Each time we meet someone new, it carries an inherent question: “Are you trustworthy?” This question keeps some of us awake at night. It can cause so much anxiety that we either bolt immediately, write people off in advance, or turn into Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote, feverishly searching for clues to justify our fear of trusting. When we’re afraid of making an error in judgement, of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable or of running the risk of being hurt, we tend to keep our guard up and wait for the other shoe to drop. If we smell the slightest whiff of imperfection, we seize it: “A-ha! Gotcha!”. But without trust, there’s no real love, care or respect.
Trust is one of those things where, if you have to ask whether you can trust someone, you already have your answer. Not trusting somebody doesn’t always reflect their trustworthiness though. Quite simply, it might be that you don’t have enough experience of them yet. But there are instances when lack of trust reflects something else: they either haven’t earned your trust based on time and experience, or they are being trustworthy, but it’s made little or no difference to you.
So, why do us humans have such a dicey relationship with trust? It’s because it’s a gamble. Trust is an exchange of faith; one that we have to offer without knowing what we’re going to get back and without knowing what the future holds.
Trust is critical – we need it in order to avail ourselves of benefits, resources and opportunities that we wouldn’t have on our own. It means relying on others, investing time, energy, effort and emotion. And yes, it also carries risk. In those instances where we don’t know someone very well but we want/need something from them, or where they’ve previously let us down but are expecting us to trust them again, we fear disappointment. We have to decide whether or not we think that the other party values building a long-term relationship over screwing us over in the short term.
In order to do this, we have to use whatever information we’ve gathered at that point in time. But, of course, people’s values aren’t always immediately apparent. This means that we have to be mindful, so that we have a sense of who they are and how we feel about them now. Whatever we believe them to be, it has to consistently keep showing itself over time.
Trust, then, isn’t just about taking a gamble on someone else; it’s about taking a gamble on ourselves, too. This is where we learn something crucial: trust is a reflection of the health and wealth of our relationship with ourselves. It’s an expression of our self-esteem and self-belief; an exploration of our boundaries and our comfort with intimacy. Our experiences help us to fine-tune our judgement skills, so that we can discern what feels good and right for us. We discover who we are by discovering who we’re not, and we learn how to trust through those times when things don’t work out as predicted. What decimates our relationship with trust is feeling that we’ve been burned one too many times. We lose faith in our judgement skills, which leads to us either trusting others blindly so that we don’t have to rely on ourselves, or becoming cynical and distrusting.
But trusting either everyone or no one won’t teach you any lessons. If you opt out of trusting others, you might avoid the bumps in the road, but you’re also opting out of joy. Sure, you can try to get what you want without putting anything in, but aside from treating people like a means to an end, you’re also going to inadvertently gravitate to people and situations that match your avoidance of intimacy. This vicious cycle will exacerbate your trust issues.
When we feel as if we’ve let ourselves down and/or made the mistake of letting in something or someone that we shouldn’t, these feelings can grip us and taint our view of ourselves. But shame isn’t the answer – painful experiences aren’t here to validate our unworthiness. Instead of building a wall to prevent the past from happening again and then grappling with what might be near-constant fear and anxiety, create boundaries. Yes, there’s a difference. Walls block; boundaries filter. Boundaries are what you get when you’re vulnerable enough to feel the pain of the experience and to learn what you need so that you can forgive yourself and move on with more discernment.
Every experience of trust not working out offers an opportunity to not only heal old experiences, but also to become more mindful for the future. When you become more aware of who you really are, you can trust yourself – and learn who and where you are willing to invest your wonderful self. Trust will always be a gamble, but when you’re taking care of you, it’s one you’re ready to make.
Looking for more wellbeing advice? Learn how to own your baggage and take back control, how to embrace your shadow self, how to cope with adult shyness with Sas Petherick (podcast) and discover the signs of a healthy relationship.