Following my daughter Gemmia's death, six months of severe depression, a divorce and two years of unemployment, I was counseled by my longtime accountant to file for bankruptcy. While I didn't have any credit-card debt, I had outstanding loans and other encumbrances that would, according to my accountant, take me a lifetime to pay off. Certain debts could be released through bankruptcy, thus giving me a clean slate and the opportunity to start over.

After much prayer, many tears and endless conversations with financial experts, I finally surrendered to the reality that filing for bankruptcy was my only hope for rebuilding my life. I felt defeated, ashamed and totally wrong about what I had done, although I wasn't sure exactly what that was at the time. I also felt crippled and guilty about what I was about to do; that is, to relieve myself of debts I had created in pursuit of my dreams and goals.

As a part of the bankruptcy process, it was necessary for an appraiser to come into my home and assess the value of my possessions. I thought watching a stranger dig through and count my belongings would be the worst part of the process—I was wrong. What came after the appraisal was the low blow that caused my knees to buckle.

The appraiser was a very mild-mannered man who arrived accompanied by a realtor and a court-appointed trustee. His job was to photograph and appraise all of my china, silver, diamonds, furs, art, automobiles and designer clothing. My china had been a wedding present, and I had no idea what its value was. Neither did he. I did not own any silver, diamonds or furs, and I drove a Honda. Very notable African American artists, with whom the appraiser was totally unfamiliar, had created the artwork I owned. The most expensive item in my closet was a five-year-old pair of Yves Saint Laurent shoes that I had worn many times. He assessed that they were worth about $50. I didn't own a boat, and I had no vacation property.

The only thing I owned of any value at that time was my home, which the realtor, the trustee and the appraiser all agreed was "lovely," just before informing me that it would need to be sold to satisfy my secured debts. Then they asked me if I could be out of the property within 30 days. When I informed them that I had nowhere to go, they let me know that they would be putting a lockbox on the door and that the realtor would always give me one hour's notice before she arrived to show my lovely home to interested buyers.

During this period, anytime I attempted to get involved with something good for me, such as a project I felt good about doing, something inside of me would rise up and sabotage my efforts and energy. This would result in my pulling out and abandoning the work, or my getting thrown out because of my bad behavior. I was always late, my contributions were always incomplete, and I always insisted on having the last inappropriate or unnecessary word. In the end, I felt victimized, angry and always self-righteous. I continued to make poor choices that ultimately reinforced the hidden belief that I was untrustworthy and that I could not—under any circumstances—trust myself or my thoughts and feelings.

Another stumbling block for me was that I had not yet allowed myself to know, acknowledge or accept the complete, radical truth about my feelings. It was not until the day I was standing in my bedroom watching the appraiser count my costume jewelry that I realized the truth I had been hiding from myself: My home was not, and had never been, a happy place for me. As a child, I had been shamed in my home, made to feel guilty in my home, abused and violated in my home and eventually taken out of my home to be placed in the care of some "big people" who never let me forget that I had no home.

As an adult, I worked feverishly to purchase and maintain a house I thought would make everything right in my world, only to come home to a husband who made it clear that he did not like me. In the process of navigating his judgments and displeasure and my own fear that I had made yet another terrible mistake, I lost my voice, my authentic self and my sense of purpose in the world.

The truth is, there was a part of me, the hurt-little-girl part of me, still trying to prove to my grandma that I could be more than she told me I would ever be. I had forgotten about my own childhood promise to myself that I would someday own my own home. I had forgotten to celebrate myself for keeping that promise. Instead, I used my energy and money trying to prove something to someone else.

On the journey to self-trust, trying to prove something never works. Either you know, believe and trust that you can do a thing and you do it, or you don't believe you can do it, force yourself to work on getting it done and then sabotage it. There was no way I could have held on to my first home, because buying it had not been a self-supportive, self-honoring or self-loving act. It was the fruit of a poisonous tree. It was an act of defiance and rebellion to prove that the messages I had received about myself as a child weren't true.

It is important to trust what your life is trying to communicate. If you cannot name what you feel, you will spend a great deal of time chasing things that will not truly fulfill your needs. This is how self-trust breaks down. You get stuck in thinking about what you should feel rather than acknowledging what you actually do feel. You are left with needs that do not go away and that you are unable to fulfill. This leads you to believe that you are not safe in the world, that you make bad choices, that you cannot have what you desire and that your best efforts will never be good enough.

In order to heal this aspect of our identity and learn to trust ourselves again, we must acknowledge that we feel angry, sad and injured, even if we do not understand why. Redeeming this inner child and reestablishing trust within ourselves also means learning how to love, care for and nourish ourselves in the way we longed for as children. As we learn to heal and reconnect with the innocence and trusting nature of this authentic self, learning to trust others becomes a conscious act in response to experience. Self-trust is not a special talent or gift. It is a skill we learn and relearn. It is a practice we must decide to engage in. Every day.

Trust This adapted excerpt was taken from Trust: Mastering the Four Essential Trusts: Trust in Self, Trust in God, Trust in Others, Trust in Life.


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