When you don’t trust yourself, you are letting fear take the wheel. Suddenly you’re in the backseat with your hands pressed over your eyes as fear speeds down the road blundering over one bump at a time. Without self-trust, fear keeps driving, which means you’ll keep feeling stuck, heading in a direction you never intended.
Trust is a complicated topic for so many of us, myself included. And while we might understand how important trust is to our external relationships, trusting ourselves is something that’s often ignored.
I spent years of my life believing that trusting others was enough. I thought that trusting my partner more than I trusted myself was a sign of love. I thought that trusting other people’s opinions more than my own would help me find acceptance amongst my friends and peers. I thought that it was normal and okay to put down my own ideas after I expressed them.
Does any of that sound familiar? I bet it does!
What are the signs? How can you tell if you lack self-trust, and what can you do about it? This post is all about recognizing your own lack of self-trust so that you can make the kind of changes that will lead to a happy, confident, and trusting life.
What Does Self-Trust Feel Like?
Self-trust helps you develop self-confidence, which frees you from the anxiety of wondering what people are thinking about you. If you trust yourself, it means you know yourself, and if you know yourself, no one’s impression of you can make you doubt yourself.
Self-trust gives you strength, confidence, and peace of mind. It’s reassuring, serene, and peaceful—but powerful.
What is self-trust called? Self-trust is your personal power; how many people do you know personally who spend most of their time worrying about what other people think? I bet it’s quite a few (and you probably relate to this too!)
When you don’t trust yourself, you wrap your happiness into external factors—ones you have no control over. You look to others to make your decisions for you. Your happiness depends on other people’s approval and acceptance. You don’t trust yourself to know what’s right or wrong, what you enjoy or don’t, or who you really want to be spending time with.
But what does a lack of trust look like? What does it feel like? How do you know if you don’t trust yourself? Lack of self-trust is incredibly common, and there are some telltale signs you can watch out for. And I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but a lack of self-trust can lead to derailed relationships, poor judgment, self-doubt, and unhappiness in every area of your life.
What are the signs? Let’s find out!
Five Signs You Don’t Trust Yourself
1. You’re Terrified of Making a Mistake
What if the next step you take is the wrong choice? What if you make a mistake? What will people think of you?
If you’re constantly terrified of making a mistake, it’s a sign that you don’t trust yourself or who you are. You believe that the next mistake will cause your reputation and personal identity to unravel, no matter how many successes you’ve had or right choices you’ve made in the past. The next mistake you make will show everyone—including yourself—what you really are: a failure. Or even worse, you’ll be rejected and kicked out of the tribe.
This fear of failure cripples your self-confidence and self-trust. Instead of using mistakes as learning opportunities (which is what they are!), the possibility of making mistakes keeps you from trying anything. You don’t trust you’re every bit as beautiful and talented and wonderful as your friends, family members, and colleagues.
And fear of rejection harkens back to the number one human need written into our DNA: Our need to connect and belong. How often do you worry you’ll be ostracized if you say that or even think that? When was the last time you made a choice that you knew wasn’t based on your values? One that you felt like you HAD to make because you were anxious about going against the crowd or what people expect of you?
Are you the type of person who never chimes in when someone asks a question, even though you are 99% sure you know the answer? Does that one teeny tiny percent hold you back from speaking up? What if you are wrong? Everyone will see that you messed up and think of you as a failure. While that fear is very real, it doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation. If you are 99% sure you know the answer, TRUST YOURSELF.
Heck, if you want to trust yourself, you must practice speaking up as often as possible. It’s a skill that must be mastered if you want to build your confidence. So, be willing to give up “I don’t trust me” as an excuse for staying stuck—speak up instead!
The worst thing that can happen is getting the answer wrong (if there is a wrong), and that’s okay too. You will learn something new and be better for it. In fact, most answers have little to do with wrong or right. Answers to most questions are a synthesis of your personal philosophy, experience, and values. So go ahead, speak up. Let people get to know the real you.
Learn more: How to Speak With Power and Authority: 5 Important Steps
Here’s a new way to think about it. If you stop yourself from applying for a promotion just because you might not get it and don’t want to be a failure, you’re guaranteeing you won’t get it. Going for it regardless of the results is trying; it’s moving forward, making an effort, and not letting fear win. That’s being brave. That’s believing in yourself. You’re going to fail in some capacity in all areas of your life—it’s all part of learning, growing, and pursuing the life your soul intended.™
If you hold yourself back from trying for fear that you might make a mistake, you are not trusting yourself.
2. You Put Yourself Down In Front of Other People
Have you ever suggested an idea to your friends, family, or coworkers only to take it back and say it will never work? You laugh it off and say, “It was a stupid idea anyway. Don’t listen to me.”
Your intuition and insightful inner voice inspired you to suggest something, but then your lack of trust in yourself clamped down and scared you into taking it back. This is tied to a deeper fear of looking foolish in front of other people; if you’re wrong, then people will think you’re a failure, and if people think you’re a failure, eventually, they’ll reject you.
This fear expresses itself when you put yourself down in front of others or make jokes at your own expense. This fear causes you to undermine yourself in front of others, which, in turn, does make it less likely for people to want to listen to your ideas. If you don’t even think your idea is good, why would somebody else?
Imagine making someone a sandwich. You put great care into the sandwich and make sure it’s got all the delicious fixin’s, but when you’re about to hand it to the other person, you say it’s no good. “I made this sandwich for you, but it’s probably pretty gross. I may have dropped it; I’m not sure. I think I forgot to add cheese. I don’t know how to make a sandwich. You probably don’t want to eat it.”
Putting yourself down in front of others creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, you believe no one will think your ideas are worthwhile, so you tell people your idea and add that it’s no good rather than simply suggesting the idea. Your idea might have great value, but when you put it down in front of other people, they won’t listen to your idea; they will hear that you think it’s no good, which, in fact, translates into the belief that you’re no good.
Even if you don’t actively put yourself down or undermine your own ideas verbally, you may say those things inside your head to yourself, which has the same disempowering and debilitating consequences. Constantly putting yourself down erodes trust with yourself, brings down your self-esteem, and prevents you from truly loving yourself.
If you put down yourself or your ideas in front of other people or inside your head, you’re not trusting yourself.
3. You Only Make Decisions If Others Around You Agree
Does this sound familiar? Have you ever been riding in the passenger seat of a car when a trusted friend or family member was driving? They’re in the driver’s seat, and you trust them to know where they are going. Even though you see them make a wrong turn, you don’t speak up because you believe they must know a different way than you. You believe that they’re better and more knowledgeable than you.
But then the other person realizes they’re lost, and when you say you noticed they took a wrong turn but thought they knew a different way, they ask you why you didn’t speak up.
You didn’t speak up because you didn’t believe you might know more than the driver. Just like whenever it comes time to make a decision, you keep quiet and go with the flow—other people’s flow. You ask for other people’s opinions because you just assume others know what’s best. You believe everyone else has the answers, and you don’t. You might tell yourself that you’re just “making sure” or “double-checking yourself.” That’s called crowdsourcing your life. If you have a crowd decide your life, it definitely is not your life.
This is a clear sign that you don’t trust yourself. If you can’t make a decision without having other people agree with it, it means you don’t trust your own judgment, which means your missing the self-confidence it takes to determine your own future.
Now, at times, I get that it’s valuable to listen to other people’s opinions, especially when they’re highly-trained experts in a particular field where you’re seeking an answer, but you always need to listen to yourself too. Believe me: you know what you want better than anybody else does. And I bet a part of you knows this too.
For example, my friend Charlotte knew she had cancer. She just “knew.” Her doctor disagreed. It took her a year to get the proper diagnosis. Charlotte trusted the “expert” more than she trusted herself for an entire year. So yes, experts are nice to ask and, at times, essential, but when you begin to trust yourself, that trust will become like a beacon pointing the way to the answers you seek. And, good news: Charlotte is doing well and listening to herself way more often.
If you only make decisions based on what other people think and whether or not others agree, you are not trusting yourself.
4. You Second Guess All of Your Decisions
What about when you finally make a decision? Do you find yourself wondering if it was the right one? How often do you second-guess your decisions, and do you frequently regret your decisions once they’ve been made?
If you don’t trust yourself, making a decision is agonizing enough. But when you constantly second-guess yourself, finally making the decision provides no sense of relief. This self-doubt means your mind is always spinning and running through possible outcomes. What if you had done it this way? Oh, this way would have been so much better! Why can’t you do anything right?
Dear friend, please take a deep breath!
When you overthink every one of your decisions and burden yourself with regret after regret, you keep yourself running in circles, never living in the present, only the past. The truth is you already made that decision. It’s done; either there’s nothing you can do to change it, or it’s not worth changing.
Now keep in mind I’m not talking about being stuck in a job or marriage you absolutely despise; I’m talking about all of the small to medium decisions you make every day that are weighing you down
What do I want to eat for dinner?
What Netflix show do I want to watch?
Should I buy one or two jars of pasta sauce?
Does my boss want a coffee today?
What do I get my mother for Christmas?
What car model do I want to buy?
What colors do I want to paint my house?
For many, many decisions in life, there is no right answer. Simply making a choice, any choice, is what’s most important. AND once you’ve made a decision, go with it. Decisions are tough enough without adding on layers of regret to each one you make.
And here’s something else. Every time you re-decide a decision, you’re using up your most valuable resource—your energy—for the same thing twice! Every single decision takes energy, leaving you with a lower energy tank than before. So trusting yourself to make a decision increases your self-confidence and energy, allowing you to feel more present and alive rather than drained and defeated.
If you second guess or regret most of the decisions you make, you are not trusting yourself.
5. You Don’t Have Clear Boundaries Set
I’ll never pass up an opportunity to talk about boundaries! Boundaries are so so SO important; they play a huge role in making sure your needs are met, and that you feel safe inside and out.
Boundaries ensure you stay safe physically, mentally, and emotionally. Not sure what your own boundaries are? You’re not alone. So many of us are TERRIBLE at setting boundaries because that’s what we were taught. Our parents and role models didn’t set good boundaries, and they taught us we didn’t need to either. In fact, if you’re like me, you were taught that putting up a boundary means you’re being selfish.
Because who said trust yourself?
People, mothers especially, often believe they are doing a good job if they put everyone else’s needs before their own. Boundaries? What boundaries? My people need me!
It takes self-awareness to determine your own boundaries and self-trust to stand up for yourself and be your own advocate when you feel your boundaries are being crossed. No one knows better than you what your own boundaries are, and no one can defend them as strongly as you. You are your own champion, and if you can’t trust yourself, how will you know how to truly trust anyone else?
I encourage you to learn more about understanding your own boundaries and the consequences of having them crossed. Read my article: Why Personal Boundaries Are Important and How to Develop Them.
Don’t shrug this off. Without personal boundaries, you’ll burn out, develop simmering anger and resentment, and keep yourself from developing a personal identity that exists outside your family or your work. You’re not just ‘mom’ or ‘manager’ or ‘wife;’ you are uniquely YOU—someone who has their own personal needs and boundaries.
If you don’t understand your own needs and haven’t set clear boundaries, you’re not trusting yourself.
How Do You Build Trust in Yourself?
Did you relate to any of those signs? I know I did. I lived most of my life not trusting myself. So many of us lack self-trust, but the good news is building self-trust is something you can work on, and taking the first step is simple.
As you’re practicing trusting yourself, be sure to lead with self-compassion. Just like you would show compassion towards your kids, spouse, parents, siblings, friends, and employees when they are learning something new, show compassion toward yourself. This is the first step in supporting yourself to build self-trust.
Now, if you’re the type of person who’s saying “Rhonda—yuck! Self-compassion sounds weak, and it’s something I don’t have time for,” consider using different language. Instead of self-compassion, think of it as going easy on yourself or being kind to yourself. Give yourself a break as you work towards developing trust. It’s not an easy road, and there will be plenty of obstacles to navigate along the way.
To build self-trust, you will also be practicing believing you are enough. And by the way, that’s the absolute 100% truth. You are enough.
Try saying it with me:
“I am enough exactly as I am.”
“I am enough exactly as I am.”
“I am enough exactly as I am.”
Understanding this and treating yourself with compassion will get easier the more you practice. Continue putting in the work because your relationship with yourself is not one you can push aside.
For my full list of self-trust strategies, read my article: How to Trust Yourself and Build True Self-Confidence. I share five critical strategies that will help you develop a strong and understanding relationship with yourself—the only self you’ve got.
Trust Takes Time and Effort
Trust is difficult for so many of us, which is why it’s something we need to work at vigilantly. Because without trust, our relationships fail, including the one we have with ourselves (AKA: the most important one!)
Building trust will take time, but with that trust, you will be able to live a confident, centered, happy, and healthy life. And isn’t that the life your soul intended™?
Let’s build up your trust one need, one boundary, one gratitude, one compassionate moment at a time. My 10-week Fearless Living Training Program is based on decades of learning how to crack the secret code to fear, including all of the fears that keep us from trusting ourselves. With Fearless Living, you’ll learn how to trust yourself through self-compassion, personal needs, clear boundaries, and so much more.
Take that first important step for yourself. Prioritizing yourself for a change is something you won’t regret. Let’s get started!
I have no doubt that you’ve had feelings of self-doubt at some point in your life. Whether you experience self-doubt every once in a while or are crippled with self-doubt at every turn, know that you are not alone.
My life has been filled with self-doubt. I doubted I knew the right answers in school. I doubted I would ever get over my parents’ deaths. I doubted I could give up drinking. I doubted my ability to find and sustain romantic love. I doubted I was focused enough to run a business. Heck, I’ve even doubted myself to the point of not speaking up when my boundaries were clearly being abused.
(Personal boundaries are so important! Here’s why.)
Does any of that sound familiar?
Doubt can do real harm to every aspect of your life. Take a second and ask yourself: Has self-doubt impacted your ability to make decisions? Take a risk? See how powerful and brilliant you are? If you answered yes, even a little bit, self-doubt is holding you back from living the life your soul intended.™
Good news! There’s something you can do about it. You have the power to break free from your self-doubt, and today, I’m going to let you in on my secret.
You’re not stupid or weak or crazy or damaged. Fear makes you doubt your own abilities and makes you wonder if you know as much as everyone else. It might make you feel like you’ll sound silly if you express your opinion in front of your friends. Or it might be making you feel like you’ll never be able to publish the book you’ve always dreamed of because why would anyone want to read what you have to say?
Let’s stop self-doubt in its tracks. Continue reading to learn why you’re feeling self-doubt and how you can use my breakthrough system called the Wheel of Fear to identify which core fear is holding you back and causing your self-doubt.
Before I explain your core fear, let’s look at the most common aspect of the Wheel of Fear: fear responses. When you can identify your fear responses, your core fear is way easier to identify and dismantle. And those little rascals are what you and I experience and blame each day for the state of our life. So let’s see them for what they are and quit the cycle of fear.
What Are the Causes of Self-Doubt?
Wonder what’s holding you back from succeeding? It’s one small word, but it’s doing so much damage to your life: FEAR.
Fear is what’s causing your self-doubt, and you may not even recognize it. Fear can manifest itself in so many forms. Your core fear might be fear of being seen as lazy, fear of being incompetent, or fear of being a loser (that’s mine!) Gulp!
But most of us, including myself, aren’t taught about our core fear. I mean, I was never called a loser, ever. Felt like it? Sure. So finding your core fear takes a little more effort because it’s so good at being elusive and hard to see.
Good news. What is easy to see are fear responses. Fear responses are the first place to start our journey to gain mastery over fear. Today, I will help you name yours and show you what to do instead. Once you name your fear responses, they can’t trick you anymore. So let’s take the first step to let fear know the jig is up.
At Fearless Living, we like to talk in terms of our emotional fear responses, the main ones being:
- Fear of Failure
- Fear of Loss
- Fear of Change
- Fear of Intimacy
- Fear of Being Judged
- Fear of Success
- Fear of the Unknown
- Fear of Loneliness
- Fear of Rejection
- Fear of Not Being Good Enough
Do any of these sound familiar? We all have one or more of these common fear responses, so take a deep breath. You’re okay. And if you have all ten, you’re okay too. These ten are how fear commonly shows up in our lives, causing you and me to doubt ourselves.
Learn more about these common emotional fears in my article: 10 Common Types of Fear and Overcoming Them.
Here are a few examples of how self-doubt can sneak up on you.
I didn’t want to put up my hand in class; I thought I would look stupid. Not knowing the answer was akin to being called dumb in my family. I was able to make due in high school, but when I hit college, I didn’t know the answers. I needed help, but I was afraid of being rejected and looking like a big ol’ failure.
I was afraid that if I raised my hand and tried to answer a question the professor asked, I’d be laughed at, my attempt would be wrong, and everyone would see that I failed. From that moment, it would be as if I had a big tattoo on my forehead screaming “dumb failure.” It wasn’t worth the risk or the embarrassment. I didn’t want to be the girl that everyone thought would never amount to anything. Those negative thoughts gnawed at my confidence and left me doubting my ability to be who I prayed I could be.
Another big area of my life that has been riddled with self-doubt: Love. I didn’t reach out to a romantic interest because I was afraid of rejection. My deep fear of rejection kept me from connecting with someone I really got along with and could have continued to get to know. Instead, I ignored their messages so that they never had the chance to reject me first.
My client Susan didn’t apply for a promotion she was perfect for because she doubted she was good enough. When we dug deeper and looked at her situation through the lens of the Wheel of Fear, she was able to understand that she didn’t apply for her dream position because of her lifelong fear that she would eventually disappoint everyone who believed in her. Better not to disappoint, her fear told her, so she rationalized she wasn’t quite ready. Not yet, she said to herself time and time again.
Note: Fear will allow you to keep dreaming; it will convince you there are really good “reasons” you shouldn’t do it YET. Oh, that YET ate up so much of my life. Years! I was waiting for the YES, the internal GO FOR IT. But because fear was pulling my strings, I never heard it. I just kept waiting for some magical permission. Sound familiar?
Understanding where your self-doubt comes from and being able to identify and name it will help you move past your feelings of self-doubt.
But that’s easier said than done. Let’s talk about how you can manage and set yourself free from the hidden (or not so hidden!) fear responses that perpetuate your self-doubt.
How to Overcome Self-Doubt?
It All Begins With Self-Compassion
How do you deal with crippling self-doubt? Your very first step in overcoming self-doubt is the practice of self-compassion.
It’s critical to embrace self-compassion through every step of your journey. Now, I bet you’re thinking, “Compassion? But Rhonda, that sounds weak. I’m a strong person. I don’t need to show compassion to myself.”
Yes, yes. I know. And here’s the truth: You will not get far in your journey to overcoming self-doubt if you do not learn to treat yourself with compassion.
Sign up for my 21 Days of Self-Love from the Fearless Living Institute.
Think of it this way. If your son or daughter forgets their backpack at home, do you ridicule them and tell them how stupid they are for forgetting it? Do you tell them they will never be successful if they keep forgetting important things? Absolutely not. You would never say things like that to people you truly care about, so why would you say it to yourself?
And I understand you probably learned that being critical of yourself is a way to reach perfection and insulate yourself from rejection, failure, and disappointment. It’s the “point out what’s wrong so you can fix it” mentality. It’s an argument I hear over and over again. Yet, has it worked? I bet not.
Those who use that argument do NOT have high self-confidence. Their self-doubt makes them reject the very parts of themselves that are required to become who they were born to be. Chasing perfection is for statues—not for human beings.
In fact, mistakes are OK. Welcomed even. I’d argue mistakes are good because they help you learn and grow. So, I invite you to show compassion to yourself as you learn about the fears that are holding you back.
Here’s a simple way to start. Think of compassion as being gentle with yourself. You are learning something new and deeply exploring your past and your fears. This is no small feat, so go easy on yourself. What matters is that you are showing up every day for yourself. What matters is that you are willing.
Learn more: How To Love Yourself: 7 Self-Love Tips You’ll Love
Set Intentions and Be Willing
Ask yourself: how willing you are to start this journey? Are you willing to support yourself and prioritize your own needs for a change? Are you willing to put in the work? On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being “not at all” and 10 being “I’m all in”), rate your “willingness.”
I can give you the tools you need to live the life your soul intended™, but I can’t make you willing to live that life. That is something you must claim for yourself. I encourage you to be willing to go through the process of prioritizing your needs, setting boundaries, and, ultimately, overcoming all of the subterranean fears that are behind your self-doubt. Because when you are willing, anything and everything becomes possible.
Now is the perfect time to add an Intention Statement to your willingness. Clear intentions will help you stop being seduced by the expectations that are crippling your movement forward. Intentions act as a pledge to yourself.
The key words in an Intention Statement are: WILLING and PRACTICE.
Let’s try it. Repeat after me:
I am willing to practice showing up for myself.
I am willing to practice being honest with myself.
I am willing to practice self-compassion with every step I take.
If you’re on the fence about your level of willingness, repeat after me: I am willing to be willing. Memorize that phrase and repeat it again and again when you find yourself hitting a wall and unable to make yourself a priority. It works like a salve against your doubts, worries, and anxieties.
Repeat after me:
I am willing to be willing to practice showing up for myself.
I am willing to be willing to practice being kind with myself.
I am willing to be willing to practice self-compassion with every step I take.
And if THAT still seems hard, use this: I am willing to be willing someday in the future…
That will loosen up any resistance. Promise.
What do your own intentions look like? Make sure your Intention Statements are proactive and rooted in the present moment. Frame them in a positive light, and begin with “I am willing to practice…”
What do I mean by positive light? There’s a big difference between saying “I am willing to practice not complaining” versus “I am willing to practice seeing the best in every situation.”
When you are trying to stop something, how exactly do you stop? You have to practice something else, right? Well, the thing you want to do more of is what you want to practice.
When you write your Intention Statement, focus on what you WANT more of rather than what you want to stop. This also has the added benefit of creating new neural pathways in that lovely brain of yours so that the changes can become permanent.
Bottom line: if we don’t frame our intentions positively, we will once again get caught up in negative self-talk.
Stop Negative Self-Talk in Its Tracks
Self-compassion and positive intentions are so, so, SO critical to overcoming self-doubt because, without them, negative self-talk will keep rearing its ugly head. This voice is what many call your inner critic or monkey mind, which you know now is a fear response. That voice loves to put you down and make you feel small.
It’s the voice that always says no, putting you in a box, and seems to cause your low self-esteem. That lovely voice says things like: “You could never be a writer; your business could never be number one; your kids will never listen to you. You’re not smart, brave, or talented enough, no matter how many accolades you get.”
My friend, please, please, please stop saying these things to yourself. In fact, at Fearless Living, we have a rule: No Beating Yourself Up. You are enough just as you are RIGHT NOW. Self-doubt becomes toxic when it turns into negative self-talk. And you know exactly where that negative self-talk is coming from: FEAR.
Fear wants to keep you doubting yourself. When you’re about to tell yourself you can’t do something, remember that’s not really you speaking—that’s fear. Don’t listen to that voice!
The next time that voice wakes up, simply say, “Thank you, fear. I see you.” Instead of saying, “You can’t,” I want you to say, “I am willing to….” Then, take that first step.
Sure, sometimes things won’t work out. But it’s that willingness to try – make an effort – that matters most. It’s that willingness to say yes to yourself. Doubt is perfectly natural—no one can be certain of what life is going to throw at you next. But you know what is certain? That negative self-talk isn’t helping anyone, not your friends, not your family members, not your clients, and certainly not yourself.
Shut the door in the face of fear by breaking the cycle and getting off the Wheel of Fear.
Get Off of Your Wheel of Fear
In the Fearless Living Training Program (FLTP), we talk about the four stages of the Wheel of Fear—Trigger, Fear Response, Core Negative Feeling, Self-Destructive Behaviors, and repeat.
The Wheel of Fear keeps you stuck in a cycle of self-doubt, and until you intentionally get yourself off of this Wheel, you will never live the life your soul intended.™
So, what does this Wheel look like?
- Trigger. Your trigger is your core fear. What is your core fear? What triggers your fear response? For example, if your core fear is a fear of being a loser, you might be triggered by not getting that promotion you applied for. On the other hand, if your core fear is a fear of being incompetent, you might be triggered by your partner stepping in and helping you pack for an upcoming vacation since you see any need for help as proof you aren’t doing it perfectly. (I will let you know in a bit how you can identify your core fear.)
- Fear Response. Your core fear will trigger a fear response. You feel threatened, and that forces you to react. You might act like you don’t care about the promotion when your colleagues or friends ask about it (fear of rejection is showing up). Or you might lash out at your partner when the topic of packing is brought up. (Does fear of being judged sound familiar?) Think of fear responses as HOW you respond to your trigger—what you think, say, feel, act, and so on when you’re triggered.
- Core Negative Feeling. Your fear responses activate your core negative feeling, which you do not want to feel. When life sucks me dry and I don’t want to face the day, my Core Negative Feeling – worthless – tries to convince me to give up or act out. Self-doubt goes into hyperdrive. It could convince you that you’ll always be alone, are not good enough, or won’t ever be successful. It’s different for everyone, and likely, this feeling has been with you for decades. These are the agonizing feelings you experience every time life doesn’t work out for you, and you may believe those feelings are you. They are not! And unfortunately, the more you try to avoid or deny these feelings, the more stuck you become and the more you worry that things will never change.
- Self-Destructive Behaviors. No one wants to feel their core negative feeling because it usually leads to self-destructive behavior. You want to run away from these feelings, distract yourself, cover them up, and avoid them at all costs. You’ll engage in self-sabotage. You might start drinking more, gossip about your friends, endlessly scroll other people’s lives on social media, snap at your family, etc. You’ll look for some form of instant gratification to keep you from feeling your core negative feeling.
This cycle will continue to repeat itself. Since you ran from your feelings and covered them up with self-destructive behavior instead of facing them and identifying their root cause, the next time you encounter a trigger, the cycle will repeat. Your fear response will cause you to continue to dig yourself deeper and deeper into self-destructive behavior.
Get yourself out of this endless cycle by recognizing your trigger (that’s your core fear). Pay close attention to your relationships with friends and family—it’s often the people we are closest to who set off our trigger. When you allow yourself to feel those negative feelings—while giving yourself a whole bunch of self-compassion at the same time—you will understand what is causing your self-doubt and how you can move through your fear.
The next time you start to doubt yourself, stop and ask: What would you do if you weren’t doubting yourself? Practice seeing yourself as who you wish you could be (because who you wish you could be is who you are on the Wheel of Freedom.)
Let me give you one more tool, the superpower question that will help you see yourself clearly and stop doubt in its tracks.
Here it is: Am I making it up, or is it fact?
When I’m experiencing self-doubt, I ask myself that question. And 99.9% of the time, if I’m truthful, I will admit I am making it up. I’m making up that my sister doesn’t love me, my boss sabotaged me, or my partner thinks I’m stupid. And then, I ask myself, what are the facts? And 99.9% of the time, the facts lead me to have more confidence in my abilities, feel more secure to take action, and experience the freedom I crave.
I can see that it’s not that she doesn’t love me; she is calling out my behavior. Your boss isn’t sabotaging you; he is indecisive and insecure, impacting his ability to lead. Your partner doesn’t think you’re stupid because she’s jumping in to help you pack; she just wants to help. Those are the facts, yet it’s difficult to see them when fear is in control because fear jumps in. After all, our brain is wired for fear.
If all of that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. I built my Fearless Living program based on years of cracking the code to fear. Remember that it’s a journey, and it will take time. Your core fear, fear responses and core negative feelings have probably been with you since childhood, but you can break free from them and overcome your self-doubt if you are willing.
Say Goodbye to Self-Doubt and Start Being Your Fearless Self
Overcoming self-doubt is no small feat, but you don’t have to do it alone. My 10-week Fearless Living Training Program is based on decades of learning how to crack the secret code to fear—the fears that are at the root of your self-doubt.
With Fearless Living, you’ll learn how to treat yourself with compassion, set clear intentions, stop negative self-talk, prioritize your mental health, and ultimately, move yourself off the Wheel of Fear. Join us! Your future self will thank you!
If you like this article, you’re sure to like some of my other online resources.
📚 What happens when you listen to your intuition? Learn How to Follow Your Intuition with specific examples of when to listen to your intuition.
📚 Learning how to say no to the people you love can feel impossible, especially if you’re used to being the person who always says yes. Learn How to Say No to the People You Love.
I am so excited to talk about this because feeling good about myself was such a difficult process for me and for so many of the lovely people who become members of Fearless You. It’s such a common struggle, and if we don’t address it, it can completely run our lives.
Not feeling good about yourself terribly impacts every area of your life. When you don’t feel good about yourself, you lack power, control, enthusiasm, willpower, and confidence. The lack of confidence you feel can keep you from pursuing what you love, forging meaningful relationships, advancing your career, being your authentic self, trying new things, and living the life your soul intended.
I’m going to outline four strategies that will help you feel better about yourself, including four small ways you can put that advice into action. The advice and tips will help you, and you have tons of support at Fearless Living 💗, but at the end of the day, no one can do the actual work for you. You’re the one who needs to take the leap that will change your life for the better. You need to make the time for yourself or forever be stuck in the same loop of fear, negativity, and self-doubt.
If you want to feel better about yourself, the first thing you must do is be honest with yourself. Do you not feel as good as you'd like because deep-down you worry you're not good enough and fear you never will be? Or are you waiting for your job to notice you, your weight to be perfect, or your family to tell you how proud they are of you?
Here's the truth. You. Are. Enough.
You just don’t know it yet, and it’s holding you back from growing and living a beautiful life. One where you can accept yourself as you are, not as how you wish yourself to be. And if you can do that with honesty and grace, you can begin to feel comfortable doing other things that aren’t the norm for you—speaking up at work when you don’t agree with someone, feeling beautiful when you look in the mirror, being ok with where your checking account is at, feeling you have a right to be respected...you get the idea. And you’ll have the energy for more inner work, too, without that little voice of “I probably screwed up that life coach’s assignment” if you feel change is possible and you’re worth it.
It’s never too soon for you to learn how to feel better about yourself, and it’s time for you to prioritize your own self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Let’s get started!
How To Feel Better About Yourself
Now, there are a boatload of strategies to help you feel better about yourself, but we have to start somewhere. This post will outline four steps that you can implement today. If you start feeling a tiny bit better about yourself today, that’s one step closer to becoming your best fearless self, and one step closer to living the life your soul intended™.
1. Treat Yourself With Compassion
Let’s start with compassion because it is so, so, SO important, and it’s one of the three daily practices of Fearless Living: Compassion, Honesty, and Personal Responsibility.
Having compassion for others is important too, but it needs to start with you. You need to treat yourself with compassion at all times. Before you’re honest with yourself, and before you take personal responsibility, you need to have self-compassion. Give yourself a break!
Remember: There’s never a reason to beat yourself up. Be gentle with yourself, and be kind. Understand that you won't be perfect, and you won't get it right every time. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to tune out every once in a while. You’re going to forget something. All of that is okay. And you're okay when it happens.
You’re only human—and human beings ARE NOT PERFECT. Not anywhere close. We are filled with nuance, quirks, and fears. Here's the truth: The things you aren't willing to be compassionate about keep you trapped. Self-compassion is a necessary ingredient in order to grow, and with practice, you'll get better and better at it.
As I always say: Do what you can, when you can, the best you can.
Put it into action: Self-compassion is something you grow. Think of it like the garden you need to care for and water. You need to train yourself to feel compassion toward yourself, and this takes time. Treat compassion like a skill or muscle. You need to practice it in order for it to become second nature, and you need to keep practicing it or you’ll begin to lose it. Give yourself a break and don’t ever expect perfect results. Remember, never beat yourself up. Show up for yourself, try your best, and congratulate yourself for being gentle with yourself. (And no, gentleness isn’t weak.)
2. Stop With the Negative Self-Talk
Do you constantly give yourself negative self-talk? Do you criticize yourself either out loud or in your head? Do you beat yourself up over the tiniest things? Do you have that little voice saying you’re not good enough? Or you aren’t doing enough? You don’t have enough? You aren’t enough?
This👏🏻 has👏🏾 to👏🏼 stop👏🏽
It’s going to be a tough habit to break if you aren't giving yourself self-compassion. With self-compassion as your foundation, it's a heck of a lot easier to leave Mr. Meanie behind. Because you and I know those negative thoughts and words are holding you back. They are trapping you in a cycle of self-doubt, which is keeping you from truly becoming your fearless self. (This is so not okay with me!💗)
It may seem like a simple comment, or joke, or a snide remark. But the words you say out loud and the ones you say inside your head have a profound impact on how you feel about yourself. Maybe you tossed out “oh, I’m not smart enough to go back to school” or “I’m not creative enough to make anything” or “I’m not attractive enough to find a partner.”
These words are not nothing. They are chaining you to your doubts, insecurities, and fears. How can you expect other people to feel good about you and respect you when you don’t even give yourself that respect?
💙 How do you talk to yourself? Watch my Facebook video if you need to stop putting yourself down.
It’s time to stop doubting yourself, and it’s time to stop beating yourself up. It’s time to stop feeling like you’re just not good enough. Because you ARE good enough. (In fact, you're more than good enough.)
Put it into action: Watch out for negative self-talk. The next time you catch yourself in the middle of it, take a few seconds and breathe. Ask yourself: Do you want to keep talking to yourself like this? If the answer is no, you now have a choice. I invite you to repeat after me: I'm doing what I can when I can the best I can." And choose to believe it. Next, write down three or more acknowledgments about what you ARE doing. Not how well you're doing it.
Write down (with a pen and paper!) what you come up with and put it somewhere you can find again. Keep adding to your list and come back to it whenever you feel negative self thoughts forming.
3. Let Go of What Other People Think
Do you worry about what loved ones, family members, co-workers, classmates, or complete strangers think about you? Worrying about what other people think is very common, and it can stem from a fear of failure or rejection or judgment. These fears make you hyper-conscious of what people think, leading you to adapt your personality and opinions to fit the environment or social situation you’re in.
When I was in college, I was terrified to raise my hand in class. I thought that asking questions meant I was stupid. If I raised my hand, I’d be telling the entire class: “Hey! Rhonda Britten here. I’m stupid and I don’t have the answers!”
I cared so deeply about what other people thought that I made up stories to justify why I shouldn’t ask questions. I was holding myself back. My fear of looking stupid showed up in many areas of my life. If someone said something I didn’t understand, I would nod and smile and say, “Yeah, uh-huh, I totally get that.”
I spent so much time worrying about what people thought that I began to beat myself up about every tiny interaction I had with other people. I was ruining my self-esteem and happiness all because of that core fear and repeated notion inside myself that I wasn’t smart enough.
In fact, it was only me who thought I wasn’t smart enough, and I was putting that out into the world by feeling it over and over again. I was trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy—my fear of what others thought of me was making it come true because I kept myself from learning and shut myself off from asking the questions I needed to ask.
Other people are thinking about you far less than you think they are. And if they do have negative thoughts about you, that’s out of your control. You can control your own feelings and actions. You can’t control someone else’s feelings or actions. Understanding your circle of control will help you prioritize what you can do something about—and what you can’t.
Put it into action: When it comes to other people in your life, consider your circle of control. There’s no use wasting energy on all of the things you can’t control when you could focus that energy on what you can control. You can control your own actions, how you treat yourself, and how you treat other people. You can’t control what other people think.
The energy you will save not worrying about what other people think can be redirected toward your own happiness and wellbeing. You only have so much energy available, so make sure you make the most of it.
4. Prioritize Self-Care and Self-Love
Your mental health and wellbeing matter, and it’s all connected to how you feel about yourself. If you aren’t feeling good about yourself, chances are you're not giving your body, mind, and soul the care that they so desperately need. And, if you’re not taking the time for self-care and self-love, more negative thoughts will grow and fester dimming your light.
And you, my fearless one, have a right to shine. Yet, in order to do so, you must decide to take care of yourself and give yourself love. Listen to your body—what does it need? If you're tense, take a break and stretch. If you’re anxious, stop for a breathing exercise. If you feel worn down, get outside for a walk in the fresh air.
Stop holding back your own needs and start honoring what you want. Give yourself permission to take a break now and again. In fact, neuroscience says that we need to take breaks in order to maintain productivity and creativity. That break is necessary to embody the changes you're making. So think twice about skipping lunch or rushing through a meal at your desk. Breaks reward your brain helping you maintain energy and focus throughout the day.
The other side of self-care and love is recognizing what’s hindering your wellness. If you can't see what you are doing, you can't change it. So truth time. Are you giving yourself too much junk food when your body is yearning for anything green? Are you spending way too much time doom scrolling social media when you could be focusing your energy elsewhere? Do you get caught up checking phone notifications at night when you could be treating your body to a healthy bedtime routine?
Put it into action: Pick one self-care habit you want to add to your daily life this month and repeat that habit every day for 30 days. That's because practice, or repetition, is the best way to turn the things you want to change into the things that did change.
You could go for a walk every day, complete a five-minute meditation, drink a glass of water when you wake up, put your phone away an hour before bed, or write down something you’re grateful for every morning. It’s completely up to you, but keep it simple. It needs to be a small habit that you’ll be able to accomplish every day. Mark your progress on a calendar, in the Daily Training Manual, or a generic habit tracker.
💗 Learn more in my article How To Love Yourself: 7 Self-Love Tips You'll Love.
Feel Better About Yourself By Living Fearlessly
If you want to dig deeper into feeling better about yourself and becoming your most fearless self, you’ll need to ask some tough questions. Discovering the core fear that drives you will help you break free from all that’s holding you back.
Learn more about the 10 Most Common Types of Fear—I’m sure you’ll relate to at least a few.
I’ve been a life coach for over 25 years, and I can tell you with certainty that whatever it is you’re struggling with, there’s a core fear behind it. Only by learning more about what’s keeping you stuck can you finally break free and live the life your soul intended™.
My Fearless You membership program is based on decades of learning how to crack the secret code to fear. It’s a one-stop-shop with everything you need to master fear, feel better about yourself, and build unshakable confidence. You'll gain access to ALL of my premium courses, plus the chance to work with me and my coaches every month! We’ll work with you on one key life area after another, so you can finally prioritize your beautiful self.
You probably clicked through to this article because deep down (or really clearly), you know some type of fear is stopping you from moving forward in life. I applaud you for realizing this—it's the crucial first step! The next question is how to overcome fear so that it no longer runs your life.
At the Fearless Living Institute, I've seen my clients' fears manifest in a thousand different ways. Social anxiety, procrastination, low self-esteem... So many people learned to accept these as just a part of life. But they don't have to be!
Do you know what the biggest obstacle to overcoming fear is? Most people don't admit they have it. And I'm the first one to tell you this because, for 20 years, I couldn't admit to anyone just how afraid I was.
I didn't even admit this to myself because I was paralyzed by a fear of forgiveness (more on that in a bit), poor beliefs about myself, and a lack of self-confidence. Why? In short, the psychological mechanisms I once developed to protect myself were keeping me from growing.
To better understand what I mean by this, let’s start with the basics.
How Fear Limits You
The fears that limit you the most are usually those buried in the deepest layers of your subconscious. I call them emotional fears. They're more abstract than being afraid of physical threats (e.g., a speeding car approaching from around the corner) and often point to a lack of psychological safety in certain areas of your life. Examples of the most limiting and common fears include fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of vulnerability, or fear of intimacy.
Learn more: What Causes Fear and How Do We Respond to It?
Fear is often connected to certain core beliefs you developed in the past. At the time, they may have protected you from a perceived threat. Today they most likely limit your potential. They induce the super stressful fight-or-flight mode, even when you’re not in any real danger.
What once kept you safe is now keeping you stuck. You outgrew your past circumstances—but your emotional fears stayed the same!
As an example, imagine a child who was often bullied at school. The poor fellow had to do things to protect himself, like keep quiet in class and shrink to become invisible. With that came social anxiety and a belief that he's not good enough for others to like him.
Fast forward 20 years, and the same guy may be an amazing manager at a thriving company. He’s liked and respected by his team. However, because of his deeply rooted fear, he can't see how successful he became. He's still afraid of opening up in front of others, and that makes him miss amazing social and professional opportunities.
Holding on to your emotional fears doesn't protect you from danger. Rather, it makes you see threats where there are none.
Luckily, you don't have to be stuck in your fear forever. Let me show you how to overcome fear step-by-step—not by avoiding it, but by observing it in your daily life!
Step 1: Accept That You Feel Fear
Emotional fears, like the fear of rejection or failure, can be so overpowering that we try to avoid them as much as we can. The fear can be so strong it makes your whole body freeze!
But escaping fear or wishing it away doesn’t help you to overcome it. The point isn't to erase fear from your experience. Trying to do that leads to repression and emotional denial that usually just adds to fearful thoughts that bubble up even more.
Instead, you need to acknowledge your fear and get to know it inside and out. Take a moment to let this sink in. Fear is a natural human feeling, and there's nothing weird about it!
Normalizing your experience of fear is the first step to making it less overwhelming.
Many people don't admit they feel afraid even when they do. Sometimes they're not aware of it and they interpret fear as procrastination, laziness, or perfectionism. These are actually fear responses—we'll get to that in a moment.
You may also think that admitting you’re afraid is a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of. But do you know what actually makes you weak?
Not acknowledging your right to feel fear in the first place.
I once had a client (let's call her Maria) who was desperate to go on a solo journey to India. A lot of her friends made a trip like that and came back transformed. Maria also wanted to experience such spiritual growth, even though the idea of going alone made her deeply uncomfortable. She felt afraid but didn’t admit that to anyone, least of all herself.
After all, if her friends could do it, so could she!
So, she boarded the plane to India despite being terrified and having no idea how to cope. Instead of enjoying the trip and trying out new things, Maria stayed around the hotel most of the time, eating American food and reading books. She was afraid to do all the things she thought she would—going to local markets, spiritual sites, and indulging in the local street food.
Once she returned home, she decided she needed help. Her trip might not have been what she expected, but it definitely showed her something important: Her decisions were driven by fear way too often. In India, it became painfully clear how this stopped her from living her life to the fullest. However, she knew this was also true in her life back at home.
She recognized all of the moments in her life when she said no but really wanted to say yes and vice versa. She recognized the times when she didn’t know how to speak up for herself. She remembered the outings with friends when she followed the group despite wanting to do something else. In all of these moments, fear would hijack her decision-making, leaving her feeling miserable, dissatisfied, and misunderstood.
But now Maria had an advantage: She became aware of her fear. With that awareness, she contacted me about working through her fear through coaching. During our first session, I had her practice asking one simple question:
“Am I making it up, or is it true?”
Guided by this key question, we went through her experience in India and all the fears that stopped her from doing what she really wanted to. She soon realized that most of those fears were based on made-up stories (e.g., “I will look stupid not knowing how to pronounce the names of the dishes in an Indian restaurant,” or “I will get ripped off at a local market because I’m so naive.”) This allowed her to look beyond the fear and realize that many of those stories weren’t worth listening to.
Learning the anatomy of your fear is the necessary first step to move past it. The next step is to be a bit more aware of how that fear becomes activated.
Step 2: Identify Your Fear Responses
After accepting that fear is present, you also need to understand how it works. Let’s talk about the Wheel of Fear. In short, it’s a psychological loop that makes you replay certain wired-in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to protect yourself.
But what it really does is limit your potential in the present. My purpose here at Fearless Living is to help you break out of that loop.
Even though there are four stages on the Wheel of Fear, we'll focus on the first two for now: the trigger and the fear response. One leads to the other as it brings up a fearful situation from the past and makes you act on it in the present.
When this happens unconsciously, you end up being driven by fear. You act on autopilot. But when you bring some awareness into this process, you stop letting fear control you.
Again, it's best to understand it through an example. Let's say that your core fear is the fear of intimacy, and it’s fueled by a core belief that you're not good enough. You secretly believe you'll never be able to create a loving relationship. Once you become intimate with someone, they'll eventually discover how flawed you are. That's when they'll abandon you because they’re not interested in building a life with someone so broken.
If this is the fear-based story you tell, it'll eventually manifest its way into reality! Your partner may accept you exactly as you are, but you'll still notice (or project) signs in their behavior that they're rejecting you. For example, they’ll be out with friends and you’ll interpret this as a sign that they don’t want to spend time with you anymore. Or they’ll make an innocent joke that you interpret as a huge criticism.
That's what the trigger looks like. If you believe the fearful thoughts that come with it, for example, "they're losing interest in me," or "they must think I’m lame,” you're very likely to engage in a fear response.
A fear response is what you do when you're trying to protect yourself from a perceived threat. Usually, you do it through a coping mechanism you developed in the past. In the example above, you may start withdrawing in intimate situations, claim your partner did something wrong, or even flee the relationship—all in an effort to avoid being abandoned.
Whether your biggest fear is intimacy, public speaking, social anxiety, or something else, the fear response always has the same principle. It once emerged to protect you, but now it's sabotaging your life.
But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel: Fear can only do that when you’re unconscious. Becoming aware of your fear response as it happens shifts everything. If you manage to see what you're doing, you empower yourself to take control of your life rather than resigning it to fear.
But there's one more element you need for that.
Step 3: How To Overcome Fear for Good With Self-Compassion
Okay, so you allowed yourself to accept your feelings of fear as well as noticed your fear responses. Now what?
The last step is to trade your fear response for a freedom response. This cannot happen without self-compassion.
The challenge here is the following: When you take an honest look at the extent of your fear for the first time, it may overwhelm you. Most people don't realize how much fear has been running their life before they start working on their mental health. Once they do, they're shocked by how strongly fear is rooted in their lives.
This is typically when their self-confidence takes a dip. They start beating themselves up for "being so weak" or promptly diagnose themselves with an anxiety disorder.
Not so fast!
Understand this: When you're unconscious, you interpret fear in a myriad of ways. You tell yourself (and others!) that you can’t address your fears because you're lazy, unmotivated, disorganized… or that you simply don't have the time to do what you want to. You build stories and find excuses so you don’t have to face your fears.
That's why when you start observing your inner life, it's important to be prepared for what you might see. The best way to do it is to cultivate self-compassion and realize that your negative thoughts are just that: thoughts.
💗 Learn How To Love Yourself With My 7 Self-Love Tips.
Self-compassion means that you choose kindness over judgment, feelings of belonging over isolation, and non-judgmental awareness of fear over thinking you’re weak or terrible for feeling it. Being compassionate allows you to rewire your core beliefs about yourself and realize you’re not “bad” or “broken.” All you are is afraid, and there’s nothing strange about it, remember?
The problem is, many people judge themselves based on how they believe others see them. They’re afraid that someone may not like them or see them as inadequate or silly. I had many clients—especially women—who spent years in toxic relationships or abusive workplaces just because they worried what others would think if they spoke their minds.
This is what compassion for yourself changes, without fail. I like to say that the core of self-compassion is accepting yourself more than you want others to accept you. Only then are you able to see your fear response and not beat yourself up for it.
And that’s when the magic happens. When you look at yourself through the lens of compassion, you suddenly become in charge of how you respond to any situation. You see your fear responses as they're about to happen, but you don’t judge yourself for having them. Most importantly, you know what to do when one starts creeping up on you.
That’s why I call it a freedom response. Suddenly, you stop running on autopilot, trying to protect yourself from imaginary threats. You no longer feel like you need to withdraw or escape the situation. You realize how unlikely that worst-case scenario your mind projected actually is.
This may be the first time in your life when you realize you’re free to choose. The freedom response allows you to act based on what’s happening in the present, not your fearful memories.
When this type of breakthrough happens even once, you're well on your way. You now know how your mind works, and this shows you how to overcome fear in literally any situation!
Nobody Becomes Fearless Alone
Rewiring your core beliefs to free yourself from fear isn't easy. But it can be made easier by doing this in a community. Imagine having a support group of fellow travelers who always have your back!
For this to happen, a great act of courage is required: asking for help. Remember that even though the Internet is full of self-help articles and videos, this isn't always enough. Sometimes you need real people to share experiences with. This makes you realize that you're not alone in your quest to overcome fear.
This is what the Fearless Living Training Program is designed for. The 10-week-long journey brings together a group of courageous individuals who love themselves enough to ask for help. Together, we crack the code to fear and help you find your unique way out of the fear loop.
Like all fears, the fear of vulnerability may feel impenetrable when it happens. You may worry that you’ll never overcome it because it feels so… scary! Believe me, I’ve been there. That’s why, at Fearless Living, my primary goal isn’t to keep you from ever feeling this fear. It’s about learning how to be vulnerable despite the fear—that’s the first important step.
A fear of vulnerability often comes from having caregivers who, for whatever reason, weren’t comfortable being vulnerable themselves. Or they couldn’t deal when you tried to share your less comfortable emotions. “I’m afraid of going to the party,” was met with: “No you aren’t—that’s a ridiculous fear.” “I worry about leaving home,” was met with: “That makes no sense—you should be excited.”
If you tried to talk about your fears, doubts, or insecurities, they simply told you that you were being silly, that there’s no reason for these experiences. They taught you to keep it to yourself because they were at a loss for how to accept the less sunny parts of you being a human. And if they could keep you from expressing uncomfortable emotions, they wouldn’t have to deal with them.
But the result of cutting off this deeper communication is that it weakens our connections with others. Unless we can talk about our difficult emotions and experiences with at least some people, our relationships remain superficial. If we can’t trust others with our deepest thoughts and feelings, how can we create emotional intimacy? How do we turn to others for support when we can’t talk about what’s going wrong?
And being willing to be vulnerable starts with you—by accepting all those vulnerable feelings within yourself, and by accepting that those feelings are healthy and normal and part of being human. You accepting all of you is key to giving you the courage to share those feelings with another.
💗 Learn How to Trust Yourself and Build True Self-Confidence.
Learning how to be vulnerable is also about realizing that not everyone will reject you for feeling vulnerable. Your caregivers, your ex-boyfriend, your school teacher might have done that.
But there are people out there who won’t reject, dismiss, or minimize what’s really going on inside you. They will prefer to get to know the real you and are actually hoping you open up to them. Vulnerability says, “I trust you enough to share this.” What’s more, they’ve had their own struggles, and as you share, they can connect with you on a deeper level.
Now, I’m not saying you should tell everyone you meet at the grocery store about your issues with Mom, your fear of death, blah, blah, blah. You have to feel comfortable with the other person and trust them with your secrets. And vulnerability with others takes practice and, most importantly, vulnerability with yourself.
Listen—tapping into the power of vulnerability isn’t easy. It took me a long time to learn this. After I'd seen my father shoot my mother and himself when I was 14, I spent 20 years trying to escape my fears however possible. I was an alcoholic and a people-pleaser. I went to therapy. I told everyone who asked that I was doing fine.
None of that helped me regain control over my own life. No matter what I did, that deep fear of vulnerability was underneath; it was running the show, keeping me from getting close to others.
It was only when I learned how to be vulnerable that I learned how to be comfortable with the fact that everything wasn’t fine and that I could trust others with my emotions and my story. This led to connecting with my true self and gradually arriving where I am today, helping others become fearless.
So what is vulnerability, and why is it important? How do you cultivate it even when you’re afraid? I'll answer these and other questions in this article, so you can discover the magic of vulnerability for yourself.
What Vulnerability Means and Why It Matters
The meaning of vulnerability depends on its context. Let’s define what being vulnerable means in the context of Fearless Living.
Here’s the definition we aren’t using: Vulnerability is defined in society as people at risk of being hurt. For example, you may hear about "vulnerable groups" in conversations around inequality and poverty. In this sense, vulnerability is understood as a "risk of being hurt" or exposed to harm—in other words, something to be avoided.
At Fearless Living, we talk about emotional vulnerability, which means openly acknowledging difficult emotions and experiences, first in front of yourself, and then in front of others. This can also make you feel exposed. It would certainly hurt if someone were to laugh, not understand, or brush off the deep, important, emotional stories we’re telling.
That’s why it’s important to know how to turn vulnerability into an opportunity rather than a threat. That’s what I’m unpacking in the rest of this post.
Emotional vulnerability could look like telling your close friend how you really feel, sharing an uncomfortable truth with your family, or exposing your shadow self in an intimate relationship. It means practicing trusting another person enough to allow your authentic self to shine through. When you do that in front of another, it opens up room for them to do the same with you. It can bond you. And it helps you be honest with each other in the ups and downs of any normal, healthy relationship.
True vulnerability happens when we're our true selves with others. It's the willingness to risk being hurt for the sake of greater rewards, like taking your relationships to a deeper level. Vulnerability requires self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and courage.
When you see it that way, vulnerability becomes a strength rather than a weakness. My client Suzanne learned this in a beautiful way during our coaching sessions. When she first came to me, she was convinced true love would never show up at her door. And even if it did, Suzanne didn’t believe she could show her true self to her partner.
Interestingly, shortly after we started our coaching, she met someone. Her new romantic partner ticked almost all the boxes. One thing that scared the hell out of Suzanne? He would periodically make jokes about her that made her feel deeply insecure. She felt her self-esteem take a dive each time it happened. On top of that, she worried he would judge her for being insecure.
Her first instinct in those situations was either to run and hide or get defensive. But through the vulnerability work we did, she discovered the third possibility: Sharing her feelings with her partner and exposing that part of herself that hurt.
At first, she felt like she was risking rejection every time she did that. But over time, vulnerability started feeling easier. She saw that her partner appreciated her openness and started changing his behavior to accommodate her. By being vulnerable, Suzanne ultimately strengthened their relationship and opened up space for true intimacy.
Later on, she shared with me that this special bond only strengthened with the emotional vulnerability she and her partner displayed towards each other.
The Power of Vulnerability: What Are the Benefits?
Some people believe that they should always "keep their act together" in front of others. They hide any hint of self-doubt or insecurity. They want to come across as strong, confident, or knowledgeable.
But that's rarely what real life looks like. No one is superhuman and free of difficult emotions, such as fear or shame. Constantly pretending that you don't feel those is tiring. It also makes you miss out on close relationships and other psychological benefits.
To be vulnerable means to acknowledge and disclose those feelings and facts about your life that you're not proud of with those you trust. That person could be a therapist, a long-time BFF, or your Life Coach. Doing so has lots of psychological benefits. Here are just a few examples.
Benefit #1: Deepening Bonds With Others
Most people know this intuitively: When we can be honest about who we are with others, our relationships deepen. The core of true intimacy is self-disclosure. This includes sharing difficult or embarrassing experiences with your friends and loved ones.
Psychology professor Arthur Aron, PhD, conducted a study where he paired up strangers to ask each other deep questions that required vulnerability to answer. The study found that the participants felt significantly closer to one another after the exercise. Compared to the control group who engaged in small talk, the sense of intimacy between them deepened.
Benefit #2: Finding the Courage To Be Your True Self
In the era of social media, it's easy to share beautiful snapshots of what seems like a perfect life. This may make you feel good for a moment, as your Facebook or Instagram profile gets showered with likes and hearts, but consistently doing that is the opposite of true vulnerability.
Showing up as your imperfect but authentic self has more long-term benefits. When you find the strength to be vulnerable and admit, "I feel afraid" or, "I don't know how to do that," you send a powerful signal to your unconscious: You have enough courage to be yourself.
This has the potential to change your self-image into someone who's true to themselves. It reshapes your mind by reinforcing new behaviors. As poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
Benefit #3: Overcome Difficult Emotions Faster
Believe it or not, hiding your emotions doesn't help you deal with them. In reality, denying that you feel something usually makes it even more powerful!
This is another psychological benefit of vulnerability: It helps you process your emotions faster. When you acknowledge you're going through a hard time, the problems often start seeming more bearable. In my own life, this was the saving grace when I needed to confront my past experiences with my parents.
As the beloved Mr. Rogers said, “Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”
How To Be Vulnerable: A Short Guide
Being vulnerable is in our human nature. It's a core competency that allows us to connect with ourselves and others on a deeper level.
So why does it feel so hard? Usually, the answer is simple: We're afraid.
A fear of vulnerability runs deep. It makes your darkness—your depression, your anxiety, your past break-ups—feel dangerous to share. If you tell others, the fear says they’ll stop talking to you. They’ll think you’re damaged goods. They’ll say you’re weak or otherwise “insufficient.”
But this is just a learned response—something usually born out of your childhood that helped you survive to adulthood. So it takes time to unlearn it.
There can be many kinds of fear that block our vulnerability. And it’s worth taking time to figure out the root of that fear. Sometimes it's a fear of rejection; we're scared that if we allow others to see us for who we are, they will abandon the relationship.
For other people, it's the fear of not being good enough. When we always feel like we have to prove ourselves, we have a hard time acknowledging our difficulties. Others struggle with a fear of intimacy—vulnerability builds emotional intimacy, and we fear getting this close to another person. We’re afraid if we get close, they will leave, so we decide it’s safer never to get close.
Most people struggle with a fear of vulnerability. The good news is you don't have to erase that fear to learn how to be vulnerable. All you need is to stop being controlled by it. For that to happen, you want to develop self-awareness around how your fear works.
That's a core skill I teach in my Fearless Living Training Program.
1. How the Fear of Vulnerability Keeps You Stuck
One of the tools we use at the Fearless Living Training Program (FLTP) is the Wheel of Fear—a visual explanation of the fearful cycle we all go through. Once you understand it, you're free to break it and choose vulnerability—and love—over fear.
Here are four stages of the Wheel of Fear that stop you from being vulnerable. At each stage, I provide examples of how this may play out in real life.
- Trigger. Let's say your core fear is that of being seen as incompetent. This fear may get triggered when you’re upset about a dumb mistake you made at work and someone notices you’re upset and asks you what happened.
- Fear response. When you're wrapped up in that fear, you suddenly feel threatened. Your fear response may be to turn the situation into a joke, laugh, and change the subject (think Chandler from Friends).
- Core negative feeling. Whichever way the discussion goes, chances are you'll feel the feeling you have tried to avoid. In this case, because you were caught being incompetent (or so you think), you feel absolutley worthless. You’ll probably recognize it as an emotion that haunted you most of your life since it’s connected to your core fear.
- Self-destructive behavior. To get away from that unpleasant feeling, you could now find yourself resorting to a destructive behavior of choice. It could be losing yourself in social media, drinking, or another form of instant gratification that undermines your long-term goals.
Mindlessly going through that cycle means that you can't fully acknowledge your core fear, and you’ll damage yourself further. In this cycle, you never process your fear and it keeps you running away from vulnerability.
So what can you do?
2. How To Get off the Wheel of Fear
Before we start looking at how to rethink these stages, we need to talk about how you’re worthy of love, and it’s important to give that love to yourself—even if you have skeletons in your closet (we all do), even if you have work to do on yourself (we all do), and even if you slip up in your journey to being vulnerable (... which, once again, we all do).
💗 Learn How To Love Yourself With My 7 Self-Love Tips.
Also, remember that feeling comfortable with your own perceived weaknesses is an important step to feeling comfortable enough to share them with others. It’s helpful to understand where your fear of vulnerability comes from in order to accept this as part of the story that makes you who you are. This acceptance comes over time.
The more comfortable you are with your real, true self—light and shadows included—the more honest you can be with yourself and others, enabling you to begin a process of building emotionally intimate relationships. It feels so good to be truly connected to others—it’s part of what we’re on Earth to do. Plus, in those relationships, you’ll feel you can trust and rely on others.
Finally, know that this is a process. It’s going to take time to not let this fear control you, so don’t beat yourself up when the fear pops up and when you slip back into your old habit of closing off. Also, know that for many people, the fear will still visit them once in a while. The difference is now it doesn’t have to paralyze you because you’ll know what to do when you see it. Eventually, its voice may become softer, but again, it takes time. Love yourself regardless of how the process goes, and you’ll be stronger for it.
Ok, let’s get started. There are things you can do at each stage of the Wheel of Fear to break the loop. That’s how you gradually open up to new ways of responding to fear.
- Stage 1: To notice your triggers, pay attention to your close relationships. People who are closest to us often act as mirrors and activate our deepest fears without even realizing. Romantic relationships are usually particularly helpful for that (surprise, surprise!)
- Stage 2: Once you notice you're triggered, this is a chance to ask yourself: Is this threat real, or is my old programming speaking? In other words, will opening up really hurt me the way I think it will, or am I reliving what would happen if I tried opening up to my Dad as a teenager? To put it really plainly: Are you making it up, or is it a fact? This is a wonderful opportunity to learn how to tell facts from fiction and make decisions based on the present moment instead of past memories.
To help my clients increase awareness of what’s really going on for them, I devised Fearbuster Exercises. They include journaling prompts and questions people would usually only hear from their therapist or coach. Being able to ask and answer them yourself can help you confront the truth in a gentle, compassionate way—a true superpower.
- Stage 3: When you connect to the core negative feeling at stage three of the Wheel of Fear, this is your best chance at being vulnerable. See if you can find a way of expressing the feeling that's manageable to you.
I'm a big believer in role-playing. Before any difficult conversation, I still call my BFF Marta and ask her to play me so I get some perspective. And yes, I always play the “evil” one I'm about to face. (You will too!) This gives me a chance to gain much needed perspective!
When you role-play, you are training your neural pathways to shift your fear response to a freedom-based action. Yep. You get off your Wheel of Fear.
If you don't have a good friend who is skilled enough to help you role-play, no worries—my Certified Fearless Living Coaches can do this with you.
- Stage 4: Finally, you can always catch yourself at the last stage, engaging in destructive behavior.
If you find yourself in the pit of despair and lashing out at yourself or others using those lovely self-destructive behaviors, you will definitely know you're on your Wheel of Fear. This is good news! It means you're becoming more aware of what you're doing, and thus, you have a better chance of responding differently next time.
Breaking out of the Wheel of Fear can help you feel ready and willing to be vulnerable and open. You’ll know that being vulnerable can’t hurt you as you once imagined it could. It’s actually avoiding vulnerability that puts your true, emotionally intimate relationships at risk.
In the example of fearing to be seen as incompetent, this may mean you'll ask a question you wouldn't otherwise dare to. Or you'll just admit that you feel insecure. Or you’ll ask the other person for advice, even though you feel embarrassed.
However your vulnerability shows up, it opens a possibility of having a more authentic, better relationship with the person in front of you. As a consequence, you’ll also feel empowered and more rooted in yourself.
You Don't Have To Do This Alone
To be vulnerable means to be willing to risk being seen and exposed emotionally. You take your guard down and allow the other person to see you. That risk, however, often holds a promise of infinitely more rewards:
- True intimacy
- Courage to be yourself no matter what
- Better emotional regulation
The way to vulnerability is through mastering whatever fear is keeping you from achieving it. Changing the relationship with that fear allows us to be vulnerable.
Because this work is so challenging, it helps to do it with others. Community and peer support can be critical when it comes to inner growth. That's why I created Fearless Living Institute—to provide guidance and coaching for those who are ready to turn their fear into love and vulnerability.
The enrollment to my signature Fearless Living Training Program is open now. As you take a look, ask yourself: Are you ready to become fearless?