Understanding Trust, Trust Issues and Who is Trustworthy

What is Trust?

Trust is a complicated concept: most people identify it as an important part of relationships, but often find it difficult to articulate why. We hear people frequently using phrases such as ‘she broke my trust’, ‘I don’t trust people easily’, or ‘my trust has to be earned’ – but what exactly do we mean?

 When you break it down, there are actually quite a few elements to trust:

1. Trust is feeling safe to be vulnerable in a relationship.

Being vulnerable in a healthy sense means being able to share intimate thoughts and feelings, even the dark and painful ones, without risk of the other person ridiculing or thinking less of you. Humans crave emotionally intimacy, but if our vulnerability is not handled with care (i.e. if we are mocked or derided when sharing our deepest thoughts), we will soon find it difficult to trust that person. That’s why it’s so wonderful and important to find someone who can offer kindness and compassion in the midst of our vulnerability – these are the best of friends: everyone should have at least one!

2. Trust confidently believes someone (or something) is reliable and will follow through (i.e. they will provide the support needed).

When we trust someone, we know they’ll be there for us. We don’t doubt them or the relationship all the time – we are secure in the knowledge that we are loved and that that person will do their best to come through for us. Where there is trust, there is no second-guessing, wondering or doubting.

3.  Trust believes someone has your best interests at heart.

While number 2 is about trusting what people do, this is about trusting who people are. Trust means knowing that even if people fail us, they mean well. It is having faith in their character. Yes, they may have said the wrong thing or done something differently to what we’d hoped, but that doesn’t mean they’ve intentionally let us down. Trust means believing in the best scenario, which also means it comes from really knowing someone.

4.  Trust is not living in fear or worry that someone may fail, hurt or let you down.

If we say we trust someone to do something and then fret and worry about it, we’re not really trusting them. This may be because they (or someone else) has let us down before, or because we’re so used to doing everything ourselves we don’t know how to let go. But trust means living without fear, and hoping for the best. It means no longer holding tightly onto everything for fear of what might happen if we don’t.

If you’re in a relationship with someone and are constantly afraid they may hurt or let you down (perhaps because of real past experiences when this has been the case), then trust is not a part of that relationship either. Trust and fear are not meant to coexist – inevitably, one will soon cancel out the other. 

5. Trust is about consistency.

Trust is not something that is developed over night. While love may be felt quickly, trust grows best with time. In most cases, it’s not healthy to be vulnerable with someone we just met (sometimes called ‘emotional promiscuity’). We need time to truly know someone’s character, and to see if that character is consistent. If people don’t treat us consistently (i.e. if they’re treat us badly one day, then lovingly the next), then trust is hard to develop because you don’t know what you’re going to get. If someone is constantly kind and helpful in their actions and words, trust grows to the point where even if they occasionally fail us, there is no doubt about the underlying goodness of their character.

What Trust Isn’t:

1. Trust is not expecting someone to be perfect, all the time.

Everyone is human, including you. Everyone makes mistakes. If we only trust the people who never hurt us, we’d never trust anyone. 

2. Trust is not something that can be demanded or expected; only earned.

Some people expect trust in a relationship, but it’s not a fair expectation. As written above, trust can only be developed over time and by consistent behaviour. If someone is demanding your trust but isn’t putting in the effort and time to develop it, chances are they’re not deserving of it.  

3.  Trust is not something that can exist without forgiveness.

It’s true that relationships cannot function without trust, but it’s also true that trust alone isn’t enough to sustain a relationship. It must go hand-in-hand with love, forgiveness and compassion, simply because even our closest companions will have bad days and say the wrong thing.

Having said that, it is important to know what your ‘deal breakers’ are, because there are some behaviours (e.g. any sort of abuse) that should not be tolerated, and other betrayals that will require a lot of work on both sides to help the relationship go forward. While this is always dependent on each situation, one thing is certain: trust is something that requires constant work, and which is both beautiful and fragile.

Why Do So Many People Have Trust Issues?

Many people struggle with trust because they've been hurt in the past. Perhaps they risked themselves emotionally and were met with unhelpful behaviour. Perhaps there were lies, betrayals and/or deceptions discovered in a relationship. Whatever the case, trust was given but not deserved. 

When people struggle to trust again it's frequently because they've begun questioning their judgement: 'I thought I could trust him, but I was wrong. What if I make the same mistake?' Others no longer believe the risk is worth it. While trust is a risk, the more secure and happy we are within ourselves, the less affected we will be if and when others let us down. Trust for others must go hand in hand with trust for ourselves: trust that we are strong enough, smart enough and resilient enough to stay happy and confident even if our relationships don't always work out the way we want them too. We should never define ourselves by how others have treated us, or place our identity and happiness entirely in someone else's hands. The more content we are within ourselves, the braver we can be when it comes to trusting others.

For more on this, check out 10 Ways to Feel More Secure. 

How Do You Know Who You Can Trust?

It’s important not to trust everyone we meet, as not everyone is trustworthy. Here are 10 examples of someone who is:

  1.  They treat you consistently well
  2. They don’t constantly take their anger and frustrations out on you
  3. They are comfortable communicating how they really feel, and don’t think less of you for doing so too
  4. They have the capacity to apologise and make amends when they let you down or make a mistake
  5. There has been time to get to know their real character, and that character has proved to be essentially good even if there are flaws (and there always are!)
  6. They don’t try to control the relationship, or hold on too tightly; they give you the space you need and don’t put constant pressure on you
  7. They are willing to put themselves out for you and give you time, especially when you need it most
  8. They respect your wishes and can keep your secrets
  9. Their words match their actions/behaviours
  10. They are reliable (keep their promises) and honest (don’t lie).

Can you think of any other important elements of trust? Share your thoughts below: