Learning to Trust Ourselves and Others

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Perhaps one of the biggest issues in our lives is trust — both of ourselves and others. If your trust has been betrayed, I think it is possible to learn to trust again — and that this is best done slowly and gradually.

Self and Other

There is often a relationship between how we treat others and how we treat ourselves. It seems to me that most commonly we treat ourselves as we treat others, only more so: those with high standards for others tend to have higher standards for themselves, those who think badly of others in general tend to think more badly of themselves.

I think this relationship applies to trust as well. Those who do trust themselves will usually find it easier to trust others, those who don’t trust themselves will usually not trust others either. In my experience learning to trust ourselves and others go together.

Trust is a Big Deal

In our social life trust is essential. Most of the time we extend trust without realising it. If we didn’t trust others to behave predictably few of us would dare to drive anywhere; our outrage at incompetent or rude service is testimony to our trust that some level of politeness and competence is what will happen.

Without trust of others it would be difficult to imagine any kind of enjoyable social life.

Without trusting our own thoughts, feelings and sensations it would be hard to imagine a normal life. We trust the sensation of emptiness and fulness to guide our eating; we trust our tiredness to indicate when to take a break; we trust our thoughts and feelings to give us information about needs and abilities.

If we didn’t trust ourselves it is difficult to imagine having an enjoyable life.

Dealing with trust is a big deal and can be extremely emotional. Especially for people with trauma in their past, relearning trust can be a lot of work. Which bring me to the question…

Why Bother?

  • Because anxiety feels unpleasant. When we don’t trust we usually feel anxiety. I don’t like heights: I fear the ground will disappear from under me. I don’t trust the bridges I walk across — and so, while crossing them, I feel anxious. And it doesn’t feel good.
  • Because it makes for better relationships. If we always need to be on our guard in a relationship, this is difficult and exhausting.
  • Because it can help us make better decisions. If we can trust our thoughts, feelings and intuitions we will have more information on what is going on in ourselves and in our environment. And so we will likely make better decisions.
  • Because it can lead to a feeling of belonging. To feel a part of a group (a family or club, a team or task group) allows us to relax. (This is presuming that it is a fairly pleasant group — although some people derive satisfaction from belonging to some quite unpleasant groups too.) We don’t have to be always ‘on our toes’.

How Do We Learn to Trust Ourselves and Others?

In small, easy and pleasant steps is the best way in my opinion. (I think this is usually the best way to make any change.)

Especially with trust it is helpful to feel if each step is safe. (In this way there is no contradiction between what you are learning and how you are learning. To set a big scary challenge as a way to learn trust is probably not a good idea.)

The easiest way is to think of a step that feels, “Oh yeah, I can do that”.

If you distrust all men you may want to approach strangers at a party and just do a little chatting. If you don’t trust people to touch you then you could perhaps allow yourself to be touched by the hand of a shopkeeper giving you change. If you don’t trust large dogs you might get to know a small one and then gradually work your way up.

Having taken the first easy step; take the next one.

Will you make a mistake? Probably — but if it is a small step then there won’t be any major consequences. And by reflecting on this mistake you will make a better small step next time. In this way we learn to trust intelligently. We learn to be sensitive to what and who we can trust. Some cars’ brakes aren’t trustworthy, while some people can be trusted to care for your feelings but not your books. In this way we can learn, gradually and easily, to trust intelligently.

I’d like to hear about your experience of trust. Has it been something you have needed to learn or has it come easily to you? If you have had to learn about trust, could you say how you did this and what helped or hindered? I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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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