‘No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to stop it. I hate the fact that I searched through their text messages, and a couple of times they left their laptop open, so I checked their emails. There was nothing suspicious, but that did not make me trust them any more. This made my last relationship break apart, and it kills me to think that I might destroy this one too.’
We are social beings. We need each other to survive, and to be around each other, there needs to be a measure of trust. But time and time again, I have witnessed relationships at breaking point because someone just could not trust the other person. Here are some thoughts on how to trust -
Learn from history, but don’t let it rule you. If you grew up without a secure attachment to your caregiver, you might have difficulty trusting people in your present life. If your caregivers were absent or unreliable, you might expect people to be absent or unreliable now. With the right help you can learn how to distinguish these previous experiences from the people in your present life. You can learn how to trust, perhaps even for the first time.
We see in a mirror dimly. If you notice that you have a problem trusting people, you might see in others what you dare not see in yourself. We all have desirable and less desirable elements, and yet it can be hard to accept the less desirable parts in ourselves. So we split them off and see them in others. Instead of seeing that the untrustworthy parts of someone else are actually a mirror to the untrustworthy parts in ourselves, we believe that others are going to betray us. The trouble with this belief is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because our belief that people cannot be trusted only serves to deter people, and then we end up alone anyway.
Subjective units of trust. Slowly build confidence to show our own imperfections, and trust that the other person will accept us as this whole, imperfect being. This could be achieved by creating a scale of 0-10 with examples of what you might do at each level to indicate an increasing sense of trust in the other person. For example, at level 3 you might feel comfortable with sharing stories about your day at work, and at level 5 you might share stories about a friend you have fallen out with, and at level 7 you might share stories about your difficult childhood, and you keep increasing your behaviour as you gradually trust the other person more, until you get to a fully trusting 10 out of 10. This is based on psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe’s Subjective Units of Distress (SUD), which he created to allow someone to measure their level of distress as they were exposed to things they feared.
Timing is everything. Don’t trust too quickly, and don’t expect too much too soon. Trust takes time to build, and for good reason. We need to see how things develop before we know that it is safe to trust someone.
Monitor and evaluate their reactions. As you gradually learn to trust the other person more, you need to continuously monitor how they respond. There is no finite solution because the other person is not a static entity. They may change with time, just as you may. Learning to trust does not mean that you suddenly get to a point where you can drop your defences forever. You will always have to monitor and evaluate the other person’s reactions, to ensure they value and respect what you trust them with. A clear example of when you might withdraw the trust you gave the other person is when someone becomes abusive. It is important to remain aware of all the different forms of abuse, including physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, financial, and isolation.
A strength-based perspective. Daring to trust someone carries the risk of getting hurt. If we have confidence in our strength and resources, we can make informed choices, and we can feel more comfortable with the risk of things going wrong. If we doubt our inner strength, we might never let ourselves dare to trust, because the risk of getting hurt seems overwhelming. We need to search for our strengths and resources, and reinforce them. It takes time to build self-esteem, and this can be particularly difficult if we have survived a traumatic experience. The prospect of trusting someone might leave us fearful that we will be overwhelmed or trapped again. Healing from a traumatic experience takes time, but with the right help, it is possible to learn how to trust again.