“Slow, soulful living is all about coming back to your truth, the only guidance you’ll ever need. When you rush, you have the tendency to follow others. When you bring in mindfulness, you have the power to align with yourself.” ~Kris Franken
Codependency previously created a lot of pain and agony in my life. One of the ways it manifested was in my inability to trust myself. I would overthink decisions to death, fearful that I would choose the “wrong one” or upset someone if they didn’t agree or were disappointed by my choice.
I was terrified of “making a mistake,” and I exhausted myself trying to collect everyone’s opinion (to ensure they would be pleased with me) before finally settling on a choice.
As annoying as it was, for me and everyone around me, I couldn’t seem to stand firm in my decisions. I longed to be more confident in my choices but couldn’t understand why it was so hard for me.
Growing up with an authoritative, controlling parent, I didn’t have the opportunity and support I needed to feel my feelings and let my intuition guide my choices. I didn’t get to learn from my mistakes. When I made a mistake, it felt like death. I was often blamed, shamed, and criticized, all too much for my empathetic system to bear.
I learned that if I placated and pleased, others were happy. And because I became so others-focused from such an early age, I never learned how to build my muscle for good decision-making.
Feelings and emotions were not welcome in my world, so my only way through was to disconnect from feeling at all—though I felt responsible for others’ mood swings and feelings. I learned that sharing my needs or opinions was triggering for others, and I didn’t have the skills to navigate the weight of that. All this combined felt mentally paralyzing, so I began to look outside of myself to others for advice and guidance eventually.
When you’re reliant on other people’s opinions and guidance, you’re much like a feather in the wind—susceptible to any small or big gust that comes along. You aren’t in control of your life, and you give others way too much power over how you feel.
One of the best ways to begin to build self-trust and heal from codependency is to begin feeling your feelings again, living from the neck down as I like to say. Moving from our cognitive thinking brain (because I know you know making decisions shouldn’t be this hard) to the wisdom of our bodies.
I believe that in order for us to really build this self-trust muscle, we have to learn how to trust our feelings. And that requires us to build a sense of awareness around why we might be codependent in the first place.
Perhaps, like me, you were programmed from an early age not to trust your inner knowing, or intuition. This results in low self-worth. And this happens for a number of reasons.
- You were abused or neglected (physically and/or emotionally).
- Your feelings and needs were minimized.
- You were judged, shamed, or mocked for your feelings, maybe even being called “too sensitive.”
- Your feelings and needs weren’t as important as other people’s.
- You didn’t have at least one parent or caregiver validating your feelings and sense of worth. You didn’t have someone mirroring back to you your value.
If you experienced any amount of neglect, or had emotionally unavailable parents, like me, you probably learned to suppress your feelings in order to survive. And what we resist persists, so those feelings that we try to shove down only intensify.
3 Tools to Build Self-Trust
These three tips might help you learn to trust your inner wisdom so you can make decisions from an empowered place.
TOOL #1: Do a daily check-in of your feelings.
When we check in with our feelings regularly so we can meet our needs, we learn to trust in our ability to do what’s best for ourselves.
When I first started doing this, I would set four alarms on my phone. When the alarm went off, I would do a quick check-in by asking myself, “What am I feeling? What am I experiencing right now?”
Often, we run through life, not checking in to see how we are doing and feeling (especially if we struggle with people-pleasing and codependency). We do a lot of things every day, all day—go to work, make decisions, parent our kids—but we often don’t check in with ourselves and ask if we need to shift something.
This is a big part of self-love, checking in and asking, before I have this conversation with my child, my partner, my boss, or customer service rep for my computer, what’s going on with me? Oh, I’m feeling ornery or hungry; here’s how I can address that before I have this conversation.
You can also do this by journaling. Keeping track of your feelings in a journal can be a beautiful way to understand, process, and look back on your experiences.
Here are some journaling questions to help you get started:
- What do I need to hear from myself?
- What do I need to do for myself to feel my best?
- What do I love about my life right now?
- Today I woke up feeling (fill in the blank).
- Am I living a life aligned with my values?
TOOL #2: Reparent your inner child.
Reparenting your inner child is a beautiful way of giving your inner little one the things that he or she needed and never received in childhood. You become the parent you needed when you were a child. And, by giving to yourself what you didn’t receive then, you free yourself from the past.
So much of reparenting yourself is about making choices every day in your own best interest. It’s becoming aware of your patterns and behaviors, understanding why you do what you do, and carving out time to give yourself what you really need. When you give yourself what you need, you start worrying less about other people abandoning you because you know you won’t abandon yourself.
One of my favorite ways to reparent myself is to give myself the words I never got to hear as a small young child. Words like:
- I love you.
- I hear you.
- You are perfect and complete.
- You didn’t deserve that.
- I see that really hurt you.
- What do you need right now?
- That must have been very difficult for you.
- I’m so sorry that happened to you.
- You are smart.
- You did your best.
TOOL #3: Practice creating safety within.
Because we, as codependents, were raised by either emotionally unavailable or narcissistic caregivers/parents, we developed what I refer to as “a hole in the soul.”
Our parents’ responsibility is to mirror back to us our worth and value, but when they fail to do that, we will look to someone or something outside of ourselves to show us our worth and, in essence, feel safe.
It’s an endless battle of trying to fill that hole. Low self-worth, self-value, self-esteem, and self-regard are typical for codependents. We look outside of ourselves for safety and approval, becoming dependent on that next hit or rush. That safety might last for five minutes, five hours, and if we’re lucky, a whole day.
One of my trusted and reliable systems for safety was shopping. I would spend frivolously, buying things we didn’t need with money we didn’t necessarily have. This created a lot of stress and conflict between my husband and me, and further decreased my self-trust.
He couldn’t understand why I had this insatiable push to spend, and I didn’t either. I just knew that my system felt safe and relaxed once I made my purchases—until the excitement wore off, which usually happened quite quickly, and I was back in the store, searching and spending, trying to get my next fix.
I had a lot of stress and guilt because I knew what I was doing wasn’t healthy. Yet it was compulsive. I couldn’t stop.
I longed for the connection and safety that I never received as a child but didn’t know how to get it in healthy ways. So I suppressed my needs in relationships and tried to fill that hole with shopping.
It didn’t happen overnight, but once I learned how to create that feeling of safety within myself (with lots of support through trauma-informed coaching, therapy, breathwork, meditation, and proper nutrition, and after learning to speak up for myself), my codependent strategies (shopping, relationship addiction) slowly seemed to disappear.
I no longer needed to rely on my old strategies because I knew how to trust myself and offer myself what I truly needed.
I invite you to try this: Close your eyes and imagine something that makes you feel at ease, calm, and safe (maybe your favorite forest or beach, perhaps a little cabin nestled in the woods). Notice where the sensation of ease lives in your body. Be with it for a moment—just sit with and experience it. That feeling you just created was created by you. It is yours.
Every time you do this exercise you release the belief that you can’t create this feeling alone. That you can’t be trusted, and that you must rely on things outside of you to create safety.
When I first started this practice, I had to implement it every time I entered a store. I took a few moments while I sat in my car and created that feeling of safety within. That way, I felt a sense of calm and ease as I was shopping, keeping my prefrontal cortex online so that I could make rational purchases that I felt confident and good about.
I started to build evidence that I could, in fact, trust myself to make healthy decisions. It was incredibly empowering and freeing to walk into a shop and simply admire the textures, patterns, scents, and products without feeling an overwhelming compulsion to put things in my cart that I simply didn’t need.
Every time we connect with ourselves this way, we prove to ourselves that we can create safety within. And every time we make healthy choices from that place of internal safety, we deepen our trust in our ability to discern and do what’s best for us.