God’s light inside of us.

If you believe you have problems trusting yourself because of distorted religious messages you have received throughout your life, here is something you can say to yourself: What is most real about me is my God-like nature or Wise Self. I connect with this true self regularly, and I honor and trust it.


Two–Predatory Advertising Messages: Advertisements are everywhere. One of the primary ways that advertisers sell products to us is to make us believe that we are somehow deficient or unworthy and that the product being sold will fix all of that for us.

For example, advertisers sell us toothpaste by making us believe that our teeth are not white enough or our breath is not fresh enough and that their toothpaste can fix that. They sell clothes to us by convincing us that our current wardrobe is not fashionable or sexy enough and that their clothes can fix that. They sell us cruises by convincing us that our current life is not exciting or glamorous enough and that their cruise can fix that.

In other words, advertisers gain power over us by making us constantly doubt our own self-sufficiency and by getting us to hand our decision-making and autonomy over to them. They get us to distrust ourselves and our own ability to make our own decisions about what will bring us a good life.

If we received such messages every once in a while, they might not affect us too much, but we receive these advertising messages constantly from every direction, all day long, and most of them communicate, “We know much better than you how to help you live a good life. You can’t trust yourself. Trust us.” The result of this is that we learn to look to others constantly to tell us what to do, and we learn to mistrust ourselves.

If you think you have difficulty trusting yourself because of advertising messages, here is something you can say to yourself: Advertisers are not my friends, and they are not the boss of me. I know what is best for my life, not them. I now set an intention to ignore them and listen to my Wise Self.

Three–Controlling Friends, Partners, and Family Members: When our relationships with friends and family are marked by love, the people involved trust one another and support each other to become the fullest, most flourishing versions of themselves.

All of us come into the world somewhat like little seeds full of potential. We have the capability of growing into a beautiful “plant” that is a unique expression of our God-like nature, showing itself through our unique talents, potential, appearance, and life situations. The more people are supported in becoming the unique plant they are, the more beauty, diversity, and interdependent strength they bring to the world. Our job in friendships and relationships is to support people to become the unique kind of plant they are.

Unfortunately, it is very easy in friendships and relationships to fall into controlling mode rather than a supporting mode. When we fall into controlling mode, we use our friends, partners, and family members primarily to meet some need in our life or to make us look good or to parrot our opinions and preferences back to us.

We usually justify controlling mode to ourselves by saying things like, “I just want X” (X is a particular person) “to live the best life possible or to be all that she can be”. However, if we have a low tolerance for our loved ones making mistakes, or if we place much more stock in our vision for our loved-one’s life rather than listening to their visions for their life, this is a clear sign that we are in controlling rather than supporting mode.

Whenever we try to control our loved ones, we undermine their trust in themselves, and when our loved-ones try to control us, we learn to trust them and the authorities they value, rather than learning to trust ourselves.

If you think you have problems trusting yourself because of controlling friends, partners, or family members, here is something you can say to yourself: True love supports; it does not control. I trust and support myself, and I trust and support my loved ones. No one has the right to control another adult.

Four–Fear: Sometimes we have a really hard time trusting ourselves because we are afraid. We are afraid that we will make mistakes, that we will look foolish, that we will hurt ourselves, and that we will hurt others.

I have bad news, and I have good news.

The bad news is that making mistakes, looking foolish, and hurting ourselves and others (at least a little bit) is an inevitable part of life. I don’t mean that messing up our lives and the lives of others irrevocably is an inevitable part of life. Rather, I mean that making some mistakes in all areas of our lives (including our relationships) is an inevitable part of life.

How could it be otherwise? Learning to be a human being is a lot like riding your bike. You have to gain confidence and balance and the feel for combining speed and grace. And you have to do all of this while avoiding potholes, trees, dogs, and other people. This takes a lot of practice, and every single person falls down a little bit or a lot (or runs into a tree like I did) while learning to ride a bike.


That is a lot what it is like to learn to be a human being. Becoming human requires us to build a lot of confidence, balance, and agility, and we have to learn to do this while not running into other people. This takes practice and at least a little bit of falling down. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are either deceiving themselves or they are trying to sell you something (and possibly both).

Becoming a successful human being is scary. It is okay to feel fear. Just don’t let your fear keep you from trying. If you set an intention to connect with your Wise Self and to walk in the path of Love, you are going to learn to be an excellent human being and also how to correct mistakes you have made. That is all part of the process.

If you have problems trusting yourself because of fear, here is something you can say to yourself: Mistakes and some pain are a normal part of life, just like falling of a bike is a normal part of learning how to ride a bike. I will do the best I can, and I will learn from my mistakes. This is how I learn to be a person.

Connecting With the Wise Self

I have suggested that we can learn to trust ourselves by learning to connect with our Wise Selves so that we can make decisions for ourselves and live self-directed lives. When we connect with our Wise Self on a regular basis, we build up a storehouse of wisdom, creativity, love, compassion, and all sorts of other good things we can draw on whenever we need it.

One way to think of this is that your inner life is like a garden, and whenever you spend time with your Wise Self, you plant and water seeds, and these seeds turn into beautiful plants of wisdom, creativity, etc. that you can go and pick any time you need them. Here are the most common ways to connect with Your Wise Self:


One: Time–Set time aside regularly and intentionally, even if it is just a minute, to connect with the Wise Self.

Two: Ask–If you believe in God, ask God to give you more wisdom, love, compassion, and creativity. He/She will surely do so. If you don’t believe in God, you can set an intention: “I am willing to connect with my Wise Self and grow in love, wisdom, creativity, and compassion.” Set this intention each time you take time to be silent.

Three: Read–Read books or literature that help to connect you with your wise self. Here are some books I have found especially helpful: the Bible (especially the books of Proverbs, Psalms, and James); the DaoDeJing; Return to Love by Marianne Williamson; The Course in Miracles by Helen Schucman; There is Nothing Wrong with You by Cheri Huber; How to Love by Thich Naht Hanh; the Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown.

Four: Listen–Listen to podcasts or Youtube lectures by people who are trying to connect with their Wise Self. I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts, but here are some people whose youtube videos I have watched that I found helpful: Marianne Williamson, Brene Brown, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh, Cheri Huber, Richard Rohr.

The Wise Self and Specific Decisions

If you need to connect with your Wise Self in regards to making a particular decision, here are some techniques I have found especially helpful:

Do Your Best: Recognize that you are only required to do your best. Doing your best does not mean you are required to be perfect or to know everything ahead of time. Doing your best simply means setting an intention to act with love and wisdom. (See next step).

Set Right Intention: Recognize that the most important thing to do with every decision is to act with the intention of love and wisdom. If you do this, you will be headed in an absolute perfect direction, and you will know how to correct your course if you find you have made a mistake.

Love is Stronger Logo

Let Go of Others’ Judgment: Recognize that if people get mad at you for making mistakes when you have tried your best, this is about them, not about you, and you don’t have to worry what they think. People who get mad at you for making mistakes are not expressing love for you; they are trying to dominate and control you. If you would like to read more about this, you might like this post.

Ask and Relax: When you need to make a particular decision, ask God for wisdom about this decision or, if you don’t believe in God, set an intention to listen for wisdom. I also often ask God for a miracle, and this really seems to work for me. For instance, if I am having a relationship problem, I ask God for a miracle in this relationship. When I say miracle, I mean a shift in perspective. This is another way of asking for more wisdom. Feel free to ask for a miracle if you think it will work for you.

After I ask God for wisdom or a miracle, I go and work on something else, trusting that I will have the wisdom I need soon. I often go and do something creative or relaxing. Here are the activities that really help me: doing art, taking a walk, taking a bath, cleaning house, watching an interesting show, cooking, listening to music (sometimes really loud music), dancing, going for a walk. When I ask for wisdom and then do creative things like this, I think it helps to relax my mind so that I can hear or receive wisdom better.

Use intuition cards. A lot of authors have created decks of cards that can help us tap into our higher wisdom. I refer to these cards as intuition cards, although that is not what the authors call them, because they help me tap into my own intuition. Most of us have a lot more wisdom inside of us than we realize. In fact, often we know the answers to something, but we just aren’t aware that we know them. Using intuition cards can be a helpful way to help us tap into the wisdom we already possess.

Usually intuition cards have a beautiful picture on the front and then a paragraph meditation on the back. When I am having a problem, I sometimes shuffle one of these decks of cards and pull out one to three cards. I look at the pictures and read the messages on the back of them. Often these cards remind me of some piece of wisdom I already know, and I can almost always apply this wisdom to my current situation.

Here are some intuition cards I have found especially helpful:

“The Language of Letting Go” cards by Melodie Beattie

“Blessing: 64 Ways to Give Thanks for the Peace and Joy in Your Life” cards by Julia Cameron.

“Power Thought” cards by Louise Hay

“Journey of Love” cards by Alana Fairchild and Richard Cohn

Connect: Even though I have emphasized the importance of trusting ourselves in this post, it is perfectly find and often good to ask other people for advice. Often in our lives, we meet people who seem especially connected to the Wise Self. These people can be of great help to us when we are making a decision. You should feel free to ask the advice of wise people in your life. Just realize that you are always the final decision-maker, and if their advice does not ring true to you, it is perfectly okay to set it aside for another day or even permanently.

You Can Learn to Trust Yourself

Dear Friend: You have a beautiful light in you, and the more you connect with it, the more you are in the exact place you need to be with all the wisdom you need, and you can trust yourself. Peace.


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[1] Romans 12:2

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