Breaking the Cycle of Relationship Dysfunction

by | Nov 14, 2022 | Relationship Advice

Breaking the Cycle of Relationship Dysfunction

by | Nov 14, 2022 | Relationship Advice

Fuck. I’ve done it again.

If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we will surely repeat them. And repeat them I did, many times over. I’d experienced a series of dysfunctional relationships over the years, but my grand finale — the sudden, devastating end to my marriage — caused a rupture I’d never felt.

Despite my repeated vows to make better relationship choices through the years, it hadn’t worked out that way.

I wanted love so badly I was willing to climb a rope made of red flags to reach it. But that is no path to fulfillment. I was usually left at a total loss to understand why my relationships continually failed, each time more destructively than before.

But this last time, the pain was visceral and shook me to my core. I felt broken open in a way I had never experienced before. I questioned everything I thought I knew about myself and how I’d lived my life. I felt defeated and exhausted from living this way.

I surrendered.

Trust can be difficult for Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families (ACAs). Raised in environments filled with abandonment, inconsistency, and lack of emotional expression, we struggle to trust others. But the relationship we don’t talk enough about is the one we have with ourselves. Our lack of self-trust caused by childhood wounds is the root of the poor decisions that damage our lives.

Many of us have gotten used to living in empty spaces bathed in shadows from our past, desperately seeking worthiness and validation from others. We hope they’ll fill our voids and drag us into the light. We’ve missed learning that the responsibility to heal ourselves is ours alone. And until we realize this, we’ll repeat our dysfunctional relationship patterns searching for fulfillment but finding suffering instead.

At some point, if we’re lucky, we’ll find rock bottom.

I found mine lying on a cold wood floor, broken open, finally ready to stop running from my past and accept responsibility for the choices that hurt me. Without knowing it, I took my first step on the journey to building self-trust.

At that time, I came across Brené Brown’s SuperSoul Session, “The Anatomy of Trust.” In this talk with Oprah Winfrey, Brown breaks down trust into simple, digestible elements using the acronym B-R-A-V-I-N-G. She uses it in the context of relationships with others, but it also applies to self-trust and can profoundly change our lives.



Healthy boundaries are the foundation of self-trust.

Learning to set healthy boundaries is an excellent place to begin building self-trust. We need clarity around the behaviors we’ll accept from others, but more importantly, we need to be clear about what we’ll accept from ourselves.

We’ve spent so much time twisted in knots accommodating the needs of others that we haven’t learned to advocate for our own. This act of self-abandonment ultimately leaves us feeling angry, resentful, and disconnected.

While learning to say ‘no’ can seem daunting, it gets easier with practice. It’s perfectly healthy to let people know what works for us and what doesn’t.


Building self-trust means learning to count on ourselves. We develop trust when we can consistently meet our needs. We do the things we say we’ll do and give ourselves what we need when needed.

Reliability also hinges on our ability to manage how much we take on. When we overcommit ourselves — often because we haven’t learned to say ‘no’ — we make it difficult for ourselves to follow through on commitments we’ve made to ourselves. Learning to manage our obligations puts us in a position to succeed and build self-trust.


We’ll make mistakes, and plenty of them. Perfection doesn’t build trust, but accountability does. Self-trust comes from owning and learning from our mistakes and making amends with people we’ve hurt, including ourselves. Fortunately, life provides endless opportunities to practice accountability, and it’s vulnerable and honest, going a long way toward building self-trust.


We don’t often consider how we honor ourselves when sharing our vulnerable stories and experiences. We’ve also made the painful mistake of sharing our stories with those who weren’t worthy of hearing them. We risk getting hurt when we’re careless and give our stories away. Instead, we can ask ourselves if someone has earned the right to hear our story before a vulnerable share. With this simple practice, our trust in ourselves and others will grow.


Integrity is everything. A person of integrity acts from a place of dedication to their values and beliefs, adhering to their moral and ethical principles. It means practicing these beliefs, not just professing them. It means acting from our deepest core values when doing so is inconvenient and challenging. It can be fucking uncomfortable, but this is when integrity matters most. These are the moments that build self-trust.


Non-judgment means we can be vulnerable with someone without feeling judged and not judging others for being vulnerable with us. But many of us struggle with shame, and we judge ourselves negatively for our vulnerability. We might judge others for asking for help because we see it as a sign of weakness. If we think less of others for needing help, we’ll think less of ourselves too. Learning to be vulnerable enough ask for what we need is how we begin to meet our needs. Not judging ourselves harshly for it is a big step towards growing self-trust.


We have a choice around our interpretations of ourselves and our actions. We can pick ourselves apart for every misstep and imperfection or acknowledge that we’re making progress even if the road is rough sometimes. Most importantly, we’re doing the work, making a real effort to transform ourselves.

Many of us are not used to acknowledging our efforts or treating ourselves kindly. But making generous interpretations about our actions and intentions builds self-trust through compassion and self-love.

Brene Brown’s B-R-A-V-I-N-G can help us build the self-trust we’ve been missing. The revelation that we build trust during small and seemingly insignificant moments changed my life, and it can change yours too. Each day gives us countless chances to practice building self-trust, and these opportunities can transform our lives if we’re brave enough to take them.

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