February 22, 2012

Learn to Trust Others

While this article addresses the difficulty of learning to trust for adult survivors of child abuse, the ideas can be helpful for anyone who struggles in this area of life.

The last time I wrote, I shared some thoughts on trusting yourself. Now, let’s turn our attention now to trusting others. You may still have some work to do to trust yourself, but there is no time like the present to begin transforming your relationships!

For me, the impact of not trusting others was that I walked around guarded all of the time. It was as if I was operating behind this piece of gauze; I remained fuzzy to others and others remained fuzzy to me. I was never able to experience real connection or intimacy. To move us along towards breaking out from behind our walls, veils, protections, let’s start by simply exploring what it is you think it means to trust someone in the first place.

One of the biggest mistakes we make when determining who is trustworthy is looking for the qualities in others that we ourselves lack. Let’s say, for example, that we have a very hard time getting projects done on time. This is a quality that we would say a trustworthy person would possess. So, when working with others on a team, we label the person who is able to get things done on time as trustworthy.

Nevermind the fact that she cheats on her taxes, beats her children, etc. The point is, we are so focused on the qualities that we lack that we misjudge the character of another person whenever they possess those qualities.

As a result of abuse, our “trust meter” is a bit off balance. We have either tilted way over to not trusting, trusting too easily, or remain apathetic about it – never really connecting or pushing away others. So, how can we give our trust meter a tune up and rebalance it?

First, we need to challenge our general understanding of what trust is. Regardless of what you have thought it means to trust, I want you to try on understanding what trust is in a new way.
  • Trust is not about judging the character and quality of another person.
  • We do not come to trust a person as a whole.
  • Rather, we come to trust the person to honor a specific commitment.
  • No one is 100% trustworthy.
Remember the example of the team member who finishes her work on time, but cheats on her taxes and beats her children? She is completely trustworthy when it comes to completing tasks on time. She is not trustworthy when it comes to raising children. For any given person, there is always some commitment we can trust, but there is always another we cannot. This is why trust is not about judging the character or quality of a person, but rather judging the character and quality of the commitments you can trust the person to honor.

When relating to others, we seek to know the difference between commitments likely to be honored and those not likely. We want to understand what sorts of commitments they follow through on more often than not and hope that these line up with what is important to us. This will vary by person and by commitment. I may have a friend who I can always trust to keep her commitment to spending time with me and another who doesn’t, and yet they are both trustworthy friends!

Our job is then to decide whether or not to trust someone by considering their behavior and speech as signals of their beliefs, values, and intentions, which are all indications of what commitments they are willing to keep, for how often, and for how long. Keep in mind, that behavior is a much better indicator than what people say.

Oh, and the bad news is…
There is no such thing as a 100% trustworthy person, which means there is no guarantee that people will not let us down, hurt us, or behave terribly.

But, the good news is…
We do not have to judge the person as a whole and give them a badge of trustworthy honor. Instead, we can determine which beliefs, values, and intentions are priorities and judge to see if the person can commit to those things.

You see, trusting another person is not about saying “You’re good, you’re safe” – it is about saying, “I know that, in these areas, I can count on you, and I acknowledge and understand the areas where I can’t.” If we continue striving to prove that someone is “good”, then, as soon as they show a flaw, we will cut them off, deem them untrustworthy and continue our cycle of being closed off and disconnected.

- On a scale of 1-10 (1 never; 10 too easily), how would you rate your willingness to trust others?
- What has been the impact on your life of not being able to trust others?
- I can trust myself if I keep my commitments to …. even if I am unable to commit in other ways.
- I can trust a person if they keep their commitments to …. even if they are unable to commit in other ways.

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February 1, 2012

Learn to Trust Yourself

While this article addresses the difficulty of learning to trust for adult survivors of child abuse, the ideas can be helpful for anyone who struggles in this area of life.

Many survivors struggle with trust. It is not surprising given that our fundamental trust in another person was shattered as a result of abuse. In fact, it is hard for some survivors to remember ever trusting anyone.

When I first thought about trusting others, I felt a huge knot in my stomach. I did not want to rely on the integrity or character of another person, which is part of what it means to trust. After all, I had relied on the character of someone, and he abused me. I also had a very hard time having “confident expectations” that people would not always leave, let me down, or harm me. I was in a terrible loop of being out to prove that no one could be trusted, and I was succeeding.

There are a couple of layers involved when we think about trust: Defining trust, trusting ourselves, trusting others and determining who is trustworthy, and, the biggie, embracing vulnerability (don’t worry, I’ll be writing about that in a few weeks!). For today, we’re just going to think about trusting ourselves.

As we think about trust, we often focus on determining if a person is trustworthy or not. To be sure, this is very important. However, trusting yourself is actually the first step and more critical than learning to trust others!

If you do not have the confidence that you can make good decisions, judge others with wisdom and clarity, and set the boundaries that are necessary when others violate your trust, then thinking about trusting others will prove to be an empty and meaningless endeavor.

To begin trusting ourselves, we need to figure out the answer to one very important question:

I do not trust myself because …

Once we identify the beliefs that are holding us back from trusting ourselves, we then need to do the work to challenge these beliefs.

As in all things, start small. Setting a goal that focuses on just one area where you want to begin learning to trust yourself is a good place to begin. I also encourage you to read more about challenging false beliefs directly using a few simple steps.

Too often we strive to be open to others, to trust, but find ourselves pulling way, making a mess of things, or being hurt by our choices. If you find yourself over and over again struggling to trust others, it’s possible that your focus needs to be shifted from outward interactions to inward reflection and growth.

Being grounded in who you are, confident in your ability to make good decisions and to set and keep boundaries is a critical path towards trusting others.

Next week, I’ll share with you some thoughts on defining trust in a new light and learning to trust others.

- On a scale of 1-10 (1 never; 10 too easily), how would you rate your ability to trust yourself?
- In what areas of life do you trust yourself to make good choices?
- In what areas of life do you doubt your ability to make good choices?

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