Learning to Trust Yourself: Mindfulness & Vulnerability

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us there is something valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” – E. E. Cummings

When was the last time you experienced a moment of self-doubt? In a world full of seemingly endless choices and information it’s natural to feel a bit overwhelmed. There are often a lot of incoming messages from outside sources about what kind of person to be, what type of job to have, or what sort of beliefs to hold. These messages can begin to sound like an incessant static hum in the background of one’s mind, slowly but surely silencing the natural intuition and wisdom within us all.

One possible result of feeling bombarded with messages about how you should be or how you should live is gradual disconnection from your authentic self. It’s understandable to question your capacity for effective decision-making or to feel confident in your core self if you’ve internalized the stream of chatter, criticism, and advice from the outside world. If you can relate to this experience, the world might seem like a pretty confusing or threatening place. In this case, it’s understandable to feel emotionally numb, paralyzed, or hypersensitive.

Attachment Theory

During early stages of human development, it’s natural for a child to seek out comfort, security, and protection from the primary caregiver. When the child feels soothed, he or she feels safe to resume play and exploration. This scenario is common among those who develop secure attachment styles in childhood, which generally carry over to adult relationships. Even though we experience unique connections with different people, the general manner in which we develop and behave in adult relationships is strongly impacted by our earliest relationships. This is one of the central tenets of attachment theory.

Develop a Safe Refuge

Even if you developed a form of insecure attachment in childhood, such as attachment-related anxiety or avoidance, it is possible to cultivate emotional security as an adult. Refuge is a “safe, supportive place to be when we are fragile or confused, a safe place to cry or rant as long as we need to, or somewhere to wait patiently until a course of action begins to emerge from the chaos” (Graham, 2013, p. 97). Developing your own personal refuge is a powerful step toward building self-efficacy, increasing self-esteem, and learning how to trust yourself.

Places to Seek Refuge:

You’ll get a sense of what kind of refuge feels most peaceful, centering, and supportive to you personally through exploration. A safe refuge is ego-syntonic when it is a good “fit” for your temperament, personality, and lifestyle. For instance, some people may feel most tranquil and emotionally restored when practicing yoga or going for a run… others may find refuge in their local place of worship… and others may feel recharged and revitalized from a heartfelt conversation with a supportive loved one.

The idea is to discover what type of refuge works for you… what context allows safety and freedom to express vulnerability and become mindful. This refuge can serve as a secure base along your journey toward deepening trust in yourself.

Neuroscience & Developing Self-Trust

A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that it’s possible to reverse memory loss in animal nerve cells. Although the researchers were primarily interested in advancing treatments for Alzheimer’s, Dr. Elisha Goldstein points out that “the implications don’t stop there, it could also support a neuroscience for learning to trust ourselves in times of difficulty.”

When emotional turmoil is combined with a lack of context, your brain struggles to make sense of where those painful emotions are coming from. It’s naturally hard to trust yourself in these moments. A structure in the brain called the hippocampus is involved in memory, learning, and providing us with some semblance of context. The hippocampus also plays a role in sending us signals that it’s safe to let our guard down and express vulnerability.

One way shown to stimulate neural growth in the hippocampus is through a regular eight week practice of mindfulness meditation. Others include creating an enriching environment or engaging in memory building activities. This all relates back to learning to trust yourself… as Dr. Goldstein puts it, “When it comes to trusting ourselves, we need to have a retrievable memory of experiences where we are able to rely on ourselves to handle a difficult situation.”

Learn How to Trust Yourself

The good news is that despite years of self-doubt, it is possible to learn how to trust yourself. During moments that lack self-trust you may feel confused, lost, stuck, or helpless. Perhaps you find yourself seeking out advice, feedback, or support from others… sure that they must have some superior wisdom. Over time, dwelling in this emotional place of self-doubt can chip away at your self-confidence.

You have the power and the freedom to start making new choices in the present moment. Building trust in yourself means choosing to adopt a mindful stance, especially during moments of emotional vulnerability. This also means willingness to feel uncomfortable… this is where real change and growth are possible.

Vulnerability is often associated with fear or weakness. Sure, being vulnerable means taking the risk of getting hurt and venturing out into the unknown. This is part of the adventure we call life. In fact, true vulnerability is a sign of strength, authenticity, and courage. In order to learn how to trust yourself, you must be willing to be vulnerable.

You can build the capacity for trust in yourself through mindfully paying attention to moments of vulnerability… observing your personal experience of emotional vulnerability with an accepting, curious, and nonjudgmental attitude. Becoming mindful of these vulnerable moments will increase trust in your capacity to be with yourself, whatever might come up.

Gradually, the thoughts, emotions, and experiences that you may have spent years defending yourself against don’t seem nearly as threatening. You can handle this moment… and the next… and the next. The development of trust in yourself means leaning on the strength of your inner resources to meet whatever challenges might arise with poise, confidence, and mindfulness.

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Goldstein, E. (2013, April 25). The Neuroscience of Trusting Yourself. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elisha-goldstein-phd/neuroscience-trust_b_3150370.html

Graham, L. (2013). Bouncing back: Rewiring your brain for maximum resilience and well-being. Novato, CA: New World Library.

Featured image: 143/365 Come Sail Away With Me by martinak15 / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. Greg Weber on June 15, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Fantastic post! This speaks very much to that place where I and most of the anxious people I know live most of the time: self-doubt.

    I can see more clearly by reading this that most of my day to day fear comes from not trusting that I can handle what life throws at me, moment by moment.

    I’m making the commitment right now to spend more time developing this sense of inner confidence and self trust. It’s clear that I’m still sorely lacking much of this internal resource.

    Thanks for the inspirational post today.

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