I watched a TV series recently called “The Vow” about a cult called Nxivm. Trying to pronounce its name is as confounding as everything else about it. Under the guise of personal growth and development, the leader and one of his brainwashed female acolytes lured women in, indoctrinated them with his self-serving credos and turned them into his slaves and sexual objects. He achieved his Machiavellian goals by choosing women who felt unloved, were estranged from their families and were hungry for attention and praise. He offered them what he called a new family. Then he gradually and systematically got them to believe that he was smarter and more powerful than they were, that he had all the answers. If they offered him their blind faith and gave him all of their power, he promised them that their lives would drastically improve and they would become enlightened. Then he starved them, branded them with his initials in an agonizing hour long ritual with no anesthesia (I kid you not), and demanded sex from them. And perhaps worst of all, he controlled them by teaching them to trust him instead of themselves.

This is how cults function as a charismatic leader gains absolute power over a follower’s every move. When Nxivm was busted and this man and his accomplice were thrown in jail and charged with sex trafficking, racketeering and forced labor conspiracy, the participants had learned the hard way that they had lost time and pieces of their lives by turning their decision making power over to someone else.

One of the hardest parts of being human is exercising the free will to make our own decisions. In order to do this, we have to remember to believe in ourselves over anyone else. We also need to remember that making no decision is a decision in itself and carries its own consequences. Buddhist nun Pema Chodron points out that uncertainty is more frightening to human beings than physical pain. She says, “The basis of fear itself is doubting ourselves, not trusting ourselves. It’s about not loving ourselves, not respecting ourselves. In a nutshell, you feel badly about who you are.”

We all know how it feels to arrive at a crossroads, a fork in the road that requires a decision. Right or left? Up or down? Backwards or forwards? It may be a good thing to consult other smart and loving people about what they think, but their opinions will differ because they don’t know what your soul and spirit want and need to steer you in the right direction for your safety and for your life. Only you know that and ultimately it’s all up to you. We have to learn to go inside and follow our gut. When someone says,” I know you better than you know yourself,” that’s a dangerous sentiment because it isn’t true and it causes damage to our hearts and souls.

When we come from an innocent place and ask someone else to trust us, we’re not asking them to give their power to us or make decisions for us. We’re not telling them how we think they should feel or what we think they should do. Rather, we’re allowing ourselves to be transparent and show someone else our own truth, not what we think about theirs. During this quarantine period, as we put on masks to go outside, let’s remember not to put on masks that hide our compassion. Let’s be open enough to allow people to trust us, not because we know them better than they know themselves but rather because we trust ourselves completely, we love ourselves and we are capable of loving someone else without trying to control them.

Do you trust yourself to make healthy decisions? Is it hard for you to trust yourself?