What Does Healthy Trust Look Like


"The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world." - Marianne Williamson 


Healthy trust?  Can it exist in this world?  Does it exist in this world?

Well, if none of us trusted anyone ever, we'd be in big trouble, wouldn't we?

I think most of us fall on a continuum with on one end never trusting and the other end always trusting.  Curious what creates where we fall on this continuum?  Research is always ongoing of course, but one study of twins* found trust is less heritable than other traits, meaning it is much more developed and influenced through environment.

Given that trust is environmental, I believe - and have experienced in my own life - that we move on that continuum during our lives.  As in we don't come into the world and leave it at the same point on this continuum.

So where do you fall?  Perhaps other 'traits' affect trust.  For example, Gottman's theory of emotional command systems (which includes some 'traits' that may have more research support for being somewhat genetic) seems to me to suggest that some personality types are naturally less or more trusting.  One of Gottman's types, called the sentry, for example, is more on guard. Looking for trouble, for example, to protect self and others.  I would say this person would have a 'tendency' to be less trusting, at least initially.

But all of this is armchair research on my part.  I am not a researcher, I am first and foremost a clinician.

I often work with clients dealing with loss of trust due to life stresses like relationship conflicts and common issues such as relationship betrayals like marital infidelity.

Experts are probably all over the map on this topic.

I know what I think and what works for me, after almost 60 years on the planet.  What's great about being a clinician is that we 'test' what the more sterile research suggests.  Therefore, I think my 'take' on this issue is quite practical.

Earlier on in my life, before I learned that trust is about nuances, I was too trusting.  Why?  I could point to lots of influences: the parenting I received, hormones, being female (we're socialized to trust) and my personality type, which I would describe as good girl on the surface but moxie underneath!  When I hit adolescence in the early 1970's girls weren't yet as empowered as they are now.  We were expected to 'remain innocent' in some ways.  Yes, it's true.

But after growing up and going through the last few decades, I've learned - usually the hard way - that the key is discernment.

First off, I believe having trusted others and been disappointed and hurt, I've learned to trust myself more.  Obviously, the only head I have insight into is my own, so that's the one I know.  And I am in charge of my own behavior, so while I let myself down here and there, I usually know it's going to happen!

Why is trusting yourself important?  Because as an adult you are no longer a dependent child.  You are responsible for your life now.  Placing innocent trust in anyone or anything is childish.  It is.

When I think of a client whose spouse strayed, looking at me with almost a childlike stare and terror who asks "will I ever be able to trust them again?"  

The answer is: first off, it is normal to question everything after a big betrayal.  I don't know about you but incidents of betrayal, when they've crossed my path in my life, have led me to focus more on trusting myself. But not before a period of grief and loss.  You need some time to heal. After a period of nursing your wounds, so to speak, it's vital to work on building trust in yourself.  

This 'learning to trust yourself' thing is incredibly challenging - by the way - when you have been interdependent (or dependent) on a relationship for years.  I can say this with great credibility because I've been single now and not dependent on another person for over 10 years.  Prior to that, I pretty much 'thought' I needed to be in a relationship to feel whole.  In between were many years of inner growth, to get to the healthier ('imperfectly perfect') self I experience today.

So if you are coming to the head and heart balanced thinking that you need to leave that relationship, you can care for yourself. And secondly, even if your spouse is making all the amends they can and they want to continue to be with you, remember that all humans are trustworthy in some instances and not others.

Learning to accept this truth is perhaps most difficult.  But it is an amazing, inner strengths building exercise!

We all want definite answers that don't change.  And people just aren't built that way.  People are constantly changing and relationships are too.

That is why I say the real issue when we worry about 'trusting others' is not trusting ourselves.  To do the best we can - without emotion - to evaluate a situation and/or person and decide if we will trust it.  If not then we need to take action on that.  Or accept that we continue as is and accept what comes.  By the way, when it comes to infidelity, most relationships don't end because of it.  Why?  I would say it's because love is usually thicker than one transgression.  

Want to be challenged on the idea that a spouse's dalliances are all that? Well then be sure to consult an early post I did on the topic of sex and love with Dan Savage and Esther Perel.  It's fantastic!

I'm sure I'll be blogging more on this juicy topic!

What do you think?  Please comment below, as this is a powerful topic that needs greater exploration.


* 2014 Apr 7. "Genetic Influences Are Virtually Absent for Trust." Paul A.M. Van Lange, Anna A.E. Vinkhuyzen and Danielle Postuma.  Ian D. Stephen, Editor. US National Library of Medicine, NIH.