Trust refers to the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. Trust can only truly occur
when you do not have full knowledge of that in which you must place your confidence. A spouse may trust that the other does not commit infidelity, parents trust that their teenaged children speak the truth about their whereabouts, rock climbers trust the integrity of their gear, athletes often trust the competence of their team members, we trust our own judgment, babies trust their parents, and parents with nannies trust that caregivers treat their children as they should.
As a therapist, I put a great deal of trust in my clients. In addition to trusting that my clients will participate in therapy, I also trust that they will not harm or threaten me in any way, pay their fees,
etc. That trust has been violated over the years; consequently, I have found myself modifying policies and employing practices that protect my personal safety. Importantly, clients place even more trust in me. They trust me with their secrets, insecurities, and emotional well-being. My clients allow me to know everything about their inner and outer worlds, and then trust I will not abuse that information. Furthermore, they trust that I will maintain a nonjudgmental stance when hearing their stories. I consider protecting that trust an essential part of my job.
The theme of trust arises in therapy in many ways. For example, following an infidelity, I have often heard hurt partners say something like “I can trust her only once I know for a fact that she isn’t cheating on me again.” Consequently, the hurt partner needs constant reassurance and knowledge of the other’s whereabouts to feel trust. What do you think of this stance? Is this really trust? Does this position allow the hurt partner to actually rebuild trust? How could such a belief expand to help the couple heal from the infidelity?
If you have successfully worked through an infidelity, you may know that the above attitude can only last so long. Of course the hurt partner will want to take extra measures to ensure the unfaithful partner is now being faithful. For a period of time, it often helps if the unfaithful partner provides evidence of fidelity. Eventually, however, the hurt partner must let go of the need to know in order to rebuild trust; for the relationship to heal, the unfaithful partner must work to prove fidelity, and the hurt partner must work to trust again in the absence of absolute knowledge.
Therapy focused on trauma-related issues addresses trust as well. After experiencing a trauma, people with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) usually modify their beliefs about trust. In Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and other forms of PTSD treatment, therapy focuses on the ways trauma has disrupted self- and other-trust. Self-trust refers to the belief that people can trust their own judgments; whereas other-trust involves believing that one can rely upon the promises of others.
Trauma often disrupts self-trust by leaving the victim with beliefs like “I have bad judgment” and producing symptoms of anxiety, confusion, overly cautious behaviors, feelings of self-betrayal, difficulties (or the inability) to make decisions, self-doubt, and excessive self-criticism. When trauma compromises trust in others, people often develop beliefs like “no one can be trusted.” Such a belief can cause a person to foster a pervasive sense of disappointment in others, fears of betrayal or abandonment, anger at potential betrayers, fears of close relationships, and a desire to flee from relationships. In CPT, and other therapies designed to treat trauma, rebuilding trust is often a central goal.
The Spectrum of Trust is not One-Dimensional
There are many ways to rebuild trust once it is broken. One is to recognize that trust is not a one-dimensional, dichotomous construct; trust does not fall into two distinct categories (trust vs. mistrust) and there are many different types of trust. For example, the first time you lend your sister money and she does not repay you, you may decide “I’ll never lend her another dime!” Such an approach may be smart, but in most cases it may be best to experiment with the spectrum of trust. Perhaps you may only lend her a certain amount of money and/or give her one more chance to demonstrate her trustworthiness.
As a multidimensional concept, trust spans a number of different areas. Do you know anyone that you would lend your car, but you would not trust to keep a secret? Or maybe you know someone you would trust with your life, but you would not depend on to get you to the airport on time? Considering the above example, perhaps you might learn to not trust your sister with money, but you would never question her ability to watch your children.
Challenging Unhelpful/Unrealistic Beliefs about Trust
A second way of rebuilding trust involves challenging unhelpful and/or unrealistic beliefs. This topic has been discussed in previous entries, so I will not go into many details here. The main objectives with challenging unrealistic trust beliefs are to (a) recognize the beliefs you have, (b) determine the validity of such statements through techniques like Socratic Questioning or identifying cognitive distortions, and (c) arriving at new trust-related conclusions. Some common unhelpful trust-related beliefs include:
· No one can be trusted.
· I will never trust ________ again.
· I have terrible judgment.
· People will take advantage of you any chance you get.
· People are undependable.
· I cannot be trusted
More realistic thoughts might include “I can learn to trust other people” or “I can choose who to trust and how much to trust them” or
“I can trust my judgment most of the time.”
Having the Courage to Trust
Whether you are building trust in a new relationship or repairing broken trust in an old one, the most important step involves some courage: treating someone as trustworthy while taking appropriate precautions, monitoring your own beliefs about trust, and recognizing trust-related cues. Of course, the way you approach this step depends on the situation.
What cues might you look for in the following situations? How might you treat the following people with trust while taking appropriate precautions? What types of beliefs might you have to monitor?
- Your sister, who borrowed money previously and did not pay you
back, asks to borrow more money.
- You hire a nanny to watch your 10-month-old baby in your home
several days a week.
- Having experienced infidelity in your previous marriage, you
begin dating again and suspect that your new partner is cheating
on you despite no evidence he/she is being unfaithful.
- You disclose personal information to a new friend.
- You disclose personal information to an old friend who has
betrayed your trust in the past.
In what areas do you have difficulty developing or maintaining trust? Do you develop trust too easily? Do you consider trust completely “broken” too quickly once it is betrayed? Do you assume if someone is untrustworthy in one area, he/she must be untrustworthy in all others? Considering questions and scenarios like these can highlight ways to approach trust in the future.
In case you are wondering if we decided to install a “nanny cam” in our home – the answer is no. We pay attention to certain cues that allow us to assess our nanny’s trustworthiness. How does our son behave around her? How does she talk about him? How does he seem at night after a full day with her? When he has a cut or bruise, how does she respond to questions about it? Does she disclose when days are not so perfect? Does she ask questions about how to handle difficult situations with our son?
Treating her with trust while taking appropriate precautions involved a number of steps at the beginning as well as periodic assessments throughout the relationship. Of course, we did a background check
and called her references. For the first few weeks, we had her come in for a few hours while we were home and then had her stay with our son for an hour or two while we went out. We considered and continue to consider the above questions in assessing her trustworthiness.
In addition, other factors that help us evaluate trustworthiness serve multiple purposes. For example, she keeps a log of feedings and naps, which provides useful information about his wellbeing and also tells us how they spend the day together. In another example, she texts pictures of our son because we miss him; inadvertently, by sending these photos, she is also sending clear documentation that he smiles when with her, that they go to the park and to the beach together, etc.
What types of beliefs do we have to monitor? Some trust-beliefs are common to parents with a new nanny. For example, beliefs provoked by nannies portrayed on television about abusive, negligent, and generally untrustworthy caregivers are usually to be monitored (i.e., “people will abuse your children if you don’t watch them carefully” or “if you let someone into your home, they will steal from you”). Other beliefs might reflect a desire for the nanny to act in a very specific way (i.e., “she has to feed him at this time and nap him at that time.”). It generally helps to examine these thoughts and modify them into more flexible beliefs when appropriate. My husband and I must monitor several other beliefs based on personal experience, but I will maintain some of our privacy for the sake of discretion and professionalism!
Questions and considerations like these allow us to better understand the extent to which we can trust our nanny. In the end, we develop actual trust in her ability to watch our son rather than acquiring
absolute knowledge of how she spends every minute with him. In allowing ourselves to trust her, we have also learned different ways to care for our son and we have accepted another person into our little family. Most importantly, I would rather spend time playing with my son or hanging out with my husband than reviewing hours of“nanny cam” footage in order to know that our nanny is behaving appropriately.