Your Guide to How Trust Works
Trust is a very important issue for people. We are social animals, and we very much want to trust other people. However, we sometimes find this trust hard to give. This leaves us both wanting to trust but holding back our trust. In these situations it would be helpful to know how trust works.
The societies and families we built for ourselves are complex and they rest on our ability to trust others. Throughout our day, we trust people in small and big ways without thinking about how trust works. However, when we form a strong attachment to somebody, the stakes get raised and trust between us and them becomes critical. It's important to learn all we can about how trust works; this helps us learn how to trust again.
How trust works – trustworthiness
Trust is composed of two parts. The first part of these is trustworthiness. This is our capacity to be trusted and to not let down those who seek to trust us. If we can avoid doing these things, then we can think of ourselves as trustworthy. If we are trustworthy, then we believe that others will most likely trust us.
However, the concept of trustworthiness doesn't go far enough. This is because sometimes people who are trustworthy are not trusted.
Being able to trust
This highlights the second aspect of how trust works. This second aspect is the ability to trust someone. Infuriatingly, our capacity to trust another person isn't strongly linked to their trustworthiness. Although there are times when people prove to us that they are trustworthy and we invest our trust in them, at many other times trustworthiness and trust are misaligned in some way.
For example, we often give our trust to people who aren't worthy of that trust. Even though we might trust them, they let us down and disappoint us. Even more surprisingly, we continue to trust them even when it is not warranted. We wonder how to trust them.
In another example, we can often fail to trust somebody who is actually trustworthy. In these instances, there is something about their trustworthiness which doesn't convince us; we are left thinking that they may betray us – or betray us again.
We need both elements
For trust to exist between two people, and for this trust to be meaningful, both elements must be present. Firstly, we need to be trustworthy. We need to actually follow through on the trust that's invested us. The second aspect is that we need to be able to trust the other person.
However, there's a third part to this – testing. People face situations where trust is tested, and this is where the proof is. We find out through experience if we can trust another person; we also find out if we can be trusted.
How to trust again
When we have been hurt, it's understandable that trust is hard to give. To trust again exposes us to being hurt by another. However, we need to understand that our life will always be held back if we can't learn how to trust again. Often part of us wants to trust, and another part doesn't want to. and we need to negotiate this dilemma.
Ultimately we learn how trust works through experience. When we want to learn how to trust again, we need to start in a solid way. We start by trusting people who we feel are trustworthy. If we don't know if someone is trustworthy, we start by only trusting them in small ways. As with many things, it starts with taking action.
When people show us that they are trustworthy in these small ways, then we can start to trust them in bigger ways.
At some point, we are likely to be faced with an opportunity to learn how to trust another person again. This opportunity will mean that we are uncertain if the person can be trusted, but we decide to take a leap and act as if we trust them. In this instance we are doing two things. Firstly, we are giving someone an opportunity to demonstrate their trustworthiness. Secondly, we are expanding our strength to trust people.
When it doesn't go well
A key thing here is to remember that this might not go well. the person might not be trustworthy; we might not be able to trust them; or circumstances might intervene to disappoint you. This might be a sign to scale back the size of your test or to lick your wounds and try again.
However, it is really important that we don't lose the ground we have gained. We must do all we can to collapse into our fears and say that we should never have trusted anyone, and that we can never trust again. This does us much more harm than good.
Getting help to learn how to trust
Counselling is one way that we can explore the issue of trust. If we have been let down before, or someone is asking us to trust them, we need to work out what to do. A good counsellor will offer you understanding, support (and perhaps some ideas) to help.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Now, read about how to survive passive-aggressive behaviour.
– Tim Hill