My son was six years old when he trusted his friend for taking care of his pet iguana for a week. Our family was going on a trip and my son’s biggest concern was the arrangements for taking care of his iguana while we were gone. So, we took its box, its heat rock, and all other needed supplies to his friend’s home. Upon our return it was unfortunate to find out that our iguana had died. I can never forget my son’s disappointed face. His eyes were squinted with a questioning gaze, a big frown had brought his eyebrows together in one stiff line, and his lips were sealed upwards almost touching the tip of his nose. More than feeling sad for the loss of his iguana, my son’s expression was: “how could you?”
The look on my son’s face was “mistrust”. When we are feeling assured and believe that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, or effective we are relying on that character’s ability, strength, or truthfulness. Any failure in such “trusting” attitude results in doubts, disappointments, anxiousness, despair, avoidance, and anger. When we trust someone or something, we have lent our confidence to that entity; but, as soon as the sense of confidence is not fully satisfied or breached, we feel betrayed and lose our trust.
Imagine how devastating it would be to live a life without the ability to trust. Being confident on arriving at a certain outcome is the essence of trust, and experiencing repeated successful results in relationships or activities is what builds confidence. However, when confiding in others or gaining success in situations fails you, feelings of betrayal and hopelessness diminish confidence and healthy decision making. Loss of confidence eventually rattles courage and you will end up living a life filled with FEAR. Once you can’t trust others or your choices, fear fills up the void. That’s when anxiety and depression take charge of your life. A fearful individual cannot rely on others’ care, goodness, or honesty; then, either avoids situations and suffers from loneliness or acts out in retaliation and stays burdened by stressful animosity. Losing trust and living in a state of fearfulness leads to pessimistic worldviews and creates an inability to tolerate feelings; a recipe for disaster.
So, how are you supposed to maintain trust? If losing trust is such an expensive proposition, how can you live a life of fear? How can you lack confidence in self or others’ potential for reliance? Healthy trust is the foundation of a fulfilled life; also the main ingredient in successful relationships. Human survival depends on proximity, security, and consistency; without trust none are possible. A healthy person realizes that trust cannot be given blindly. Every trusting relationship leaves a few percentages for error, which is totally different from having doubts in the viability of the relationship. If you were a banker and considered giving a loan to a client, trusting that person with your money under certain conditions becomes necessary. Certainly before giving the loan you will verify the potentials for trust and take action for securing the loan. You learn about that person’s history, current financial status, assets that can be used as collateral, and so on. Once you gain a degree of assurance about reliability and legitimacy of the borrower, then you show trust by lending money. Then, trust is only possible when you are holding a sense of security by doing your due diligence. Unfortunately in personal relationships it is not that easy, because emotions get in the way and facts are pushed to the side. After all, we come from different levels of trust in our childhoods and within the limitations of our caregiving families, which affects our judgments in trusting others with or without collateral.
Aside from genetic predispositions, our earlier learning from role-models and environmental factors is at the roots of the ability to form healthy trust. In psychology we believe in Attachment Theory as a model that describes the dynamics of long-term interpersonal relationships. Feeling hurt, separated from loved ones, or perceiving a threat cause us to react according to the ways we have formed relationships with our parents or caregivers at early stages of developmental growth. A child’s sense of security is threatened through different incidents and events that required appropriate response but not necessarily received. When a child is alarmed with fears and delves into the expectations of receiving protection or emotional support, the baby is left in a vulnerable emotional state. John Bowlby, the father of Attachment Theory believed that developing attachments facilitates the infant’s survival in the face of dangers; so reversely, the disappointment or dissatisfaction with the results of caregiving creates bias and mistrust in a child’s mind.
The degree of mistrust can be addressed and adjusted in adulthood only when:
- You are honest with how you feel
- Understand your fears
- Realize what you desire
- Ask for what you need
- You are open to your vulnerabilities
Vulnerability is the glue that holds intimate relationships together and without it the rigid patterns of mistrust will continue to affect your decisions. Your choices are only appropriate if you are aware of your emotional conditions, and have knowledge of the required steps to be taken in response. Psychotherapy is a microcosm of the kind of trust that can replace the doubts placed in a child’s mind, due to earlier inappropriate care. Therapeutic healing happens when you are open to your vulnerabilities and allow your feelings to be felt.
Trust is the most important step in a psychotherapeutic relationship. No one can accept help or receive support without some degree of trust. When a client feels confident in the good intentions and the ability of a psychotherapist in understanding his or her overall conditions, the gates of change can be opened. The “trusted” parenting role of a therapist allows for the clients vulnerabilities to surface and together they are able to navigate through the conflicts that disturb responsible choice-making. Similar to a parent who takes appropriate steps to safe-guard and eases his or her children’s pain, a loving and non-judgmental therapist is able to create confidence in the relationship. Continued nurturing rapport eventually builds more confidence in viewing the world as a safe place. Feeling of safety creates hope and trust in “self” and encourages further personal growth. Once the client feels trustworthy in making his or her own decisions, the work of therapy is done and that person is able to lend trust to others.
When my son lost trust in letting others to take care of his affairs, regaining a sense of trust was only possible by learning about the realities of life and forming coping skills. He had to find out that accidents can happen and there were losses beyond his control. He had to realize that although certain situations end with disappointments, there are many others that get started. As responsible parents we had to be there to bring him hope and assure him that he could continue loving and caring, just like we did for him. By validating his disappointment, teaching him the facts of life, and soothing the trauma of losing what he cared for, he was able to cope with the situation and eventually regain trust. It took time, but he became a happy child again. Of course, buying him another iguana and educating him about its natural needs helped him to exercise more responsibility and pay more attention to his choices.
We trust many people in our lives and doubt many others. Choosing those who we may trust or not is considered an ability that can be learned and experienced; so when a person feels trusted by others it becomes a privilege. A trusted person is responsible to those who have placed their trust on the trustee and for me it is a blessing to feel trusted. I am grateful for the confidence that my family, friends, and clients have invested in me throughout the past year and I look forward to continue carrying this honor. I also appreciate the opportunity to lend confidence to those who bravely share their vulnerabilities and regain a hopeful view of life. I wish every person a new year filled with opportunities for Self-trust, Self-worth, and joyful celebration of values in life. May your growth be fruitful and your desires reach their fullest potentials. Happy New Year.