Trust issues are characterized by fears of betrayal, abandonment, and manipulation. Many of us fall victim to betrayal, abandonment, and/or manipulation—whether it’s at the hand of our partners, our parents (or their significant others), or even our doctors—and become traumatized as a result. For example:
- Sandra’s husband just got home from work—a couple of hours late. She shakes herself out of his embrace and accuses him of sneaking around with another woman. He swears that he just had to work late, but she’s convinced that he is lying. He doesn’t have the best track record, after all.
- Jacob is meeting his mom’s new boyfriend. He seems okay: nice, polite, smart. But Jacob can’t stop looking at the back of his head. Or, in actuality, he can’t stop replaying the memory of the back of his father’s head. He wonders when this guy will walk out the door and never return.
- Kiana has her annual check for breast cancer. The doctors tell her everything looks normal, but she asks them to check again. They reassure her that she’s okay. As she walks out the door, she thinks about her mother who died from cancer after it was detected too late.
Can you relate to any of the above individuals? You might have trust issues. Let’s look at some signs of trust issues and if you think you have them, how to get over your trust issues.
Signs You Have Trust Issues
In the first scenario above, Sandra’s husband cheated on her in the past—now she’s paranoid and doesn’t trust him. In the second scenario, Jacob’s father left when he was young and never came back—now, Jacob doesn’t take any of his mom’s partners seriously. And in the third scenario, Kiana’s mother died shortly after being diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer—now, she’s wary of doctors and second-guesses their assessments.
When someone has trust issues, they have trouble trusting others, as demonstrated in these examples. Here are several additional signs that you have trust issues:
- You assume betrayal. You assume someone has betrayed your trust even if you have no rightful reasoning.
- You await betrayal. You assume someone will betray you in due time, despite how honest they have been in the past.
- You are overly protective. You are very protective of your loved ones, out of fear that they will become disloyal.
- You distance yourself from others. You decide it’s best to limit your relationships in order to avoid fears of betrayal or abandonment.
- You avoid commitment. No matter how much you care for someone, you refuse to commit yourself to him or her.
- You don’t forgive the smallest mistakes. You make a big deal out of nothing and it’s the end of the world if someone makes the slightest mistake.
- You are excessively wary of people. You are extremely cautious and suspicious of everyone you meet.
- You feel lonely or depressed. Your fears have led you to isolate yourself from others and you feel lonely or depressed as a result.
How to Get Over Trust Issues: 5 Tips
If you have trust issues and it’s hindering your ability to build happy, healthy relationships or it’s hindering your life in another way, then it’s time to make a change. Follow these steps toward letting go of your issues with trust:
1) Accept the risk that comes with learning to trust again.
None of us are perfect—we let people down. Therefore, placing your trust in someone is undeniably going to lead to being let down at some point or another. But that doesn’t mean your relationship with that person is or should be over. It’s about setting and communicating the right expectations as well as boundaries.
2) Learn how trust works.
Some people trust people until they have a reason not to—others don’t trust people until that trust is earned. It’s up to you if and when you choose to trust someone—trust doesn’t have to be given out freely; it’s perfectly okay to wait for people to earn it before deciding you can rely on them. Especially if you’re recovering from past betrayal.
3) Take emotional risks.
At some point, you’ve got to just jump in head-first—allow yourself to be vulnerable and risk being let down in order to create healthy relationships again. Choose to trust (whether it’s at the beginning of a relationship or after they’ve earned your trust).
4) Face your fears and other negative feelings built around trust.
Remember, trust issues often stem from betrayal in one’s past. If you aren’t sure why you have trust issues, do some soul-searching. Think about any past experiences that may have caused your trust issues. It’s crucial that you admit to yourself why you’re scared and what you’re scared of, so you can attempt to move on. If you need help doing this, consider working with a counselor.
5) Try and trust again.
If you fail and resort back to distrusting tendencies, try again. Trust again. Keep putting yourself out there.
What Is Trust?
Trust is the belief in the reliability, truth, and strength of another person. We trust people who have integrity and are honest—those who can be counted on to do what is right. However, sometimes we aren’t certain who to trust, how much to trust, and when to not trust another person.
Several psychologists reported that in the last decade there has been an exceptional rise in trust issues in couples who seek counseling. Part of this is because of technological advances that make it easier for partners in a relationship to be deceptive, such as hiding texts, Facebook messages, and emails.
How Is Trust Developed? A History Lesson on Trust
German psychoanalyst Erik Erikson is known for his psychosocial theory of development, which recognizes the effect of external factors, parents, and society on personality development spanning from childhood to adulthood. His theory is that people must go through eight integral stages throughout their lives. The first of his eight stages is: Trust Versus Mistrust. In this first stage, a baby who is raised by parents who meet his needs consistently develops trust by the time he reaches the end of his first year. Basic trust is necessary for the individual’s healthy psychological development throughout his life. Psychoanalyst and pediatrician D.W. Winnicott said that the “predictability” of parents was vital in building trust in their children. Parents who shield children from unpredictability are those who show warmth, affection, and sensitivity, as well as give them guidance, direction, and control.
As we’ve discussed already, sometimes experiences from childhood can cause a person to have mistrust. If parents don’t live up to their promises and are inconsistent, they create an environment of insecurity and mistrust in a child. In addition, if the child is sexually or physically abused, it can lead to the expectation that he will be betrayed in the future, as well as questioning his own ability to judge the trustworthiness of others.
According to Gregory Bateson, the author of “Steps Toward an Ecology of Mind,” parents who don’t have integrity tend to be dishonest in their communications with their children. The children get “mixed messages” or “double messages” because the parents’ actions don’t correlate to their words. As the child grows up, he may learn to distrust his own judgment in social situations, because he’s been confused by the messages from his parents.
When children experience mistrust, it has an impact on them throughout their lives. They try to protect themselves from their confusion and pain in a number of ways, including becoming extra cautious with others. While these defenses are a way to provide the illusion of strength for the person with mistrust, they usually only work to incapacitate the individual’s ability to trust other people and enjoy close relationships.
The Importance of Trust in Relationships
According to Shirley Glass, a relationship expert, intimate relationships are based on honesty and openness. The trust partners have in each other is the glue that binds the relationship, providing a positive emotional connection that’s rooted in affection, love, and loyalty.
If a partner in a relationship has an affair, the deception and betrayal of trust can be more damaging than the actual affair. The lying erodes the belief in the other person, and the reality is that the partner has another aspect of his life that he’s kept secret. A person who didn’t develop trust as a child will feel especially vulnerable to the infidelity and deception by somebody he loved, according to Robert Firestone, a psychologist and author.
Some people have a critical inner voice that cultivates mistrust. They’re less apt to find a truly fulfilling relationship. The individual will doubt himself and feel inadequate, as well as be doubtful of the other person. When the relationship is a romantic one and a person with trust issues is shown love, he’s likely to feel anxious because the positive view the other person has of him is in contrast with his poor self-image. The inner voice that haunts him says he doesn’t deserve to be loved. Or, he will find flaws in the person who loves him.
How to Overcome Trust Issues?
Earlier, we gave you advice for getting over your trust issues. Now, to truly overcome your trust issues—once and for all—you’ll have to prioritize being an honest, trustworthy individual yourself. Here are a few tips for doing so:
- Do what you say you’re going to do.
- Communicate honestly and frequently. Poor communication is one of the main reasons that marriages and other relationships disintegrate.
- Be mindful of your relationships. Each one of your interactions with another person builds trust, and just one poor decision can ruin the relationship.
- Understand that honesty is vital, whether your news is good or bad. It’s key to making marriages, friendships, and work relationships strong.
- Show other people in your relationships that you care about them.
- Always have integrity.
- Admit to your mistakes, and others will see you as somebody who deserves to be trusted.
- Don’t make quick decisions. Many times, trust is broken because an individual agrees to something they really didn’t want to agree to in the first place. Make a commitment only when you’re positive that you’ve considered everything that is involved in keeping the commitment. If you don’t think about it in detail, you may not have the time or want to follow through.
- Friends and family members who have always been there are easy to take for granted. It’s important to find time for those individuals who mean the most. When you have a problem, they’re the people who you can trust to be a support network.
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