Just about all of us will have our trust betrayed at some point in our lives.
This may be at the hands of a cheating partner, a friend who shares a secret told to them in confidence, a medical professional who harms instead of heals, or a parent who mistreats or belittles us instead of validating or encouraging us.
Possibly all of the above.
Every time trust is betrayed, there’s a little bit of damage done to us at the very core of our being.
And when trust is broken many times over the years, it can be very, very difficult to ever truly trust a person again, in any form of relationship.
This article will explore what trust is, how trust issues form, the signs that someone struggles to trust, and how to get over trust issues.
What Is Trust?
To understand what it means to have issues with trust, we first need to define what trust is.
Here’s a simple explanation:
Trust is the belief that a person, group, or institution will act in a way that takes into account your feelings, wishes, and best interests.
In other words, trust is an expectation that someone will act how you wish them to act.
Trust is present in both the big and small social agreements that we make with others.
When you trust your partner to be faithful, you believe that they will behave in ways that reflect their loyalty to you.
Equally, when you arrange to meet a friend for coffee, you believe (i.e. you trust) that they will arrive on time.
A breach of trust occurs when someone acts in a way that pays no heed to your feelings, wishes, or best interests.
And your feelings, wishes, and best interests are interconnected.
For example, if your boss goes back on a verbal agreement to give you a pay rise, you might say that the primary betrayal is that they have gone against your wishes.
But trust is also broken because your boss has acted in spite of the feelings you would experience about the situation, and because your best interests have been ignored.
How Do Trust Issues Form?
A person may come to struggle with trusting others due to repeated experiences in which their trust has been betrayed.
A person’s upbringing can play a role. If, as a child, a person is abused physically or emotionally, they may grow up believing that trust is a flawed concept.
After all, if they were unable to trust their parents, primary caregivers, or close relatives, why should they believe others can be trusted?
Long term toxic relationships or friendships can also lead to the forming of trust issues.
Bullying, both in children and adults, can also be a precursor to not being able to trust others fully.
And, sometimes, a single act of betrayal can lead to trust issues in situations that are similar – e.g. a person who is cheated on in a relationship may find it hard to trust future romantic partners whilst having no issues trusting friends, family members, and coworkers.
7 Signs Of Trust Issues
What are the mental, emotional, and practical signs that a person has trouble trusting others?
1. You Spy On People (Because You Don’t Believe Them)
If you’ve been lied to a whole lot by many different people, chances are you don’t have a lot of faith in what people tell you.
If you’re getting to know someone new and they tell you some details about their life, your response might be to do a bit of digging to find out if they’re telling the truth.
Perhaps you check their LinkedIn profile to verify their work/education history, or go through their photos on social media, searching for signs of deceit.
That’s considered pretty normal in this era of online weirdness when it comes to taking care of your own well-being.
When things get weird is when you’ve been dating someone for a while, but still feel the need to check up on them regularly.
If they say that they’re out with friends, you’ll text their friends to see if that’s actually true.
You may even ask for photographic evidence that they are where they say they are, doing what they say they’re doing.
2. You Expect Them To Let You Down
Whether your parents didn’t show up to your ballet recital, your partner didn’t pick up the kids when you had to work late, or your coworkers didn’t pull their weight on a project, you’ve learned that people will let you down, especially when you need them the most.
As such, you tend to take on all kinds of responsibilities yourself: you honestly can’t trust anyone else to do so.
This can result in you constantly feeling depleted and exhausted because you’re shouldering far more than your own responsibilities, solely out of fear that things won’t be taken care of unless you do them yourself.
In addition to tiring you out, living with the sense that “if you want something done, you have to do it yourself” can end up with you feeling a startling amount of resentment toward those around you.
You may feel like you’re being forced to be superman/superwoman because no one else will step up and take on these tasks.
3. You Sabotage Situations To Reinforce Your Beliefs
Self-fulfilling prophecies (SFPs) are so much fun, aren’t they?
Like, insisting that it would be pointless to get into a relationship with a person because they’ll just end up leaving you.
Then being horrible to said person all the time to test just how much they’ll put up with if they really and truly like you.
And then it’s “OMG I TOLD YOU THEY’D LEAVE” when they finally reach their breaking point because you’ve pushed them away.
^ Like that.
People tend to create these SFPs as a defense mechanism to avoid getting hurt.
They tend to be so afraid of being hurt by those they allow themselves to care about that they purposely create situations in which the very thing they’re afraid of will occur.
This validates their behaviors when they insist upon pushing others away or avoiding any kind of emotional intimacy.
4. You Overthink – And It’s Always Negative
Regardless of how realistic or not it may be, you can’t help but imagine that your trust is being broken in every way possible.
You have an ongoing soap opera or movie playing inside your mind where the ‘characters’ in your life are doing things to hurt you.
And although this is just in your mind, it bleeds through into the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of your real life.
Maybe you see a photo of two of your best friends together on social media, and your mind instantly starts to make up stories as to why you weren’t invited.
They don’t really like you, they only pretend to be your friend out of pity, or they use you when it suits them.
And so, even if there is absolutely zero underlying motive for their meeting up without you, you now sincerely believe that there is.
Your trust in those friends is eroded a little and you might begin one of the self-fulfilling prophecies described above.
5. You Believe You Don’t Deserve Happiness
Part of not being able to trust others is the belief that you are somehow unworthy of happiness.
And, by extension, you don’t deserve to be treated well.
Low self-esteem and self-worth often come about for the very same reasons as the trust issues.
People treat you poorly and this degrades your ability to trust and makes you believe that you must have deserved it.
And remember, trust involves someone else taking into account your feelings, wishes, and best interests. But if you don’t believe that you are worthy of fair treatment, why would you trust others to consider any of those things?
6. You Keep Your Thoughts And Feelings Hidden
The parts of you that others cannot see – the thoughts and feelings that swim around your mind – are kept well hidden.
For you, it is safer not to reveal too much of yourself, but to remain guarded.
This has two main benefits as far as you can see.
Firstly, by keeping some emotional distance between you and other people, you limit the hurt you experience when they inevitably betray you.
And, secondly, you don’t give anyone information that they can then weaponize and use against you.
7. You Feel Lonely And Isolated
Trust is essential for deep and loving relationships to form. Because you are unable to show trust, the relationships in your life remain stubbornly shallow.
You don’t feel a particularly strong bond to many – or even any – people and the result is a sense of loneliness.
Even if there are lots of people in your life, you feel disconnected to them. You remain aloof, unprepared to let your guard down and people in.
You may also like (article continues below):
- How To Trust Again: Learning To Let Someone In Despite Past Hurt
- How To Trust Yourself: 20 No Bullsh*t Tips!
- 8 Ways Lying Is Poisonous To Relationships
- 20 Signs Someone Has Abandonment Issues
- How To Cope When Someone Cheats On You
11 Tips To Get Over Trust Issues
If you think or know that you have issues surrounding trust, what can you do about it?
How can you overcome them and trust people again?
These tips can really help, especially when used together.
1. Learn How Trust Is Earned/Given
Trust is not something you should give blindly. It has to be earned.
One of the keys to overcoming issues with trust is to understand when and why a little bit of trust has been earned by an individual.
You have to identify instances in which a person has shown trustworthy qualities.
By recognizing each time a person does something to earn your trust, you alter the opinion you have of that person.
Your preconceived ideas about the untrustworthiness of a person is repeatedly challenged until trust begins to win out over mistrust.
2. Consider People Or Entities Separately To One Another
A person with trust issues will often paint everybody and everything with the same brush.
This means that if one person does something (or has done something) to betray your trust, it taints your view of everybody else.
This is why it is important to treat each person or organization separately.
Give each person an ‘account’ within your mind where you hold your trust of them.
As in the previous point, add to a person’s trust balance every time they show that they can be trusted.
If someone betrays your trust, empty or reduce that person’s account, but only theirs. Keep the other accounts unchanged.
Similarly, if someone from your past broke a promise or betrayed you in some other way, don’t assume that people in your present or future will do the same.
This is especially relevant to romantic relationships where you were hurt by an ex.
Don’t punish current or future partners for crimes committed against you by your ex. They are completely different people.
3. Base Your Trust On Evidence, Not Fantasy
Remember the point from the previous section about overthinking?
Well, you have to try not to allow the fantasy drama that is playing inside your head to influence the confidence and belief you have in someone.
If you have actual evidence that casts doubt on their trustworthiness, then you can act on it.
But if your suspicions are based on nothing other than your imagination, you need to push against it.
This comes back to points #1 and #2 and how you should identify things that show a person can be trusted and base your trust in them on those things alone.
4. Learn Not To Project Your Mistrust Onto Others
Perhaps you find it difficult to trust other people because you don’t trust yourself.
Maybe you don’t see yourself as a trustworthy individual.
In this case, it can be quite easy to project your belief that you cannot be trusted onto those around you.
This comes back to your overactive imagination. If you question how you would act in a given situation, you can easily assume that another person is equally questionable.
This is especially relevant to people who lie or cheat and who then find it difficult to trust others. They simply believe that if they are capable of doing such things, everyone else is too.
5. Identify And Mitigate Situations That Cause Mistrust
Do you find that your trust issues only become a serious problem in certain situations?
Perhaps your partner is away on business. Or maybe your friend turns down an invitation to meet up.
It’s important to identify these or other situations that set off your trust alarms.
If you know when feelings of mistrust are most likely to arise, you can find ways to ease them.
The best method is to simply distract yourself with something else that can fully engage your concentration.
If you are busy thinking about a thing that you are doing, you’ll have no time to worry about whether a certain someone is betraying you.
You’ll effectively prevent that imagination of yours from running riot because your mind is taken up elsewhere.
6. Have Faith In People – But Start Small
If you are someone who finds it difficult to trust anyone else with the things you are currently responsible for, you can’t simply flick a switch and change that.
You can start to regain faith in other people if you start small, and try not to have major expectations.
Give people the opportunity to take on little tasks that won’t completely ruin your life if they don’t get done as perfectly as you might have done them.
Get your partner to bathe the kid/s and put them to bed X number of nights a week.
Assign one of your less-important tasks to a subordinate at work, so they’re now responsible for taking care of it.
Often, if we give people small chances to be awesome, and then acknowledge their awesomeness when they do well, they’ll be more eager to take on greater roles in the future… and do those well too.
7. Accept Some Trust-Breaking As Inevitable
The people in our lives are as flawed as we are, and it’s more than likely that they will hurt us at some point.
These hurts may not be intentional. It may just be a momentary poor decision on their part.
But if you’re a person with trust issues, that may reinforce your negative beliefs, because you have the unrealistic expectation that those who love you will never hurt you or betray your trust.
That’s simply not true. Small hurts are inevitable.
They will also heal.
This is where that ‘trust bank account’ from point #2 comes in handy. When a person does something that breaks your trust, you can dock them some trust points.
If the breach of trust was small, you just take a little bit out.
Of course, if it was large, you make a larger withdrawal or close their account permanently.
And if the betrayals are frequent, you might find that their account runs low.
But, for the most part, you’ll probably find that people do things that increase their trust account more often than they do things to earn penalties.
In other words, they may hurt you, but they will put things right.
8. Reward Yourself For Showing Trust
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool when it comes to behavioral change. And that includes how you think and act toward someone.
So, each time you put your trust in someone, reward yourself in some way.
That could simply involve a congratulatory, though imaginary, pat on the back for showing the courage to trust someone.
Or it could involve a tub of your favorite ice cream or tickets to a concert.
The more you do this, the greater the positive association you will form around trusting other people.
9. Recognize When You Are Self-Sabotaging
Remember those self-fulfilling prophecies we spoke about earlier? Well, it’s vitally important that you recognize when they are happening.
It’s important because if you can break the cycle and change the patterns of behavior that lead to self-sabotage, you prevent the hurt that comes with it.
And when that hurt is partly made up of broken trust, you avoid reinforcing the trust issues you already have.
You can make your relationships healthier and allow the good things to be reinforced instead of the bad.
10. Reverse The Roles
Let’s assume that you do act in some of the paranoid ways described at the very start of this article.
Maybe you spy on your partner.
If your roles were reversed, how would you feel about your partner behaving that way toward you?
Would you feel betrayed?
Would you be upset at their flagrant lack of trust in you when you’d done nothing to earn their suspicion?
Would you feel that they were being disrespectful and controlling?
Yes, you want to avoid getting hurt again, but take care that in doing so, you don’t become the person who hurt you.
Earlier on we talked about the role self-esteem has in being able to trust other people.
When you like who you are, you perceive fewer external threats. And one of those threats is the betrayal of your trust.
If you have a favorable attitude toward yourself, you see fewer reasons why another person would wish to hurt you.
And even if they do hurt you – on purpose of by mistake – you are more resilient and feel less of a crushing blow from their actions.
So by working on your self-esteem, you help get over your trust issues at the same time.
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