Trust—the act of placing confidence in someone or something else—is a fundamental human experience, necessary for society to function and for any person to be relatively happy. Without it, fear rules. Trust is not an either/or proposition, but a matter of degree, and certain life experiences can impact a person's ability to trust others.
Do I Have Trust Issues? Common Signs and Symptoms
Everyone has uncertainty about whom to trust, how much to trust, when not to trust, and so forth at one time or another. In fact, every day we make choices about whom and how much to trust, and sometimes we are more willing to trust than at other times. That’s a good thing; a total lack of mistrust would indicate a serious psychological problem. Judgments about when and whom to trust help keep us safe and alive
Signs that a person may be excessively mistrustful include:
A total lack of intimacy or friendships due to mistrust
Mistrust that interferes with one's primary relationship
Several intensely dramatic and stormy relationships in a row or at once
Racing thoughts of suspicion or anxiety about friends and family
Terror during physical intimacy
Belief that others are deceiving and nasty, without real evidence
When mistrust seems to play a dominant role in a person's life, past disappointments or betrayals may be at the root of the issue. Mistrust is a valid and reasoned response to feeling betrayed or abandoned, but a person's life can be adversely affected when feelings of mistrust are pervasive, resulting in anxiety, anger, or self-doubt.
Where Do Trust Issues Come From?
Often, issues with trust arise based on experiences and interactions in the early phases of life, primarily childhood. A person who did not receive adequate nurturing, affection, and acceptance or who was abused, violated, or mistreated as a child will often find difficulty in establishing trust as an adult.
Likewise, adolescent experiences of either social rejection or acceptance may shape a person’s ability to trust those around him or her. For instance, if someone is mocked, teased, or treated as an outcast by his or her peers during the teenage years, this will influence later relationships. Being betrayed or belittled by others impacts self-esteem, which also plays a significant role in a person’s capacity to trust. Basically, those who experience low self-esteem will be less likely to put their trust in those around them than those who are more self-assured.
As an adult, traumatic life events such as an accident, illness, theft of or damage to personal property, or loss of a loved one may lead to issues with trusting others and feeling safe and secure. Being physically violated or attacked, as in the case of rape or assault, is likely to dramatically impact a person’s trust in the goodness of others. Veterans of military combat may also experience difficulty trusting others following the stresses of wartime violence. And within a committed relationship, being cheated on or left for another will often lead to the development of trust issues.
Post-traumatic stress, which results from a person's exposure to severe danger or perceived danger, can lead a previously healthy person to experience tremendous difficulty with trust. People may experience and re-experience the trauma in their minds, along with the associated anxiety, and often go to great lengths to create a feeling of safety, sometimes isolating themselves from others or becoming overly dependent.
7 Steps to Rebuilding Trust in Your Relationship
Rebuilding trust in your relationship can be difficult after it has been broken or compromised. Depending on the nature of the offence, convincing your partner that you can be trusted again may even feel impossible. The good news is it’s not. Trust can, in fact, be rebuilt if both partners are willing to put in the time and work.
Any healthy relationship is built on a foundation of mutual trust. Depending on the circumstances surrounding a breach of trust, the steps for reparation may vary. Certainly, there is a difference between a “little white lie” and an emotional or physical affair.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all guide to restoring trust in a relationship, the steps below serve as a basic outline for reparation.
1. Own Up to Your Role
If you have offended or hurt someone by breaking trust, it’s critical to reflect on your actions and acknowledge and own your role. Dismissing, deflecting, minimising, or casting blame will not help you in your efforts to come to grips with what happened and work toward repair. You must own your part to yourself before you can convince your partner you have taken ownership.
2. Make an Apology Plan
For many people, apologising doesn’t come easily. It can make a person feel vulnerable, bringing up feelings of anxiety or fear. Be intentional about moving forward with your apology despite your discomfort. Gather your thoughts in advance. Writing down your thoughts can be helpful. Rehearsing what you want to say by standing in front of a mirror and practicing may help put you at ease. If you do rehearse, though, it’s important to mean what you intend to say. Don’t plan to simply say what you think the other person wants to hear in the hopes you’ll be forgiven and the offense forgotten. It doesn’t work that way.
3. Ask for a Good Time to Talk
The adage “timing is everything” can make a difference when apologising. Ask your partner when a good time to talk would be. Let them know you have something important you would like to discuss. Let them dictate the timing of that discussion so they can give it, and you, their full attention.
4. Accept Responsibility
You have already owned up to yourself. Now it’s time to show your partner that you accept responsibility. Be sincere and use “I” messages: “I am so sorry to have hurt you,” “I really care about you and feel terrible that I have let you down.” Be specific, when possible, regarding what you are sorry about: “I am so sorry I told you that I went to the store when I was actually somewhere else,” “I feel awful that I lied to you about how I spent that money.” Communicate that you want to make things right. Let your partner know you recognise that you broke their trust and you are willing to work hard to regain it.
5. Actively Listen
After apologising, hear your partner out. You’ve spoken; now it’s time to listen. Use active listening techniques. This means being receptive not only verbally but with your body language as well. Lean in and look your partner in the eye rather than folding your arms in a defensive posture. Be aware emotions may be heightened, yours included. Stay calm and validate your partner’s feelings; they have a right to them.
6. Back Up Your Words with Actions
A genuine apology is worth its weight in gold. However, in the absence of follow-through, your words become meaningless and future attempts at repair may be rejected. If your apology is accepted, it is up to you to demonstrate a pattern of dependable behaviour over time. Go the distance and commit to being your best self: be humble, be kind, be affectionate, be appreciative, be loyal, be loving, and be trustworthy.
7. Be Patient
It takes time to rebuild trust. Be patient with the process and with your partner. Also, recognition that being remorseful doesn’t mean beating yourself up. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. Take responsibility but be kind to yourself. It is normal to experience some guilt, shame, or self-loathing; just don’t let it overwhelm you. Look at this as an opportunity to grow and make your relationship stronger.
Although the tips above are focused on a relationship with a partner they can be transferred to any relationship, whether it's a friend or family member.
Counselling can help individuals, or couples, address and identify the source of problematic trust issues. Being unable to trust can destroy friendships, careers, and marriages, but fortunately, learning to trust again is not impossible. For example, a person who experienced infidelity in one relationship may transfer that fear onto every future relationship, causing unnecessary pain and turmoil for both partners. By working with a counsellor, the same person can separate past trust issues from future fears, and teach them how to rebuild trust in existing relationships. Trust is a quality that develops over time in every context, and with proper guidance, a person can gain the insight to identify where trust was compromised in the past. In fact, the counselling process itself helps many people learn to trust again, as trust and mutual respect are integral to the relationship between counsellor and client.
7 Steps to Rebuilding Trust in Your Relationship taken from www.goodtherapy.org/blog/7-steps-to-rebuilding-trust-in-your-relationship-0208184 and used with the permission of Angela Bisignano, PhD www.goodtherapy.org/therapists/profile/angela-bisignano-20151023
Some of the reminder taken from www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/trust-issues