Take positive action: Once we have connected and identified what our inner self is telling us we need, we must take action. It is the action-taking that truly starts to build our trust and belief in ourselves. Whether that action is something super simple like knowing we need to stop and eat or drink to keep our bodies nourished or something harder like knowing we need to address something high stakes with our partner, we build trust and belief in ourselves through consistently caring for ourselves and doing the things that are best for us even when they are hard.

Starting something new is scary. Learning to believe in yourself can be a critical precursor to starting a new initiative. Why is it so important to learn to believe in yourself? How can someone work on gaining these skills? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, authors, writers, coaches, medical professionals, teachers, to share empowering insights about “How To Learn To Believe In Yourself.” As a part of this series we had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Mays.

Michelle Mays, LPC, CSAT-S is a Licensed Professional Counselor and expert in treating sexual betrayal and trauma. She is the founder of the Center for Relational Recovery and the creator of the Braving Hope Treatment Model designed to address the devastating dilemma that betrayed partners face when their significant other is unsafe to connect to, yet connection is the key to healing. Her new book, The Betrayal Bind: How to Heal When the Person You Love the Most Hurts You the Worst.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I’m the second of five kids. We were all born in a puppy pile with six years separating the oldest and youngest. My dad was a preacher, and my mom was a homemaker. We lived in a small farming town in Ohio, and I grew up playing on my friend’s farms — milking cows, jumping out of haymows, picking fruits and vegetables, and snow tubing behind tractors.

When I was 12, we moved to a suburb of Minneapolis, which was a culture shock but a good one. Being a preacher’s kid comes with its own set of challenges and, in my case, lots of rules. Our move to a more urban area hit at the right time for me to start exploring outside my family, and that opened a bigger world for me.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

As a child, I didn’t have any exposure to the field of counseling, psychology, or self-help. I was fed a steady diet of religion as the only answer to all of life’s challenges. I landed in college quite lost, without any sense of clear direction.

It was my political science professor, Dr. Phil Loy, who saw something in me. Somehow, without knowing my family story, he instinctively understood that after the rules and control I had endured throughout my childhood, I wouldn’t respond well to more attempts to manage or restrict me. I needed the freedom to wander around, cut class, and handle the financial pressures of working multiple jobs while being in school my own way. He became a consistent presence asking me to come have a chat, joking about me not showing up for class, and, when he did get me to his office, talking to me about what was possible until I began to see it too.

Over four years of classes and mentoring from Professor Loy, I got myself sorted out and onto an academic and career path. But more importantly, I started to understand my own potential and what could be possible for me.

I moved to Washington DC after college and got a job in international relief and development. I also got married right out of college to a man who was compulsively addicted to sex. At that point, very few people understood anything about the compulsive use of sex to medicate emotions, so we were stranded in terrible pain with very misguided “help” only making things worse for many years.

In my late 20s, a friend suggested that I check out the field of counseling as I was not feeling fulfilled in my job.

As I began reading and exploring the world of psychology, I became inspired and engaged in a brand-new way. I moved to Seattle to go to graduate school and took on that challenge with commitment and enthusiasm. My graduate program required me to be in counseling and to look at my story as part of each paper I wrote. I started healing the wounds from my childhood and marriage and began to truly know and claim myself for the first time. I can’t overstate the seismic shift that happened during these years. It changed everything about how I saw the world and my place in it.

I divorced my husband which was a heartbreak but also key to my healing and freedom. When I left graduate school and started my counseling practice, I started to work with women and men mired down in betrayal. I had experienced first-hand the woeful lack of understanding and resources that were available, and I wanted to change that.

I’ve specialized in treating problematic sexual behavior, betrayal trauma and relationship issues ever since and my fascination with these topics and desire to see effective treatment models created has only grown.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was a newly minted baby therapist was that I thought I needed to have answers. I felt enormous pressure during those early counseling sessions to have something to SAY that was wise or directive or life changing. I was also very concerned with looking professional, so I would sit very properly with my notepad.

It took time for me to realize that good therapy is mostly about two things: the ability to be exquisitely present with your client, and the skill of knowing the right question (out of all the many questions that are possible) to ask. You must forget yourself and enter a nervous-system-to-nervous-system relational moment. Being up in my head wondering if I was doing things right got in the way at the beginning for me.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

My team and I have a big hairy audacious goal of changing the way individuals impacted by infidelity and the professionals who help them think about, understand, and treat partner betrayal.

Currently, most people don’t see partner betrayal as an issue requiring specialized care. General individual therapy and couple’s therapy techniques are often applied but don’t help.

I want to see the whole conversation around the issue of cheating and infidelity change so that we understand what it is, why it is problematic, and how to treat the complex dynamics it creates.

My team and I are working toward this goal by touching on the issue of sexual betrayal at every level. I have just published a new book called The Betrayal Bind: How to Heal When the Person You Love the Most Hurts You the Worst that offers a new attachment-based model for treatment.

We’ve also transformed the lives of over 400 betrayed partners in our online coaching program called Braving Hope, and we work with relationships in our Braving Together couple’s mastermind to heal attachment injuries and create new thriving relationships.

Our next project is to launch a training and certification program for therapists and coaches to train them in our new attachment-based model.

We have lots going on! My team and I are energized every day by the incredible courage and commitment we see in the lives of those we are working with.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to believe in yourself? Can you share a story or give some examples?

I think about believing in yourself through the lens of betrayal since those are the waters I wade around in every day. When we experience betrayal — whether it’s sexual, financial, or relational — it damages our sense of trust. Not just in the person who betrayed us but also in ourselves. We start to wonder why we trusted the wrong person, how we could have missed what was happening, and, most confounding of all, why we still want to be around the person who hurt us?

Believing in ourselves goes much deeper than a positive thought about who we are. Believing in ourselves is fundamentally about trusting ourselves. Trusting that we know who we are, we can discern what would be best for us in any given moment, and then we can take positive action that moves us toward our goal.

Each time we do these three things — connect to ourselves, identify what we need, and take positive action — we build our trust and belief in ourselves.

What exactly does it mean to believe in yourself? Can I believe that I can be a great artist even though I’m not very talented? Can I believe I can be a gold medal Olympic athlete even if I’m not athletic? Can you please explain what you mean?

Not all dreams come true, and not all dreams are possible. However, belief in ourselves is about our willingness to risk reaching for the dream, which includes risking the loss of the dream.

For example, I have a nephew who is a great swimmer, and he has a dream of going to the Olympics. Will he get to the Olympics? That outcome is unclear. But what I’ve been watching him do since he was very young is show up every morning for practice, do everything his coaches ask of him, find better coaches to train under, and show up to compete. His belief in himself is being developed through his willingness to risk trying full out for his dream.

My hope for him is that every practice, every competition, every tenth of a second dropped builds his belief in himself. Belief built not in the certainty that his dreams will come true (though I really want that for him!) but in the certainty that he can give it his all, work through the ups and downs that come with any challenging endeavor and come out on the other side with high trust and self-confidence in who he is.

Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?

Because I grew up in a rigid family system where I was highly controlled by my parents, I wasn’t given many choices. As a result, my childhood left me with very little understanding of who I was and almost no ability to use my voice and make choices that would help me learn to trust and believe in myself.

This came with me into early adulthood, where I did not know how to exercise my ability to choose very well. This impacted school, my early career, and my romantic relationships. A great example is when my college boyfriend proposed to me. I remember being shocked to the core, as I had no idea it was coming, and having this faint feeling of, wait, no, not sure, not sure at all, even though my mouth was saying yes, and my ring finger was accepting a diamond. Once I did that, I didn’t feel able to shift directions. I landed in a bad marriage as a result.

It wasn’t until my mid-to-late 20s that I started being able to listen to myself and exercise my ability to choose. I have been working on that skill ever since and will continue to grow my capacity for the rest of my life.

At what point did you realize that in order to get to the next level, it would be necessary to build up your belief in yourself? Can you share the story with us?

When I was in graduate school, I went to therapy for the first time to deal with my marriage. I walked into that therapist’s office pretty sure that I was the cause of the problems in my relationship and that something was wrong inside of me. I remember telling her in our first session that I was OK with being the problem I just needed someone to tell me what was true and help me with it. (This is the degree of gaslighting I had experienced both in my childhood home and in my marriage).

That therapist helped me start to believe in myself. In very basic ways at first.

She began by helping me to stay in reality and acknowledge what was happening without minimizing and going blind to my experience. To build trust with ourselves we must stay grounded in our reality. And to stay in reality, we have to believe we can handle the emotions and challenges that it brings. As I learned to do that, I started to believe in myself and trust myself.

Believing in yourself creates a snowball effect. Each new layer of trust that you develop with yourself allows you to move into your world with more confidence, take more risks, and pursue bigger dreams, and that in turn builds more belief and trust in yourself as you move forward. My snowball started in college, but it really gathered speed when I entered my own therapy and then the mental health field as a counselor.

What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves?

  1. Connect to your inherent worth: Believing in yourself is about connecting to your inherent worth as a human being, not your accomplishments or talents. We can misguidedly link our belief in ourselves to what we do or are good at rather than to the reality that we are born worthy. Our value is an inherent part of our humanity and is separate from our accomplishments and talents.
  2. Avoid one-up and one-down comparisons: Another pitfall is comparing ourselves to others. We can believe we are worthy when we are prettier or more successful than someone else, and we are unworthy and go one-down when we deem others better than us. This cuts us off from our inherent worth and makes it hard to be relational. True relational connection results from a level playing field where we are both worthy.
  3. Check in with your authentic self: To build trust in ourselves, we must know what is best for us and put that into action. To do this, we need the habit of checking in with ourselves throughout the day to see what is happening in our inner worlds.

I give my clients a simple homework exercise to start building this muscle. I ask them to set their watch or phone to beep at them five times throughout the day. Each time, they are to stop what they are doing, close their eyes, take a few deep breaths, then turn their attention to their bodies and notice what their body is telling them they might need.

Do you know the most common thing I hear during the first few days of clients doing this exercise? “I found out I need to pee.” That’s how often we’re overriding our inner guidance system and not listening for what is best for us. We don’t even know we need to pee! Try this exercise to start building your connection to your inner self.

4. Identify your needs: This is the second step in the exercise above. Once we check in with ourselves, we must be able to identify our needs in the moment. Many of my clients report being completely stumped when they’re first building this bridge to themselves. I ask them to stick with it because the act of sending their attention to their bodies and staying focused and attuned is building new neuropathways of connection and they’ll eventually begin to identify the messages their body is sending back.

5. Take positive action: Once we have connected and identified what our inner self is telling us we need, we must take action. It is the action-taking that truly starts to build our trust and belief in ourselves. Whether that action is something super simple like knowing we need to stop and eat or drink to keep our bodies nourished or something harder like knowing we need to address something high stakes with our partner, we build trust and belief in ourselves through consistently caring for ourselves and doing the things that are best for us even when they are hard.

Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?

We all have a part of us that excels at judging, criticizing, and pressuring us. This part is usually playing a protective role and often believes that it is motivating us and is needed to keep us on track. The more we try to shut this voice down, the more it will fight to reassert itself.

Instead of fighting with this voice, we need to offer this part of ourselves some compassion and kindness. We can say, “Hey, I know why you’re here. You’re trying to protect me and are doing it the way we learned when we were little. I understand and appreciate that you are trying to help me.”

Then, after we validate and accept this part of us, we can ask if that part can share the space and allow other parts — more encouraging, loving parts — to come forward and have a voice as well.

Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?

We often link self-confidence and self-esteem with our accomplishments or natural gifts and talents. This is a precarious bargain because it means we can’t have a bad day or acknowledge the shadow side of being human without our sense of self taking a major hit. When we instead connect our self-confidence and self-esteem to our inherent worth, which is foundational, we have a belief in ourselves that is stable and reliable regardless of the ups and downs of our human experience.

What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is an indicator of growth. It means that you are doing something new that has moved you outside of your comfort zone. Reframe it for yourself. “I’m doing something new in the world that I haven’t done before, and I now must learn how to feel safe playing at this new level. Right now, I don’t feel safe, so I feel like an imposter, but that will change as I grow my comfortability with the new way I’m showing up in my world.”

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I want us all to treat our attachment systems with the care and respect they deserve.

We are living in a moment where betrayal is becoming normal. Betrayal in romantic relationships, workplace settings, social media, social institutions, politics, etc.

Not only is betrayal becoming normalized, but I see a propensity to blame others when we betray. There seems to be a growing belief that if it is good for us but means someone else gets thrown under the bus, that is OK. Often, I see it taken even further, and the betrayed party is blamed for the betrayal.

This undermines our ability to feel safely and securely attached to others. What research clearly tells us is that our ability to safely connect to other humans is the key to good health. When we have satisfying close relationships with others, our physical, mental, and emotional health improve, and risk factors in every area of life diminish.

As humans, we all have the potential to betray. But we also have the higher ability to take responsibility for ourselves and to repair relationship ruptures so that we can stay connected to one another. I want to see us take our attachments to one another much more seriously and tend them with a higher level of care and intentionality so we can all be healthier and happier together.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I would love to have coffee with Brené Brown. I love her work, but what I would really like is to pick her brain about is what it has felt like to play bigger over time in her career as her platform has grown. That is a unique journey for females, and I know she would have great thinking and personal experience to share about this topic.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My website is https://michellemays.com/

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

Thank you very much for this opportunity!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.