After being a survivor of rape, I forgot how to trust myself.
He was a few years older than me. He had kind eyes and a radiant smile. He was loved by many of his friends and family. He was one of the only people in his community to have graduated from college at his age. He was on his way towards career success. But he had his violent tendencies. He used to get into fights with the local boys. He gave himself too much credit for his “kindness” towards me. He oftentimes put himself first instead of catering to my needs or wishes–whether it was where to go out on a date, how long to go out, or when to listen to me. He started believing that as my boyfriend he was entitled to sex. And he put me in an uncomfortable position where I felt like I owed him sex.
He pressured and prodded until he entered me without my consent and it continued until I could no longer take back what had happened. It was the most painful thing I had ever experienced. He was the one closest to me, who I thought I could trust. When I told a female relative about it, who I thought would understand, she told me that passion and violence is part of the ups and downs of a relationship and that I could get through it. She said what happened was bound to happen because I was spending too much time alone with him. My friend told me that I should have stayed away and that I allowed it to happen. I was already very depressed and at a low point in my life and hearing these victim blaming words pushed me further down into a pit. Yes, I could have made better decisions with who to trust. Yes, I could have tried harder to protect myself. But I was also in a codependent relationship with someone who I felt could fill the void in my heart and make me happier; give me company. I was easily manipulatable because I was already in a socially weak position. I was a minority woman of color in a violent isolating society with no friends around me. I had patronizing, self righteous, racist, ignorant and egotistical people in my corner. The odds were obviously not in my favor. And as humans, we have the natural tendency to connect in order to survive–even if it means with people who prove themselves untrustworthy.
Even people who seem reliable at first may have old patterns that come up. I also had to understand that what happened to me has nothing to do with me deserving that level of pain. I was a loving and caring person–always have been–and I would never put someone else through the same pain I endured. I slowly learned to not trust myself. But I also knew this was not the first time.
I didn’t trust myself growing up. When I was told what to study, what to wear, how to behave towards elders, when to go to the bathroom, what passions to have in life, what to prioritize and more. My life was always about how to please others and never about following my own goals.
I wouldn’t have pursued acting or music if it weren’t for my mother permitting me. I wouldn’t have gone out with friends past my adult curfew, if it weren’t for my mother telling me I could. And even when I took risks, it was within the bounds of what was socially permissible for someone of my age and place. Whenever I experienced injustice, I relied on the good words of others before taking action. When it came to me standing up for myself I never did.
I remember one time a teacher in high school wasted my time by ignoring me when I was trying to get him to sign a permission form. So I got up and started to head to class because the bell had just rung and I knew I would be late. But this teacher stopped me and told me it was rude of me to walk away! Can you believe it? He was playing the victim and being patronizing and bullying just because he could, being the disciplinarian he was. As much as I wanted to scream, “YOU are the rude one! YOU are making me late to class,” I held back and found myself apologizing.
The reason I don’t carry resentment for any of these things today is because I discovered the importance of forgiveness. It is for you. Being kind and helping others is for you too. Those who betray your trust are usually hurting inside or have flaws, themselves.
Friends, family, loved ones, and even complete strangers will sometimes feel entitled to give you advice. And their advice can even be coming from a good place. They can even try to disguise their harsh judgement as concern. This doesn’t mean they are bad for you, it may just mean you need to take their opinion with a grain of salt or take them outside of your innermost circle. Being a “yes man” or a “people pleaser” is a recipe for disaster to building self trust which is so freaking necessary.
Why is self trust necessary and when can you trust people? Self trust is necessary because it is also related to self love and acceptance. You can only live your life with true happiness and meaning once you have embraced yourself fully. It’s the analogy of pouring from an empty cup that is integral. Regardless of the naysayers or demeanors or the people who are intimidated by you. Also–just because you trust someone once doesn’t mean you need to trust them all the time. Often anxious-people pleasers have difficulty setting boundaries and loving from a distance. Little do they realize, trust takes time to build and it can also be destroyed in a flash.
If your trust has ever been destroyed with others, remember that you can always rebuild it with yourself. Life is not about predicting the future or knowing others’ moves. You didn’t allow the bad thing to happened–it just happened–and now you have to deal with it. Life is about learning and getting up from a fall, again and again. Pride yourself not in your ability to sniff out the liars and the cheaters, but in your resilience and the good decisions that have followed.
You may lose trust in your feelings because they have been frequently invalidated by narcissistic or hurt people in your life. You internalize everything as your fault despite you not having caused the bad thing. You feel inferior to others and have limiting beliefs because of the lies you have been fed your whole life or for a traumatic portion of your life. The best way to begin trusting yourself is to express yourself in creative forms and to work independently on passions you love; affirming that you are in fact capable. You need to begin affirming yourself. Take moments to indulge in self acceptance. This means thanking your body and your mind for what they can do for you.
When my therapists had suggested we stop seeing each other as frequently or we stop seeing each other altogether, I really doubted myself. Can I trust myself to handle my own feelings? And the answer turns out to be yes–even when it seems difficult to believe.
So what is the recipe for trusting yourself? Do the following things:
- Trust yourself in being able to do the small things: Were you able to wake up today? Are you able to brush your teeth? To make yourself breakfast or give yourself a cup of tea or coffee if you wanted? Are you able to solve an easy puzzle? Are you able to hydrate? Are you able to make the small decisions in life?
- Start being grateful for the relationships you have with people where there is mutual trust and affirmation; or think of the times in which you were validated. For example, when my mom trusts me to help her book a COVID test on a simple platform, I feel great when I am able to do so. Not only do I trust myself to be somewhat tech savvy, but I also feel helpful. Furthermore, I have at least one friend who is trustworthy. When they say they will do something, they are very likely to remember or at least to notify me if/when things cannot go as planned. We also have a mutually beneficial relationship where most of our interactions are positive. And if that ever stops, I know I will be able to trust myself to cope because I have before.
- Acknowledge your accomplishments: I also trust myself to do fairly well in school, personally. I made good grades. I am also a very good planner. If I have something I need to check off my list, I do so accordingly and I am very conscientious and meticulous with my work. This means I am capable of achieving a lot of my goals and preparing for any situation. I am reliable in that sense.
- Remind yourself of your honorable skills: I can also be a quick thinker. One time when I almost got into a car accident because a car sped ahead instead of following the light, my sixth sense and adrenaline kicked in and I sped as fast as I could, rather than being a deer in headlights. I saved my own life, so imagine what else my mind is capable of. Another time, when I saw one of my patients was having an epileptic attach, I immediately called the emergency line and phoned the nurses to help out. It felt like it happened in slow motion because it was a traumatic event, however, I did act as quickly as I could after seeing/assessing what was happening. Yet another time was when my nurturing/maternal instincts kicked in when my one of my ex boyfriends had gotten beaten up. I immediately when to the fridge and grabbed ice to heal the wounds, instead of fretting and arguing like those around me.
- Acknowledge the importance of having the downs as well as the ups in life (Failure is ok): The point is, as much as I can celebrate my large achievements, I can also celebrate the small ones in order to build self trust. I can also acknowledge that it is ok to fail, and you are learning everyday, thus–it is ok to trust yourself. They say that life will keep teaching you the same lessons until you have fully learned–so take life the same way you would take school. Learn to build a positive loving relationship with it, and remember that if you were able to become smarter at 5th grade than you were at 3rd, you can definitely make it. The challenges you had years ago, if now presented to you today would be much easier to conquer, regardless of how painful it may still be. Remember your failures are really just lessons and they do not define you. Remember when you got a bad grade on that one exam? Remember what the real reason was. It wasn’t that you were incapable–it may have just been that you didn’t fully know the material due to the way it was taught or due to the need of prioritizing other things in your life at the time. Or maybe it was just a subject you were not passionate about. And that’s totally fine.
- Remember that all humans were created equal but different. We are not inferior to others: As humans, we aren’t meant to be perfect. Even the “smartest” people make stupid mistakes or have their imperfections. Sometimes they are mean or condescending or emotionally unintelligent. Know that it is ok to embrace your differences and trust yourself even when not fully being accepted by others, or when you made past mistakes. Those who are the most reliable today are those who learned from the past or vicariously through others.
Affirm these things with me today:
- I am intelligent
- I am capable
- I am equipped to handling the problems that come my way
- I know that it is ok to ask for help
- I am able to decipher, analyze and process difficult situations
- I know that it is necessary to practice self acceptance in order to thrive in life
- There is nothing wrong with me. I am only human.
- I have wonderful qualities and I am deserving of love.
- I can set boundaries when I deem it necessary
- I have the right to walk away from situations that do not feel right to me
- I have a support system or people I can talk to and if I cannot afford therapy I can utilize the help of friends, family, mental health apps and spaces, online forums, community groups, and more.
- I am trustworthy and I can trust many things in life.
- My life encompasses reliability, joy in the little things, and hope.
- I don’t overly rely on the opinions of others because I know they are not always applicable to my life. I only apply what sticks.
- I forgive myself for my past mistakes.
- I can trust myself today and always.
-Brown Girl Tea