Tips to Rebuild Self-Trust after the Death of a Loved One

Why Grief Causes Us To Lose Self-Confidence and 10 Tips To Rebuild It 

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: May 19, 2023

The seeds of who we are becoming are planted in the soil of our grief. With the watering can of mindfulness and the sunlight of compassion, we can grow a garden of unending love for self and others, even in the midst of great pain.

When the shattering news of a loved one's death is heard, the shockwave that emanates from the epicenter of grief can be utterly destabilizing. In the aftershocks, you may also experience a loss of self-confidence. Although surprising to many of us who are grieving, it's not uncommon to lose faith in choices, to question your decisions, and to doubt your ability to make sense of the world.

This may leave you feeling disoriented and unsure, just when you're craving a sense of stability the most. However, it's crucial to remember that while this is a difficult time, grief is also a journey of rediscovering who you are now. The feelings of uncertainty you're wrestling with are part of this journey.

In sharing my personal experience and the wisdom I've gained along the way, my hope is to illuminate a path forward for you, offering strategies to rebuild your self-trust. 

Why Grief Causes Us To Lose Self-Confidence

I experienced a lost of self-confidence firsthand, when my step-father Tom died just after returning home from a surgical procedure that he very much needed. When he told me about the surgery, I silently cried, feeling that it was risky, but I didn't express my concerns.

When he died after the procedure, I began to question my decisions, not just about telling him how I felt, but everything before and after. Should I have told him my feelings? Gotten him to eat healthier over the years? Not stopped at the library on my way to see him? What about his estate? Did I handle that - and the viewing - the way people expected me to? I didn't even trust that I knew how to "grieve right" (whatever the heck that is), and I was already a grief therapist!

Years later I know there was nothing I could have done to prevent his death. As for the estate, the rituals, and everything else, I finally realized there was no right or wrong decision. There was only what was right or wrong for me and his loved ones.

I understand how this tragedy skewed my view of reality, and of myself. Here are some of the reasons you (and I) may loose trust in ourselves after a major loss:

  • Guilt and Regret: We often experience guilt or regret after the death of a loved one, especially if there were unresolved issues, or if we believe our actions or decisions may have contributed to the outcome. This can lead to self-doubt and a loss of confidence in our decision-making abilities.
  • Shattered Assumptions: The sudden death of a loved one can shatter our basic assumptions about life and safety, causing us to question our judgment and understanding of the world.
  • Sense of Identity: Our relationships often play a significant role in our sense of identity. The loss of a loved one can lead to a sense of loss of self, and thus, a loss of confidence.
  • Feelings of Helplessness: Death often reminds us of our lack of control over certain aspects of life, which can lead to feelings of helplessness and a subsequent loss of self-confidence.
  • Isolation and Loneliness: The death of a loved one can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially if that person was a major source of support. This can impact self-esteem and confidence.
  • Depression and Anxiety: Although grief is not depression, the feeling is similar, and many grieving people experience anxiety. Both can undermine our self-confidence and make us doubt our ability to cope and move forward.
  • Physical and Cognitive Effects of Grief: Grief doesn't just affect us emotionally; it can also impact us physically and cognitively. Fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and memory issues are common and can erode our confidence in our abilities.

While the loss of a loved one is a profoundly challenging experience, it's essential to understand that the accompanying feelings of self-doubt, guilt, and lowered self-confidence are natural aspects of the grieving process and are temporary. Your self-confidence will improve as you engage in self-affirming activities. 

After all, grief is not something to be fixed, is is something we learn how to do. This education, however unwelcome, will contribute to your ability to look at yourself and say "I can do this - even though I wish I didn't have to."

10 Tips To Regain Self-Confidence When You Are Grieving

Recognizing these feelings as a response to loss, rather than a permanent fixture of your character, is a critical step towards recovery. Once we acknowledge the roots of our self-doubt, we can begin to apply strategies to rebuild our self-trust.

The following tips and exercises aim to support you on this path, guiding you towards re-developing your confidence and resilience in the aftermath of loss.

1. Understand and Accept Your Grief

Everyone's grief looks different, so first and foremost, it's important that you acknowledge and accept your feelings. Grief can induce feelings of helplessness, rage, guilt, fear, and even relief—all of which can be overwhelming and frightening.

Understand that these feelings are normal and temporary. Accepting them can help you regain trust in your emotional responses and judgments.

2. Be Patient with Yourself

Rebuilding self-trust is not a race or a task to be completed overnight. It’s a journey that requires patience and understanding. Allow yourself the time to grieve and to adjust to your new normal. 

Take small steps each day towards reclaiming your confidence, understanding that some days will be harder than others.

3. Practice Self-Care

In the throes of grief, it's easy to forget about taking care of oneself. However, maintaining physical health is a critical step in fostering emotional wellbeing and self-trust. 

Eat nourishing foods, try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, engage in physical activity, and spend time in nature. These small acts of self-care can provide a sense of control in an otherwise chaotic time.

4. Lean on Your Support System

Share your feelings with trusted friends and family members. They can provide valuable perspective and remind you of your strength when you're unable to see it. Others' experiences and insights can help you regain faith in your own resilience and capacity to heal.

Consider seeking professional help. Counselors and grief support groups can help normalize your feelings and give you skills to cope. I offer online private grief support sessions as well the Awaken Grief Support Group, which has supported many people in rebuilding self-trust during grief and loss.

5. Express Yourself Creatively

Finding a creative outlet can help you process your feelings in a way that words might fail to. This could be anything from painting, writing, music, or dance. 

Through creative expression, you may find a way to understand and communicate your experience better, which can strengthen your trust in your perceptions and feelings.

6. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness—the practice of staying present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment—can be beneficial. 

It can help you to avoid dwelling on past regrets or worrying about the future, both of which can erode self-trust. Try techniques such as meditation, yoga, or simply spending quiet moments in nature to cultivate mindfulness.

7. Set Small, Achievable Goals

Setting and achieving small goals can help rebuild your self-trust. These goals don't have to be significant; they can be as simple as cooking a meal, taking a walk, meditating for two minutes, or finishing a book. 

Every goal achieved is a step towards regaining your confidence in your abilities.

8. Acknowledge Your Progress

Acknowledging your progress can help you see that you're capable of healing and growth. It reinforces the trust in yourself and your ability to navigate through this challenging period.

Remember to celebrate small victories along the way. 

9. Be Kind to Yourself

Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Remind yourself that it's okay to have bad days and it's okay not to have all the answers.

Forgive yourself for any perceived shortcomings. Show yourself the same kindness and compassion that you would extend to a dear friend in the same situation.

10. Embrace Journaling

Journaling can be a powerful tool in rebuilding self-trust after a loss. It provides a safe space for you to express your emotions, explore your thoughts, and reflect on your journey.

Writing down your feelings can help you process them and gain a clearer understanding of your emotions. This clarity can lead to a better understanding of yourself, and ultimately, a stronger sense of trust in your own thoughts and feelings.

Remember, your journal is your private space. There are no right or wrong answers. Use it as a tool to heal, grow, and trust in yourself again. Here are some prompts to guide you: 

  • Express Your Grief: Write a letter to your loved one expressing your feelings about their departure. What would you like to tell them? What do you wish you could have said? This process can help release pent-up emotions.
  • Explore Your Self-Doubt: Write about a decision you've made recently that you're unsure about. Why do you feel this way? Is this doubt based on facts or feelings?
  • Celebrate Your Strengths: Jot down three things that you did well today, no matter how small. This exercise can help you recognize your resilience and capabilities, building up your self-trust.
  • Address Your Guilt: If guilt is a part of your grieving process, write about it. Why do you feel guilty? What would it take for you to forgive yourself? Is there something you can do - a charitable action or kindness - that will feel like it brings balance into your life?
  • Envision the Future: Write about how you see your life in six months or a year. How would you like to change? What small doable steps can you take to get there? This can help restore faith in your ability to make decisions and move forward.

Navigating through grief and the subsequent journey of rebuilding self-esteem can feel like a lonely road, but please remember that you're not alone. Even in times of isolation, remember that there is support available and others who understand the weight of your feelings.

If you're searching for a safe space to share, heal, and grow, consider joining me in the Awaken Grief Support Group. It's a compassionate community where you can express your feelings openly, learn from others who are on the same journey, and garner strength in the collective resilience. As we traverse this path together, we can rediscover the trust in ourselves and emerge stronger, one step at a time.

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Living with Grief and the guided journal, From Grief To Peace. She is the creator of the Mindfulness & Grief System that is featured in the Handbook of Grief Therapies (2023) and is the founder of Awaken, a mindfulness-based online grief support group. Heather also hosts the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, and offers mindfulness-based grief support online through her organization, the Mindfulness & Grief Institute. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She currently lives in Falling Waters, WV.

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