3 Steps to Learn to Trust Yourself as a Business Owner

Signs you don’t trust yourself as a business owner

Do you worry that you might not trust yourself?

If you often

  • beat yourself up
  • second-guess yourself
  • get stuck in looping worry thoughts
  • overthink things
  • give more weight to others’ opinions than to your own
  • Invalidate your feelings and thoughts

Then maybe you don’t trust yourself.

These kinds of things are frustrating.

They can undermine our choices and actions, so that it looks like self-sabotage.

This is really painful if you own a business. 

When you are running a business and you don’t trust yourself, you can find yourself stuck. 

You can find it hard to make decisions and hard to get started on things. 

Or you start something but then start to second-guess yourself and either pull back on your efforts or drop things altogether.

But your vision is precious and bringing it to life really matters to you. 

What the heck is going on?


Why we don’t trust ourselves


Cultural messages undermine self-trust


All our lives we are exposed to messages (implicit and explicit) that tell us we can’t trust ourselves. 

We are taught to defer to our elders, to those who “know better” than we do, and that reinforces the apparently universal human trait of respect for authority

We are literally schooled in deference to authority: to parents, adults, teachers, principals, managers, bosses, lawyers, doctors, and to leaders and those in positions of institutional power and authority–rabbis, pastors, senators, presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens. 

These are all people who had power over us, in one way or another.

Deference to authority has been deeply ingrained in us by the negative consequences we experienced–and sometimes the punishment we received–when we questioned or challenged authority.

This is part of what US American psychologist Carl Rogers was getting at when he talked about conditions of worth.

Conditions of worth include rules for values, beliefs and behaviours. 

If we break these rules, we receive disapproval and rejection. 

So much of this occurs long before our reasoning and critical thinking capacities develop, so we come to accept these rules as truth, rather than opinion.

Is it any surprise, then, that when the time comes to make decisions on our own–especially ones on which there is a lot riding–we have trouble trusting ourselves?


The internalized critic undermines self-trust


The second reason we don’t trust ourselves is the internalized critic

Carl Rogers’ theories teach us that the internalized critic arises when our innate and healthy self-value comes into conflict with conditions of worth

We can experience these conditions as a harsh inner voice that has a fixed, static and absolute character and is no longer rooted in what Rogers calls the organismic self, the part of your identity that you consider your authentic self. 

Often, what the “true self” feels collides with external shoulds and conditions of worth. 

These are seen as truths that can’t be changed, so the authentic, organismic experiences must be reined in. 

Authentic experiencing is labelled “bad,” “wrong,” “stupid,” “shameful,” “pernicious”, etc., corroding your self-trust and self-esteem. 

We come to believe that if we aren’t hard on ourselves, we’ll never get anything done. 

The critic can be relentless with messages like, “You’re lazy. You’ll never get anywhere” when you’re taking time to rest, or “Why can’t you get it together??” when you’re feeling emotional. 

The internalized critic is illogical and unrelenting in its search for proper behavior.

The internalized critic is not your conscience. It isn’t motivating you to do good. It is degrading and punishing, increasing self-hatred without inspiring change. It de-motiviates and discourages you and a harsh critic can lead to depression and even suicide.


How to cultivate self-trust as a business owner 


If you’ve started your own business or are working for yourself, I think there’s a good chance you’re already bucking authority in some ways.

Successful business people tend to challenge authority and swim against the current of popular opinion.

Doing this more and more, and more and more effectively, means cultivating self-trust.

I’m defining self-trust as the ability to believe in yourself, and to have your own back, even when what you’re doing goes against the stream.

CAVEAT: I’m trusting that, if you’re here, your intentions are to be of service to everyone’s wellbeing. I’m not talking about the kind of going against the stream that prioritizes individual privilege and comfort over communal care.

There are three steps to cultivating self-trust: seeing the internalized critic differently, validating its concerns, and speaking to yourself with kindness.


1) Seeing the internalized critic differently.

Ironically, this inner voice has our best interests at heart. 

(I know! That’s hard to believe because if it cares, why is it so nasty?) 

The internalized critic has good intentions. It wants what it thinks is good for you.

Remember that much of what it thinks is good for you is related to social norms and conditions of worth.

The internalized critic is trying to prevent us from engaging in actions or behaviours that could be perceived as wrong or bad. In this way, it protects us from making ourselves vulnerable.

It’s trying to keep us safe. There are bad things it doesn’t want us to have to go through. There are difficult feelings it doesn’t want us to experience.

Once we can see that it’s trying to keep us safe, when it comes up, we can say, in a gentle tone, 

“Oh hello there, critical voice. 

I know you’re here because you want to keep me safe.

Thanks for showing up.”


2) Validating its concerns

After letting the internalized critic know you understand why it’s showing up, you can take a guess at what it might be worried about, and what it doesn’t want, along with what it does want.

For example, for me around public speaking, my internalized critic says things like, “You shouldn’t stand up on stage with a mic. People will think you’re stupid. Big stages aren’t for you. You’re not fancy enough. People will laugh at you. Your memory is bad and you have performance anxiety, so you’ll forget what you want to say.”

When I look underneath this, I can see that it’s afraid I’ll be embarrassed. It doesn’t want me to experience shame. It doesn’t want me to fail.

What is *does* want is for me to be OK. It wants me to be confident and to succeed. 

It believes that if I speak publicly, I will feel the opposite of that, so it is trying to protect me.

I can say something to myself and my internalized critic that validates all that.

For example: “Ohhhh… I can see you’re worried that people might think I’m stupid. I can see that you don’t want me to be embarrassed. You want to make sure that I can feel confident. You want me to succeed.”


Photo by Marcus Aurelius


3) Speaking to yourself with kindness

Surprise!! In the first two steps you have already been speaking to yourself with kindness. 

You can continue to speak kindly to yourself by validating what the critic is worried about, and reassuring it that you hear and understand that, and are taking care of it and yourself. You can let it know it’s not alone, and that you’ve got its back.

So I say to my critic, “Of course you’re worried about me being embarrassed. You’re remembering times when I was embarrassed and how painful and difficult that is. I don’t want to have to go through that either. Thanks for letting me know about that. I’m here with you. I’ve got your back.”

In this step, it’s really important NOT to say “Don’t worry.” 

The internalized critic is quite within its rights to worry. It’s showing you what it thinks you need to look out for. 

The internalized critic’s point of view is that this is important information for you to have so you can be prepared and stay safe.

The trick is letting the internalized critic know you understand what it’s worried about and are taking care of it.


Practicing this first in journaling is the best way to begin to integrate the concepts. The more you practice, the easier it will get. You can also practice talking yourself through this process out loud, with a peer listener. Then you can begin to try it as things come up, taking a time out if you need to, to give yourself a bit of time and space to process.

I’m faster and better at it now (after 13+ years of practice) but when things are intense, I still need a time out.

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About the author 

Shulamit Berlevtov  -  Shulamit (she/her) is the Entrepreneurs' Therapist. She is working passionately to mitigate the entrepreneurial mental health crisis through keynote speaking and educational workshops and by supporting women entrepreneurs 1:1 to care for their mental and emotional wellbeing and their money psychology in an era of relentless stressors that can make you want to lose your crap on the daily.

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