Trusting yourself to make good decisions when recovering from trauma related to abuse is a journey that takes a bit of time. I often hear from men and women who find themselves doubting themselves, unable to take risks in relationships and generally stuck in self-imposed isolation. Trusting one’s self after being trapped in an abusive relationship takes some intentionality and a bit of wisdom.
Additionally, many of us receive a message from the church which further separates us from ourselves. If the world, the flesh, and the devil are our worst enemies, then we learn to shun the first, ignore the middle one (our flesh) and flee the last. But too often, ignoring our flesh includes a reckless disregard for our personhood. The word, flesh, in that sentence, alludes to our sinful nature, not to our whole selves, which are precious to God. But if we are to love our enemies as ourselves, how can we hope to begin if we don’t know how to love ourselves?
In order to have good relationships with others, we must first have a good relationship with our own self. So learning to listen to one’s body, emotions, and thoughts, giving loving attention to ourselves without becoming our own idols is a thin line every Christian must tread. God has given us five senses, emotions, a mind, and a spirit with which to discern reality. Like good soldiers, we must learn to use the weaponry at our disposal to keep ourselves safe and fight for the good of others.
For me, the obstacles to trusting myself were complicated and took some time to figure out. Here is a short list of those obstacles for anyone who is trying to renew a relationship with themselves. I found that addressing each of these really helped me regain healthy boundaries as well as to reassert a basic good judgment that I had long neglected.
1: We must not lie to ourselves.
If we live in denial of our reality, trusting ourselves becomes impossible. After all, no one trusts someone who lies to them repeatedly. If we lie to ourselves, telling ourselves we are ok when we are not, that we like people that we, in fact, dislike, or that we do not have a problem with an addiction or hurtful situation when we do, we have made ourselves untrustworthy to ourselves. Simply put, if we pretend that things are what they are not, we wage war against our own bodies. Our bodies cannot lie, though our minds can. If we call a lie what our bodies know to be true such as a dangerous situation, an abusive relationship or self-harming behavior, we know deep within ourselves that we are not safe to the main person for whom we are responsible. Ourselves.
2: We must not lie to others.
Lying to others takes a myriad of forms. The most common is for the victim of abuse to simply wear a mask. Wearing a mask is a lie because we are pretending we are something we are not. Our entire existence can become a lie that began as a self-protective mechanism. Often abuse victims adopt that mask because it is not safe to be around their abuser. They become moving targets, morphing into whatever person their abuser wants them to be at the moment. The end result of this is that the core person can get lost. Trusting oneself begins with knowing who one is. If we do not take off our masks, we become unknowable to others, but also to ourselves. Trusting ourselves if we are unknowable is impossible. Besides, if we lie to people, we know ourselves to be untrustworthy, even to ourselves.
3: We must not ignore our thoughts and feelings.
I learned to trust my second husband because he cared about how I felt and wanted to know what I thought. This surprised me because, in my first marriage, my thoughts and feelings were best buried. They only caused me pain and inevitable conflict with my narcissistic abuser. I believed for a long time that my emotions did not matter. All that mattered was keeping some elusive sense of peace and safety. But when we believe that we don’t matter, then we stop trusting ourselves. Our emotions and beliefs simmer under the surface, causing stressful reactions in our body. I know that I could never trust my ex because I did not matter to him. But what I realized later was that trusting myself began with acknowledging that I really did matter.
4: We must care for our whole selves.
Sometimes I read blogs that insist that self-care is selfish. But self-care is like money. Money in and of itself is merely a tool, morally neutral. Self-care is sometimes used as an excuse to be self-absorbed, I am sure. But for the trauma and/or abuse victim, self-care is an essential skill that begins with treating oneself with the kind of tender care one would treat a loved one. Eating good food, bathing, wearing clothes that fit and feel good, avoiding dangerous situations, and staying away from bad people are acts of self-care that are revolutionary to a person exposed to systematic abuse. But the more we take good care of ourselves, exposing our hearts, minds, and bodies to good things and staying away from harmful ones, the more trust we build with ourselves.
Trusting our own self is no different from trusting someone else. Trust takes time to build. Good decisions and kind treatment sow into a trusting relationship with both others and ourselves. The effects of long term abuse destroy our ability to trust anyone, even our own self. Self-destructive tendencies can often result from abuse. How can we trust ourselves if we do not care what happens to us?
Unfortunately, being severely abused can take a toll on our ability to have a relationship with God. Once the foundation of trust has been cracked in the psyche, God can feel very far away and unknowable. Ironically, as we begin to know and understand ourselves better, we can begin to build a bridge back to our Maker. We are made in His image and His love can often be revealed in the ways we learn to care for ourselves. After all, just as He has given our bodies ways to heal itself, so He has also built in mechanisms within our hearts and minds to find our way back to Him. if we are looking for what is true and good, even if that truth and goodness come in the form of our ability to care for our own lives, He is often to be found. Truth and love are God’s frequencies and tuning our minds, bodies, and spirits to those will help us hear His voice.