Effie Papadopoulou - Psychologist

The past doesn’t define us; re-learn to trust

More than ever before, people find themselves having difficulties in trusting others, and end up feeling more distant and isolated. Trust is a fundamental concept to all human connections – from encounters with strangers to intimate relationships and loving friendships. Everything we do, say, and feel towards others is affected by the level of confidence we invest in them. When trust is absent, especially in close relationships, then fear rules and the quality of that relationship weakens. Does this mean that we should trust everyone to be happy? Definitely not.

A level of trust is embedded in us even in everyday tasks. We board a plane because we are confident that the pilot knows what to do, we drive a car because we believe that other drivers will take their responsibilities seriously and behave accordingly, we eat out at restaurants trusting that we didn’t fall prey to a crooked kitchen. By definition, any society is built on a measure of trust, and its absence can have detrimental effects on us all.

We are not asked to unload every single personal thought and feeling to just anyone. Some kind of openness, though, is required within our interpersonal relationships, in business dealings, in politics, within our daily community, and when we coexist with other people. It is quite easy to understand, then, how people who develop trust issues find it hard to engage in certain social contexts.

How do early attachments affect trust levels?

Attachment is a deep connection that is established and nurtured between a child and its caregivers. That connection will profoundly affect the child’s ability to express emotions, create relationships and develop properly. A powerful, secure bond will guide that child’s behavior later in life, in forming new relationships.

This mother (usually)-child attachment bond will significantly affect levels of self-esteem in a child, his/her ability to attract and maintain successful adult relationships, and will share an infant’s brain. ‘The emotional attachment that grew between you and your caregiver was the first interactive relationship of your life, and it depended upon nonverbal communication. The bonding you experienced determined how you would relate to other people throughout your life because it established the foundation for all verbal and nonverbal communication in your future relationships.’ (PsychologyToday)

Also, children who are securely attached as infants usually develop better self-reliance as they grow older. They are more independent, perform better at school, and generally experience less depression and anxiety.

Psychologist John Bowlby was one of the first to identify theories of attachment. He believed that ‘the central theme of attachment theory is that primary caregivers who are available and responsive to an infant’s needs allow the child to develop a sense of security. The infant knows that the caregiver is dependable, which creates a secure base for the child to then explore the world’ and described attachment as a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.

There are four main types of attachment bonds: secure attachment, ambivalent-insecure attachment, avoidant-insecure attachment, and disorganized-insecure attachment. Individuals who mostly experience broken, frightening, or confusing communications during their infancy, will often show signs of emotional disconnect and problems with connecting with their own emotions and those of other people.

Children who know that people close to them are always there and that can be trusted will live their lives with different expectations and mental presentations about how humans interact.

On the other hand, the anxiously attached, those whose mother or caregiver is inconsistent, worry that their loved ones and friends cannot be relied upon. They believe that they won’t be available or responsive in a time of need. The avoidantly attached individuals do not trust anyone, thus becoming really autonomous and independent. These individuals have been neglected, rejected, or even abused resulting in them avoiding close contact with mostly everyone.

Researchers found that successful adult relationships depend on the ability to:

  • manage stress
  • stay “tuned in” with emotions
  • use communicative body language
  • be playful in a mutually engaging manner
  • be readily forgiving, relinquishing grudges

Insecure attachments, which can also be caused by abuse, often lead to failed intimate relationships, isolation, and loneliness. An insight into our early attachment can help us overcome significant personal issues that are affecting our lives and find the key to identifying and repairing those broken interactions with others.

Do I have trust issues? 

Although a trust can take years to develop and bloom, it can be destroyed in just an instant. Alongside insecure attachment bonds, negative past experiences can also significantly affect our ability to trust others. Numerous studies have shown that children who grow up in violent, unstable, and abusive environments, or their parents are divorced, are more likely to exhibit trust, intimacy, and commitment issues in future relationships.

At some point in our lives, we all have certain uncertainties about who to trust and confide in, or even how much to trust. Sometimes we find ourselves being willing to trust more than other times. This is a good thing and something that keeps us alert, aware and safe. Applying total trust in everyone is a sign of a serious psychological problem and one that needs to be addressed.

Signs that a person may be excessively mistrustful include:

  • A total lack of intimacy or friendships due to mistrust
  • The mistrust that interferes with one’s primary relationship
  • Several intensely dramatic and stormy relationships in a row or at once
  • Racing thoughts of suspicion or anxiety about friends and family
  • Terror during physical intimacy
  • The belief that others are deceptive and malevolent, without real evidence (GoodTherapy.org)

Trust issues can also develop in adolescence or adulthood. A specific traumatic experience with trust can trigger such behavior. From social and intimate rejection to abusive relationships and serious negative incidents of confidence with others, infidelity and betrayal are all possible reasons that would mark the onset of trust issues.

Friendship- my definition- is built on two things. Respect and trust. Both elements have to be there. And it has to be mutual. You can have respect for someone, but if you don’t have trust, the friendship will crumble. – Stieg Larsson

In adolescence, when a person is a victim of bullying, teasing, and mocking by his family or peers will then find it difficult to establish healthy trust as an adult. Being belittled and verbally abused directly impacts self-esteem and anxiety which is crucial in a person’s capacity to trust. In general, ‘when a person’s trust is repeatedly violated, his or her belief system can be affected profoundly, causing future concerns with placing trust in people or organizations.’

People who suffer from trust issues make irrational thoughts based on the notion that everyone is against them. These thoughts lead them to construct personal and social barriers which are used as defense mechanisms. They act as protectors aiding towards helping the person who created them not lose trust again. However, these barriers will be used as a way to avoid rejection, guilt, pain, or sadness associated with mistrust which will only really implicate the individual mentally and emotionally.

If you, often, find yourself thinking: ‘If I open up I will get hurt again like before, ‘why can’t no one be on my side?’, ‘everyone is out to get me’, ‘I should never trust anyone, they will betray me, or ‘I can never let my guard down, then you might be having serious trust issues.

Trust or the lack of it often isn’t premeditated. It is not produced through rational thought processes and most times people are unaware of it unless they somehow, usually through therapy, come to a deep understanding of their childhood, and how that has affected their lives. Even then, though, we might not always be in charge of the way our past or present conditions affect our trust issues.

People who never had issues with trust or insecure attachments in the past can still develop great difficulties with trusting others if they have been exposed to any kind of posttraumatic stress. These people will keep reliving in their minds the same traumatic event over and over again forcing them to create a safe haven where they isolate themselves and end up being overly dependent.

Trust is the glue of life. It’s an essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships. –  Stephen R. Covey

Can therapy help with my trust issues?

Therapy can definitely aid people in identifying and addressing important issues with trust, as long as they first identify and accept that there is a problem. Learning to trust again is a long process but quite possible. If you have had your trust betrayed by friends in the past you could be treating all your friendships, in the same way, being unable to successfully connect on a deeper level to anyone.

The same could apply to romantic relationships and even work-related behavior. A capable and reliable therapist could help you sort through all unnecessary pain and guide you towards evaluating where exactly was trust lost and how to regain it again.

Actually, the therapeutic process itself is a great way to help individuals experience mutual trust and respect.

Trust between lovers, friends, colleagues, or family members is a quality that needs to be built up over time and earned. For those whose trust has been shattered in the past, is especially difficult to start building up again in any of their interpersonal relationships. But trust is indeed vital for positive social interactions and internal peace. It is also the foundation of most healthy relationships. Ideally, everyone should still be open to the possibilities each relationship offers.

Childhood, or even adulthood, trauma can be overcome with well-targeted interventions. If you feel like you could be suffering from trust issues, seek some guidance and help now. Don’t let past events define who you are, don’t let it stop you from living life to the fullest.

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