Often, when we think about trust, we think about whether or not the other person is trustworthy—whether or not they’ve shown themselves to be someone who has a character worthy of our trust. Because of this, we go around evaluating people based on whether they meet our criteria; if they do, we trust them. It is important that we learn to see what is and is not trustworthy behavior; however, this is not the end of the story.
If we have experienced a breach of trust at some point in our lives—and most of us have, some of us to an extreme degree—it disturbs or breaks down our ability to clearly see another person’s behavior.
Because of this, we might be blind to some untrustworthy characteristics or not see them so clearly. And we might actually be skeptical of somebody who is trustworthy. Our ability to gauge whether or not we should trust gets impaired by the filters that we wind up looking though because of our past betrayals. Maybe you’ve had this experience; maybe you trusted somebody who really was not so trustworthy or did not trust someone who turned out to be worthy of your trust.
This is one reason why this defensive analysis of who is and isn’t trustworthy is not totally reliable.
The more that we play by this game, the longer our list of what is untrustworthy gets. Our distrusting story looks like this: “I really can’t trust people because I trusted this person after I ran them through my faulty evaluation system to figure out whether or not they were trustworthy, and they turned out to be another person who betrayed my trust. Therefore, I now know that I cannot trust people even more completely than I did before. I have tried. People, across the board, are untrustworthy.”
So, as our life goes on, we have a smaller and smaller group of people whom we are willing to trust; sometimes, it comes down there being nobody, really, whom we’re willing to trust. We might feel like we trust some people a little bit with certain things, but deep down we don’t really trust that anyone is going to do right by us.
This erosion of trust in our lives creates all sorts of problems. We become cynical and shut down. When we are not trusting, we feel we need to constantly protect ourselves. What other choice do we have if we cannot trust anyone? Consciously or not, we feel unsafe because the people around us are untrustworthy. We lose sight of what it feels like to have a deeper, more trusting connection with others.
It is a problematic situation. So, how do we find our way back to trust if we can’t trust our own judgment? The good news is that there are a number of different ways to do just that.
Trusting Ourselves: More than learning to trust others, we benefit from learning to trust ourselves. This means (in part) acting in ways toward yourself that are supportive, kind, and honest. It means taking responsibility for poor choices, learning from them, and making a commitment to do better. It means acknowledging yourself for all of the good choices that you have made along the way.
Learning the Signs: Chances are we learned some bad cues when we were growing up. We may have put a bad behavior into the category of a loving behavior because of our experience. As adults, it is important to learn what is healthy and what is unhealthy, who is trustworthy and who is untrustworthy, so that we can choose the right people to keep in our lives.
Healing the Past: Part of why we do not trust is because of how we have been hurt in the past. It is only through fully healing our old wounds that we become free to embrace a whole new life. This healing requires us to accept what happened and offer forgiveness where necessary. As we do this, the distortions these old hurts have created in our present life are lifted, and we find ourselves able to make better choices.
Trusting Again: As simple as it may sound, one of the ways that we heal our wounds with trust is to try to trust again. It is through trusting that we have the opportunity to be proven right. One of the most helpful things we can do is to turn our story about trust on its head. We so often focus on the few people or situations that broke our trust; however, they are actually the minority. More frequently, there are many more people in our lives who have done right by us than who have done us wrong. Focusing on what has worked helps to restore trust.
For more about discerning trustworthy people take a look at my article >>> “Should I Trust You: What Does a Trustworthy Person Look Like?”
One characteristic of a trustworthy person is authenticity, which means being true to one’s personality, spirit, and character. When a person is authentic, you can feel it. They’re telling you it as straight and directly as they can. This doesn’t mean that their reality is the end-all, be-all reality, or that what is true for them is true for you, or anything like that. But you know that you can trust them to be authentic and honest in accordance with their individual perspective. When you see someone being true to themselves over a period of time, you can trust this person to act authentically when you interact with them.
Another characteristic of a trustworthy person is honesty. While expecting people to be 100 percent honest all the time about all things is a tall order that may not be completely fulfilled, the higher the level of honesty, the more you can rely on the information that they share. These people will do their best to report what they experience or know. They’re not going to give different stories. Even though people change and what they say will be subject to moods and shifts in perspective, they are not going to tell you one thing one day and another thing the next. They are not going to be deceitful. If they make an infrequent mistake and lie out of fear, they will come clean and apologize.
People who are trustworthy respect who you are. When a person respects you, they are kind and considerate. Their respect is a sign that they are willing to do right by you, that they have your well-being front of mind. Signs that someone does not respect you would be if they treat you in a way that is a negating, condescending, or mean. And that lack of respect should be a clue that this person is likely not to do right by you.
Their level of emotional intelligence can indicate how trustworthy a person will be. A person who has a low emotional intelligence is likely to act in ways that are harmful when there are challenging situations in your relationship. If you trust someone who has low emotional intelligence with emotionally sensitive material, you are very likely going to end up feeling let down or betrayed. It may not be that the person is untrustworthy in the greater sense of the word, but more that they are not to be trusted with certain delicate situations.
There is no perfect person out there. Every person, if you know them long enough, will let you down in some way. Sometimes this will happen because they made a wrong choice, sometimes this will happen because they just see things differently. It is not a lack of flaws that makes a person trustworthy—it is their willingness to own them and make things right when they have a negative effect on others. Expecting perfection will leave you trusting no one. Expecting integrity will lead you to the right people, time and time again.
Even more important than learning the cues for whether someone is trustworthy is learning about what it means to really trust ourselves. When we trust ourselves—when we know how to do right by ourselves, when we know how to care for ourselves—we not only make better choices regarding the people in our lives, but we also recover more quickly from the bumps and upsets along the way. Learning to trust ourselves—not just in our judgment of others but also in our willingness to take care of ourselves in the wake of less than ideal choices—is key to becoming stronger, more resilient, and making better choices in the future.
For more about trusting take a look at my article >>> “Trust Yourself!”
While love is a magnificent gift that we can offer those around us, an even more poignant offering is the gift of our trust. Love can flow through us unabashed regardless of our wounding. Trust requires our effort.
Most people have had their trust broken many times by the time that they reach adulthood. It can seem at times as if betrayal is a necessary part of the human growth process. Once broken, trust or lack thereof hides out like a troll under a bridge. The bridge may appear safe, but no one gets across it.
I recognized recently that I had learned to trust based on a list of trustworthy vs. untrustworthy behaviors that I had created starting in childhood. Each person who stood before me would get measured based on these behaviors; those who passed would be considered trustworthy.
In truth, no one passed completely. Some did pass enough for me to say that I trusted them. However, I could feel that regardless of this initial success, I was watching them for when they finally messed up.
Once they demonstrated behavior from my untrustworthy list, I could then feel betrayed and have even more reasons why I should not trust.
What I realized is this: While it is necessary to be able to tell healthy/trustworthy behaviors from unhealthy/untrustworthy behaviors so that we can navigate this sometimes dangerous world, our trust cannot be derived solely from this type of discernment.
Why? Because even trustworthy people will at times make mistakes and choose poorly.
We cannot only trust a person if they are error-free in behavior. There is not a person out there who does not make errors in judgment. All of us will show weakness at one moment or another. All of us will choose the wrong option from the options in front of us from time to time.
We trust a person because we know without a doubt that they will try to do the right thing as much as possible, and when they don’t, they will try to course-correct as quickly as they can; this course correction is in the neighborhood of what we are capable of ourselves.
We trust them because they have learned skills such as self-reflection and making amends for their mistakes. We can trust them because we know that they put effort into personal and moral development. We trust them because their efforts are sincere.
We also should not put our trust in someone because we hope that they will act in a way that is always in alignment with how we see things—what our list of what trustworthiness looks like. We benefit from trusting another person to act in alignment with their own truth and the greater truth they are connected to.
In short, we trust someone’s willingness and capacity to be a good person to us based on how they show up to the task of being trustworthy, and we can trust another person to be true to who they are and their own ethical code of being.
However, in the end, two other types of trust end up being equally, if not more important—our trust in ourselves and our trust in the benevolence of the universe.
For more about trusting others take a look at my article >>> “Should I Trust You: What Does a Trustworthy Person Look Like?”
Whether you are the person who has been hurt or you are the person who has broken trust, you very likely will want to do some repair work. Here are fourteen things that you can do to help rebuild trust with another person once it has been broken.
1. Take Responsibility: Regardless of which role you played in the situation, you are responsible for your own contributions to what has occurred. Take some time to be clear about what you did and what you did not do that may have lead to a situation where trust was broken.
2. Show Empathy: When we have hurt someone, it helps for them to see that we understand the pain that they are going through. When we have been hurt, some of us will expect ourselves to get over it quickly and others will tend to hold onto the pain. Either way, empathizing with our own experience is helpful to our process of healing. It is also helpful to show empathy when possible to the person that hurt us. This person usually hurt us because of his or her own pain.
3. Keep Promises and Agreement: If you have betrayed someone’s trust, their whole system is on red alert. More than likely they expect you to continue to hurt them. By only making promises and agreements you can keep – as well as making sure to keep them – you can start to rebuild trust.
4. Be Authentic: People can spot a phony, (and even if they go along, they do not really trust them). So if you have hurt someone, being real is the best way to rebuild trust. If you were the person hurt, being authentic might mean that you are truthful about your emotions and where you are in your healing process.
5. Expect and Support Emotional Reactions: When there has been a breach of trust, everyone wants it to go away. But, expecting it to be cleared with an, “I’m sorry,” is often overly optimistic. Emotions will come and go. The more that you can support the emotional healing of yourself, or the person you hurt, the more likely you are to reestablish trust.
6. Sincerely Apologize: Perhaps, this should be number one. Offering an apology is the first thing that you can do to begin the healing after trust has been broken. Just lip service will not do – you will need to understand how you hurt the other person and truly feel remorse for your actions.
7. Accept and Admit Your Faults: Regardless of which side of the coin you fall on, you have flaws. These flaws, while understandable, likely contributed to the situation at hand. Stating your flaws and saying what you are going to do differently is helpful in regaining trust.
8. Keep Your Head on Your Shoulders: Assess the situation at hand. If you have sincerely shown remorse and the other person is not able to forgive you even after doing your due diligence, (or the person who has hurt you has not altered his or her behavior to be safe), your best choice might be to cut ties. Rebuilding trust is important… but pay attention to when your time is better invested elsewhere.
9. Imagine Different Outcomes: So, you trusted and you got hurt. This does not mean every time that you trust you will get hurt. Learn what you can, and then look to the future. What kind of people do you want to relate to? How would you like them to show up to the relationship?
10. Listen to Your Intuition: Very often when someone betrays us, we had a sense that it was happening or even just a sense that something was not right. The more we hone our intuition the easier it is to make good decisions for ourselves in the future.
11. Forgive Yourself: We all make mistakes. Sometimes, there is a high price tag to pay for the type of mistake that we made – like loss of a relationship, or loss of trust with ourselves. Regardless of what you did or did not do, the best you can do is learn from it and make difference choices in the future.
12. Forgive the Other Person: Building off of forgiving yourself, the person that hurt you also is prone to making mistakes and bad choices. When you are ready, forgiving the person who hurt you can be one of the most liberating actions and can open you up to truly trust again.
13. Try Trusting Again: Seriously, get back on the horse. Perhaps one person broke your trust but how many other people did not? The odds are in your favor. Keep building with the people who have shown themselves to be worthy of your trust.
14. Make Yourself Happy: The happier we are, the healthier we are. The healthier we are the better decisions we make… and the faster we bounce back from our challenges. Taking care of yourself and doing what you love will help you feel courageous enough to trust again.
For more about discerning trustworthy people take a look at my article >>> “Should I Trust You: What Does a Trustworthy Person Look Like?”
Trusting yourself is synonymous with confidence. There is confidence in what we do, for example, a skill that we can apply like cooking or speaking French. And, there is confidence in who we are. The latter relies on a deep knowledge of self that allows us to feel secure.
Trusting yourself is founded on being in integrity. The more we act in ways that feel right to us, the more that we act in accordance with our values, the more that we come to trust ourselves.
Think about it this way. If you were your own friend and you constantly lied to you, acted disrespectful, or were unreliable, would you want to keep you as a friend?
Well, it is pretty similar.
Every time that you act in a way that does not have integrity, you respond to that by checking out just a little bit more –from yourself. Pretty soon, what used to feel so good starts to be something you start to avoid. Instead of being the free-spirited person, who does what he or she thinks is right and is full of energy, you become a low energy person who tries to make others happy or other forms of just getting along.
Being in integrity gives us energy and helps us learn to trust ourselves.
Trusting yourself is cultivated through understanding. It is hard to trust what is totally foreign and unknown. It is just not built into our survival programming. We might be OK with it but we do not have a deep sense of trust in what is unknown.
Similarly, when we don’t know ourselves, we don’t trust ourselves and the more familiar we are the more certain we feel about when and how we can step up and when and how we might need to get a bit of support.
When people start engaging in personal development work they sometimes start to see parts of themselves that they did not see before. This often means that they start to trust themselves a little less for a time. However, as time goes by, this grows into a much deeper sense of trust as more things become understandable and sometimes even predictable.
Trusting yourself is supported by self-assessment and acceptance. How trust-worthy are you as a person. When you make a promise to yourself, do you keep it? Do you tell yourself the truth even when it is hard? You will learn to trust yourself more, even if the answer is no, if you ask the questions and are honest about where you stand.
You can always work to be more reliable and trustworthy person. In order to really be able to make an assessment of yourself, you need to have enough self-acceptance to weather the initial inquiry. That means you are willing to “stay on your own side” regardless of what you see in yourself. Otherwise, you simply will not see what you are not wanting to see.
A candid look at yourself can be the beginning of much deeper trust of oneself.
Trusting yourself is a gift. Just as trusting another person is a gift to them. It means that they are worthy of trust. It means that you are worthy of trust. And, what is better than that.
Once you gain your own trust, difficult circumstances become easier to manage, you feel more confident in your choices in relationship, you feel more confident in your career. You know you always have someone to rely on.
Someone who will not let you down.
Brene Brown caused a big stir when she stood up and started talking about her own vulnerability. As she candidly put it in her TED talk, she did not think that she was supposed to feel vulnerable. Only to discover, that she actually was missing out on some of the best of life—namely intimacy—by being unwilling to surrender to being vulnerable. I am so grateful for her efforts to make the world a little more real and a little more humane.
It takes a lot of discipline to open up when you feel threatened but that is just what vulnerability asks us to do. It asks us to let go of our pride –our need to be right—and open to the greater truth of ourselves, the other, and the situation. When we are vulnerable we loose the stranglehold of our lesser selves. Vulnerability requires that we are able rely on a much deeper and stronger part of our self –one that is not caught up in our ego.
Let me describe the process:
It happens all the time! I get myself into a situation where I can feel myself armoring up. I feel judged, disrespected, misunderstood. It does not matter what the specific situation is, really. Just that I can feel it coming on. This intense desire to protect myself -sometimes, at all cost. My heartbeat goes up, my muscles tense, my thoughts start running away, taking my rational self with them.
I know that nothing good can come with this approach but, it is so automatic sometimes. Can you relate?
It takes everything I’ve got to remember that my reaction is causing the problem not protecting me from it. I remember I have nothing to lose but my pride and I let go. My breath deepens. My muscles soften. I can feel my heart open up. NOW, I can make something good happen.
Now let’s break it down step by step:
Why is this important?
I am going to give you two reasons why this is so critical to our overall fulfillment in life. First, we are unable to develop real relationships that are deeply caring and intimate if we do not allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Second, if we need to pretend that we are not vulnerable then our whole life becomes a charade. We have to work all the time to keep up appearances and in short that makes us miserable.
Short and sweet summary: If you want to be happy, learn how to be vulnerable.
Tune into this weeks Real Answers Radio for more on how to create meaningful relationships through vulnerability. The show is always live and your questions are always welcome!
I just want to take a moment to have gratitude for all the great dogs that are or have been in my life and the lives of people I know. I am writing this from outside a vet office where a dog I love very much is being tested for Leukemia. If she has it again, at this point there is no treatment and this brings me to my topic for the week.
Spring can be a weird time to talk about loss but loss happens regardless of the time of year. What I think is even more weird is when we pretend that loss is not supposed to happen. That somehow we are justified in feeling betrayed by life itself if we are confronted with loss. This is actually the source of more pain than the original loss.
Unfortunately, when we grow we not only gain we also loose. It needs to be like this. We heal ourselves and what we created no longer serves is. It no longer fits. Sometimes it falls away gracefully and easily and other times it is dramatic or painful.
It is easy in all of the transformation to pay attention to the wrong things. It is easy to get consumed with emotions. But there is an alternative.
In everything that is going on there is a place of calm. A place of truth. If we can anchor our attention in this place then the situations around us are simply that – situations around us. We are connected to what is deeper and more meaningful, what is leading us and pulling us to our greatness because this never leaves us.
Plain and simple, the reason that we put up a defense is because we have been hurt by something similar to it before. In fact, research is showing that these past hurts stay lodged in our genetics and even get passed down the family line. Knowing what is safe and what is not safe is essential to our survival.
Unfortunately, it is also often in the way of our happiness.
I actually don’t recommend that anyone tear down all their walls. However, I think it is very important that we learn how to dismantle them or at very least build a door in them. So, what does this look like?
The number one way that you can create more intimacy is to foster an attitude of curiosity. It is so easy to assume that we know exactly what is going on, what someone’s intention or motivation is, what they were thinking, how it is supposed to affect us. As soon as we do this, we have left the present moment and we are making decisions out of all of our past experience.
To cultivate curiosity in your life and with others it is also important to cultivate trust. We need to be able to trust ourselves in order to be curious in our lives in general and we also need to establish trust with others in order to be able to be curious rather than guarded with them.
Look at the world around you. Everything alive breaths in and out. If you dig a hole in the dirt it fills with air or water or something. Everything is in a constant exchange. It is the natural way of things.
However, we seem to feel that it is somehow unsafe to let things be that way and block one or the other. We block the “inhale” of life which is receiving or the “exhale” which is giving. Sometimes we even block both.
What can we do about it?
The first thing to do is to get back in balance. If you give all the time you are likely depleted. If you receive all the time you have likely depleted those around you.
If you are depleted, start a rigorously loving self-care plan. If you have been taking all the time –just start to notice what you do and why you do it.
Second, examine what the underlying issues are. There are reasons why you are not comfortable giving or receiving. Why do you think that is? What negative experiences or social training have shaped who you are?
Third, practice doing the opposite of what you have been doing. Do you normally take up the space in a conversation? Try listening more. Do you brush off every compliment? Try taking a deep breath, smiling and saying thank you.
Wherever you are blocked with this particular dynamic, it will affect your happiness and your growth so take some time to work with it. The results will be gratifying.
You might notice that as you begin to change your life, you will see changes in your relationships. Sometimes, unfortunately, change means some relationships will need to fall away, but the ones that do not – or the new ones – will likely get deeper and more fulfilling. For those who have not had the joy of being in a fulfilling relationship, I will spend a bit of time describing some of what you might look to foster in your relationships.
Of course, you are the final judge of what truly makes you happy and fulfilled in a relationship, but these might offer some useful signposts.
Open communication: Knowing what you think and feel and being willing to share it.
Trust: Behaving in a way that is trustworthy, fostering trust and being more trusting.
Respect: Understanding that the other person is an individual and should not be criticized for not being like you or any other person.
Love:I like the expression, “Love is a verb.” Healthy relationships seek to continually work to foster love through behavior.
Integrity: The understanding that each person has his or her won path and it is not loving to take them off their path.
Partnership: The desire to share life – its struggles and its joys.