Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
A word that often comes up in conversations with my clients is trust. They ask themselves questions. Do I trust my healthcare team to provide competent treatment? Do I trust my medications to do what they are supposed to do? Do I trust my support team to be there for me if I need them?
And they often ask: Do I trust myself?
Trust concerns come up for a range of reasons. My clients often talk about how when they were first diagnosed, their physician presented them with some treatment options and asked them to indicate their preferences or concerns. They may be asked to follow a regimen that seems complicated, or that can have major consequences if not followed properly. They may be told to use their own judgment regarding whether they need to raise a red flag when an unexpected symptom or side effect appears. All this, already?
When you’re newly diagnosed, you’re already coping with the news of your diagnosis and what it’s going to mean for your future. You’ve already got a lot on your shoulders. Being asked to help make medical decisions, to perform your day-to-day self-care, as well as to decide whether you need to bring something to your doctor’s attention … that can mean more stress. You may think: Am I ready?
Taking steps to build self-trust
You may be feeling overwhelmed by the expectations and responsibilities being placed on your shoulders. If so, you might also be asking: Can I trust myself?
And here’s my answer. First, it’s normal to have concerns about self-trust when you’re newly diagnosed. Second, learning to trust your own ability to do your part to manage your chronic condition, and to live the best life possible, doesn’t happen overnight. Just like the trust you have established in other areas of your life, it takes time.
Here’s how to do some trust-building:
Get information. The more you know about your chronic condition, how it is treated, and especially the treatment you are undergoing, the more confident you will be. Getting informed takes time. But make the time to become increasingly knowledgeable. As I always say, information is power.
Ask for reassurance as needed. My newly diagnosed clients often tell me they don’t want to bother their doctor too much, or become “high maintenance.” The result is that they may make some guesses that, at this point in their treatment, are not what we would refer to as “educated” guesses. This can result in more stress. It could help a lot to do a review with your doctor about how you’re managing things day to day. He or she could give you the stamp of approval or help you identify any potential gaps.
Establish some guidelines with your doctor. As much as possible—recognizing that you can’t guess what might come up for you—ask your doctor for some guidelines about what symptoms are normal and what symptoms might be a concern. Sure, you don’t want to set yourself up to worry about your symptoms and become obsessive. But it can help to get some guidelines about what you should be monitoring yourself for, and when to raise the flag. It could go a long way toward both lowering your anxiety as well as helping you trust your own judgment.
When you bring up a problem, suggest a solution. As you identify concerns or problems with your doctor, you might also try suggesting what could be going on or what a potential solution might be. Taking a more active role in getting to an answer or solution can be a great way to both learn more about your condition and gain confidence in the knowledge you currently have. No, I am not suggesting you tell your doctor what to do. But most doctors are willing to listen to your thoughts, and might even appreciate your active involvement and perspective. One great way to learn to trust yourself is by exercising your problem-solving muscles.
Since it takes time, give yourself time. Lighten up. Whenever you feel especially at a loss in making decisions or doing the right thing, remind yourself that learning to trust yourself is a process. In fact, as challenges arise along the road ahead, you could find that your ability to trust yourself will require updating your information, or learning some new self-care skills. So trust may remain a process, not a final destination.
Bounce a few ideas around. Whenever you doubt yourself, such as when facing a difficult decision, or if you have a setback of some kind, reach out to your support team. Find someone who is willing to sit down with you and talk things out. Feel free to vent about how you’re feeling. Lay out the issues or the options, as you see them. And ask for some help in sorting it all out. An objective viewpoint can help you see the way forward. You might even realize that the answer was in your grasp the whole time—you just needed someone to help you connect with it. Another reason to trust yourself.
You, your new diagnosis, and your ability to trust yourself. Get informed. Work closely with your doctor. Get support. And be patient with yourself. Give yourself time to learn to trust your ability to do what you need to do to take the best possible care of yourself. You’ll get there!
What has helped you get better at trusting yourself? Add a comment below to share your experience with our community.