Learning how to trust myself

One of the hurdles in my personal growth has been learning to trust my own mind and my own memories. This is particularly difficult with anxiety because of the way my mind tries to jump from thing to thing while I am hardly even aware of what is happening. I’ve been though hurried and anxious days at work where I could barely remember what I did that morning much less exactly what I said to a client on the phone last week. It was that bad, and my tricky memory would get me into hot water — especially when I was held to promises that I didn’t remember actually making.

I have always had some difficulty trusting my memories and my reasoning and my feelings because of my anxiety, and also because of the way I was taught to judge thoughts and feelings. If I didn’t feel or think what I thought I was supposed to be feeling or thinking I would deny it and pretend otherwise. As if I could make myself not really angry because I’m not supposed to be angry. I was far into adulthood before I could really sit and admit to myself that yes, I feel anxious (even though I perhaps can’t logically put a reason to it), or that I’m angry (but what if I’m wrong to be angry about this?), or that I have a bad feeling about someone is saying though I can’t quite wrap my mind around the reasons why.

Once when I was a teenager I went to a Christian concert with my parents and with a couple of girls who lived next door who I was friends with. At one point, the older of the two neighbor girls talked about some situation in her life where she needed to make a decision and was not sure what to do. Mom said at the moment something to the effect of she should trust herself to do the right thing. (I don’t remember the exact words but that was the gist.) But afterwards, after the conversation, Mom expressed concern that she forgot to warn her that demons or the devil might try to mess with her thinking. I don’t remember much about the concert, or about what issue my friend was dealing with, but that conversation stuck with me.

I’ve spend time agonizing about trusting my thoughts and feelings. The Bible says the heart is untrustworthy, and that mattered to me when I was a Christian. And how could you know if your thoughts are even your own or if it’s the devil whispering in your ear? And then there is the idea that our minds and souls are corrupted by sin so therefore we need to subdue our thoughts and bring them into conformity with what God supposedly wants. (2 Corinthians 10:5, if you are curious) The whole concept is crazy making — at least the way it was presented to me.

I’ve found the healthy alternative to handle my thoughts and feelings is to apply a bit of mindfulness. I’ve started waking up before my child each morning (when possible) and finding some time to sit quietly with a cup of coffee before I start the day. No music, no TV, just the coffee, the ambient morning sounds, and my own thoughts and feelings. I take the time to inventory how I feel — physically and emotionally — and what is going though my mind. I’ve learned, finally, to sit and recognize when I am feeling tense, or angry, or content, or anxious, and not argue with it or try to chase it away. It’s not good or bad, it just is. I want to feel and I want to just be aware of how I feel and maybe get to the root of what is causing it. Listening to your feelings is good, because they may tell you something your mind hasn’t caught up with yet. Just knowing and recognizing when I am irritable helps me not to take it out on my child or my spouse. And it has gone a long way to helping me know my own mind and trust myself.