Lack Of Trust? Learn How To Transform Trust Issues Into Opportunities

In every relationship – romantic, familial, platonic, or professional – trust is key. It is the foundation of a respectful and healthy space where two people can rest, feel appreciated, and feel confident in themselves and others. Equally, a lack of trust is any relationship’s downfall. Without trust, space is created for suspicion, fear, and resentment.

A lack of trust isn’t all bad. If we were to trust everyone and everything all the time, we’d put ourselves at risk of getting hurt, physically or emotionally. A healthy lack of trust keeps us alert and focused on our well-being.

However, some of us struggle with trust even when the other person has shown time and time again they are trustworthy. This is normal, there are many reasons why one might find it hard to trust others, but to the untrusting person, their lack of faith can be a pain.

When we find it hard to trust others, forming and maintaining healthy relationships can be challenging. We’re focused on survival and not getting hurt, but that compromises our ability to relax and simply enjoy our relationships.

Why do I have a lack of trust?

Understanding why you, or people in general, sometimes find it so hard to trust can be explained by firstly understanding how we learn to (or not to) trust in the first place. Many factors may cause trust issues, but below we’ve outlined some of the most common.

Early childhood experiences

Extensive psychological research took place throughout the 20th century, notably the work of Erik Erikson (stages of psychosocial development) and John Bowlby & Mary Ainsworth (attachment theory).

Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development

Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development suggest that we move through eight stages of development in life, from infancy to adulthood. At each stage, we learn a virtue, and that virtue helps us successfully navigate through the following stage and achieve the next virtue.

At the first stage, we learn to trust (or mistrust) our caregivers and the world around us. Success (learning to trust) at this stage is crucial for chances of success in subsequent stages.

Bowlby and Ainsworth’s attachment theory

Bowlby and Ainsworth respectively explored trust in children in what is now famously known as attachment theory. They discovered that the quality of the parent-child dynamic strongly influenced the child’s worldview and developed in that child an attachment style: secure, insecure, or disorganized. Secure attachment is the ideal attachment style; insecure and disorganized lead to feelings of mistrust.

Later childhood and adolescent experiences

Not all trust issues stem from early childhood. Even in later childhood and adolescent years, a child can be negatively influenced within their family dynamic, in a way that impacts their ability to trust not only their caregivers but also others in the world.

Parents set an example for their children, so when parents behave in ways that are emotionally immature, dishonest, hypocritical, or toxic, the child notices. They may not speak up or reprimand their parents for their behavior, but they observe, notice, and learn.

lack of trust

How to trust gets ruptured

Let’s use an example. A teen might notice that her parents incessantly lie to each other but then make dramatic arguments and engage in fighting conflict when one or the other’s lies have been revealed.

They may learn to behave the same way in their relationships and continue the cycle of emotional immaturity or toxic behavior, or they may vow to never behave the same way, partnered with a self-promise to never let anyone behave that way towards them.

As we get older, we may be fortunate enough to learn how to set boundaries to prevent such a dynamic in our own relationships, but many of us fall into the trap of allowing our broken trust to close us off completely, never allowing anyone to get close enough to even have a chance to hurt us.

Betrayal

In childhood or at any age, a major factor that creates a broken trust is an act or sense of betrayal by someone whom we felt close enough to confide in. According to psychologist Stanley Rachman in Behavior and Research Therapy, ‘the most common forms of betrayal are harmful disclosures of confidential information, disloyalty, infidelity, dishonesty. They can be traumatic and cause considerable distress.’

An example of betrayal

For example, a son might open up to his mother (who he has a close relationship with) about his desire to pursue a different career other than the family business but doesn’t yet feel ready to tell his father because he knows he won’t approve and is already dealing with his own self-doubt. He confides in his mother, hoping she can be there as support while he explores other options and decides which direction he wants his life to take. He trusts her to keep what he told her in confidence. However, she doesn’t keep his secret but instead tells his father, despite his request for her not to. The son, then, might feel a deep sense of betrayal by his mother that would impact his ability to rebuild trust with her, as well as having difficulty trusting others later.

Low self-esteem

When we have low self-esteem, we typically struggle to understand how another person could love and care about as much as they do. They can show us all the care and affection in the world, but if our lack of self-esteem makes us feel bad about ourselves and unworthy of love, we’ll struggle to accept it when another person offers it to us. We find it hard to trust that someone could care about us because, deep down, we don’t feel like we deserve it.

Do I have trust issues?

It’s normal to be suspicious of people from time to time, especially if you can sense that they may not have your best interests at heart. However, when we become untrusting of everyone to the point that we struggle to maintain healthy adult romantic relationships, we may find that our attempt to protect ourselves from being hurt has become maladaptive and we become our own worst enemy.

If serious trust issues are affecting your personal relationships and your well-being, understand that this is something you can work on and improve. If you find it difficult to trust, there is nothing wrong with you, but by re-learning how to trust, you can make significant positive changes in your life. The first step is being able to recognize if you have trust issues in the first place and if you do, how to rebuild trust to ensure you have meaningful relationships.

Signs you have a lack of trust

Some of the most common signs of trust issues in relationships include:

  • Spying on your partner (physically or digitally)
  • Constantly seeking reassurance and proof that they are loyal
  • Mistrust or paranoia when your partner speaks to hangs out with others, especially those of the opposite sex, or the gender to whom they are attracted
  • Reluctance to share deep feelings and emotions

Can I learn how to trust?

Even if you have trust issues today, stemming from childhood experiences or times of betrayal at any point in life, it is entirely possible to learn how to gain trust. It takes some conscious inner work, but the rewards of that work far outweigh the consequences of living a life of doubt and mistrust.

How to trust more

Below you will find some effective and practical tips on how to increase your level of trust in others in order to build healthy relationships. Bear in mind that these tips and advice may take some time to take effect. Learning how to trust when you have trust issues can be a long process, so try to have patience and not be afraid of trial and error.

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Dive within

We know that trust issues often reach far back in our childhood experiences, but they can also develop following difficult experiences in adulthood. Wherever they come from, your emotional and mental health needs to dive into their roots, identify them, and address them. Self-awareness is the key to living a more conscious life, one that is free from learned behavior and conditioning.

Avoid blame

Our parent’s or caregivers’ behavior and parenting style indeed have a huge influence over our worldview and our ability to trust. As such, it’s easy to blame them for our trust issues today. Still, blaming others is rarely fruitful. It might seem like the logical thing to do, but ultimately it only creates resentment, negativity, and further strained relationships.

As children, we were relatively helpless against unhealthy family dynamics. However, as adults, we have the choice and ability to reshape our worldview and to take responsibility for healing our childhood wounds. In essence, we can re-parent ourselves and give ourselves the consistent care and affection we may have failed to receive as children.

Practice (with support)

We learn to trust (and mistrust) through experience. As such, one of the most important and effective methods of learning how to trust is to practice. Doing so can be scary if you have a deep fear of being hurt, but it is only through experience that we can overcome this fear.

In order to help you practice trusting others, it’s important to learn how to stand strong in yourself and not let others’ behavior define you. It helps to work on your emotional resilience and your relationship with yourself.

This is something you can work on every day, but understand that it’s okay, even wise, to seek support on your journey. Speak to trusted friends and family members about what you’re going through, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional, such as a counselor or therapist if you’re struggling. Continue to work on making sure that all your personal interactions come from a place of transparency and honesty.

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