Trust is a big factor in our lives. Is it possible to trust too much? Do we need discernment? If so, how can we expand our trust and discernment?

I think that for most of us trust is a quite primal thing. Having a sense that we can trust ourselves and others gives us an ease that is very desirable. Ongoing anxiety about whether we trust ourselves and others is incredibly draining.

Does this mean that trust is only a good thing? There may be times when we have been exploited when we trusted someone. Knowing this we may still choose to keep doing so. One woman I know chose this option. In the discussion we were having someone remarked something like, “Chickens shouldn’t trust foxes” to which this woman replied that this was her preferred option even though it meant that she was “Dragging around a bag of chicken feathers”. I found this very moving. I respect and honour her decision, and disagree with it for myself.

This woman had decided that she would rather suffer the betrayal and abuse than not trust someone. In some way she had decided that trust was only good.

From my perspective, some people aren’t trustworthy. And usually people are mostly trustworthy but not in all areas of life. I may trust my financial adviser about money but not relationships and my counselor about relationships and not money. Different areas of life require different awareness and skills. It is possible to learn discernment about whom to trust and what to trust them about. As we get to know someone we often learn their quirks and foibles — that ‘they have a thing about that’ and we take this into account.

The most graphic expression of this discernment that I have come across was in a book by a therapist. The therapist’s client was a very promiscuous woman who believed she should sleep with people when they asked. As a result she had a series of bad relationships. The therapist made the point about discernment in this way: some people you don’t let in the bedroom, some people you don’t let into the loungeroom, and some people you don’t let in the front door!

Which brings me to what I guess is the bottom line: how? What if I don’t trust myself or anybody else? How am I meant to develop discernment if I want to?

Here are some ideas which have been useful in my life and the lives of those I know. I’m sure there are lots of others (and I would love to hear about them in the comments on this post).

1. Start with what is small and easy. What is the least I can do? Could I be 1% more trusting in this area? Then changing becomes pleasurable and we will want to do it more. Later on you may want to try bigger things, but if we take on too much too soon we can scare ourselves and just make change more difficult, so I think it is usually better to start with the small and easy.

This could mean things like: if we are scared of expressing a particular emotion begin by using its name in a conversation, or if we don’t trust people to treat us well sexually begin by shaking hands or exchanging air kisses.

2. Dealing with memories. We can keep our memories to ourselves — no one else need know. The conversation we have in our heads can’t be overheard. We may change the words we say to ourselves. We can visualise changing the past. It can help to use imaginary figures. In our imagination we can have fairy-godmothers and magic wands — and they can help us to change how we feel.

This could mean things like talking to ourselves in situations where we don’t feel trust. One that worked for me was changing how I feel walking up a set of stairs. These stairs were open and I could see through them into thin air. I found this scary: it felt like the stairs were going to disappear from underneath me. By workind through an exercise in a book (see Awakening the Heroes Within) I discovered that “authenticity is my ground”. When I said this as I began walking up the stairs I found that I felt more secure. It wasn’t a big thing (I didn’t feel much after I had walked up the stairs, and I didn’t feel terribly bad walking up them, not even mild nausea) but it was a small improvement in my lfe. And it was pretty easy.

3.Remembering successes. Very few of us have no trust or discernment at all. It will usually be possible to analyse the people we trust or the situations where we feel that we are more discerning. It is usually possible to analyse how these people and situations are similar, what it is that the people I trust have in common. We can also compare them to the people we don’t trust. We may then be able to build on our successes and increase our trust or discernment.

We may find that the people we trust are willing to talk about themselves and how they feel. This gives us an idea of what to look for in deciding whether to trust people. We may find that in the situations where we have good discernment this is because we have had time just to play and find out what is going on in our own way and at our own pace. This could lead us to develop ways of learning about new areas.

I hope this gives you some ideas about expanding the trust you feel of yourself and others. What role does trust play in your life? Do you feel you have become better at trusting? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments section.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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