When You’ve Let Yourself Down


We don’t have to always get it right or know exactly what to do in order to trust ourselves. Our self-trust can grow even through mistakes and uncertainty when we treat ourselves with kindness and stay with ourselves to figure things out.

What about those times when we let ourselves down in a way that makes us question whether we can really trust ourselves to have our own backs?

This can happen in a specific event where we let ourselves down or do something that feels wildly out of integrity. It can also happen more subtly as we slip back into old patterns of choosing what will please others, not following through on commitments, or treating ourselves harshly.

Does acting towards ourselves in a way that doesn’t feel trustworthy mean we cannot be trusted?

Not necessarily .

Of course, if we regularly do things that undermine our self-trust, then we are showing ourselves again and again that we can’t be counted on. Even a one-time breach of trust will have consequences.

Our relationship with ourselves, however, is ongoing. It is never too late to show ourselves that we are willing to acknowledge what isn’t working, change course, and begin again.

Forming more trustworthy habits and rebuilding our trust may take time and attention. We get to choose—do we give up on ourselves and dismiss ourselves as untrustworthy or do we do what is necessary to repair our relationship with ourselves?

Acknowledge what eroded your trust

One of the first things to do is to name what happened. Acting in a way that shakes our self-trust doesn’t feel good. It’s tempting to try to cover up, excuse, or downplay the ways we’ve let ourselves down. While it may feel like a relief in the moment to avoid acknowledging what happened, it’s hard to trust someone who denies our experience or pretends everything is fine when it’s not.

If, however, we are willing to objectively name what happened without beating ourselves up about it, then we’re showing ourselves that we’ll take responsibility, even when it’s uncomfortable. From there we can figure out how we want to handle it.

Feel what you feel

Another important piece is to give ourselves space to feel however we feel. There can be all sorts of emotions that come up when our trust has been shaken. We might feel angry, disappointed, frustrated, ashamed, and so on. (Try using a list of emotions or a feelings wheel to get specific about what you are feeling.)

We can tally up all the logical reasons why we can or can’t be trusted, but none of that is going to change how we feel. While it may be uncomfortable, experiencing emotions is not what gets in the way of our trust. It’s how we respond to those emotions that makes the difference.

Trying to avoid feeling our emotions is a way of denying our experience and doesn’t actually get rid of them. Acknowledging our feelings and giving ourselves space to process them actually helps them move through us.

Treat yourself with kindness

It doesn’t feel good when someone lets us down. It doesn’t feel good to know we’ve let someone down. It can feel extra tricky when we’re the one on both sides of the equation.

The key here is letting ourselves have our uncomfortable feelings without treating ourselves unkindly in the process. It’s hard to trust someone who only allows us to feel a certain way.

We can feel angry about how we acted without being mean to ourselves. We can feel ashamed without making it mean we’re unworthy of support. We can be disappointed without giving up hope that we can be trusted to show up differently.

When I’m not being intentional about how I treat myself, I tend to be harsh and critical. Instead of letting myself feel whatever I’m feeling, I’m more likely to tell myself I should not feel that way or rush to a solution. None of that is helpful.

For me, what is helpful is when someone is willing to acknowledge how it feels to be in that place of eroded trust, while being there to support me while I figure out what’s next. That someone can be me.

Choose what’s next

Building self-trust is a process. So is rebuilding it after a setback.

It’s not always helpful to skip straight to doing whatever we can to fix it. Part of rebuilding our self-trust is showing ourselves that we’ll be there with whatever is going on in the moment without demanding that we be someone or somehow else.

At the same time, rebuilding trust is not a passive thing. We get to show ourselves that we can make adjustments and try again.

While it can take a single action or choice to send our trust tumbling, a one-off grand gesture is not likely to rebuild it. It is continuing to come back to ourselves, no matter how imperfectly, that renews our belief that we can be counted on.

We can start small and build from there. What helped before? What else are you willing to try? How have you changed and what in your life needs to change to support where you are today?

Maybe there are apologies to make or messes to clean-up. Maybe there’s something we need to recommit to or maybe it’s time to choose something different. If there are things we’ve been avoiding, it builds our trust when we’re willing to take a look.

Again, this is not about figuring out how to do it perfectly this time. That’s too fragile.

Rebuilding our self-trust isn’t a guarantee that we won’t undermine our self-trust in this way again (or a different way). Much more important than always getting it right is refusing to give up on ourselves. We get to choose again and again to be on our own side.