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Trust is a fundamental human experience, necessary for society to function and for any person to be relatively happy. Without it, fear rules. Trust is not an either/or proposition, but a matter of degree. Everyone has uncertainty about whom to trust, how much to trust, when not to trust, and so forth at one time or another. In fact, every day we make choices about whom and how much to trust, and sometimes we trust more and sometimes less. That’s a good thing; a total lack of mistrust would indicate a serious psychological problem. Judgments about when and whom to trust help keep us alive!
Here are some possible signs of when a trust issue is a trust "issue":
If mistrust seems to play a dominate role in your life on regular basis, it’s possible you are reacting to some past disappointments or betrayals. Mistrust, then, is in one sense a valid response. The question is: how much is too much? One of the best ways to find out is to talk about it. If a person is willing to listen and talk about your relationship, it’s much more likely you’ll be able to come to trust that person. A therapist can help practice talking about your feelings and fears.
Therapy can help an individual address trust issues that are causing problems in their relationships. Being unable to trust can destroy friendships, careers and marriages, and is a problem that can most often be turned around. Therapy helps individuals identify the source of their mistrust. A woman who experienced infidelity in one relationship may transfer that fear onto every future relationship, causing unnecessary pain and turmoil for both her and her partners. By working with a therapist, a client can begin to dismantle the complicated mechanism of trust. Trust is a quality that develops over time in every context, and with proper guidance, a client can gain the insight to identify where their trust was compromised in the past. With this information, the therapist can help the client separate past trust issues from future fears, and teach them how to rebuild trust in existing relationships.
Under the medical model, trust issues can be linked with depression, adjustment disorders, anxiety, and, most significantly, with schizophrenia and post traumatic stress. People diagnosed with schizophrenia and related conditions may experience paranoia – the unfounded but rigid belief that others are trying to harm them – delusions – false beliefs, often with themes of mistrust – or hallucinations – usually, imagined voices that may be critical or malevolent. This serious condition is today thought best treated with a combination of medications and intensive therapy. It can be mimicked by the use of certain drugs, such as methamphetamine, lsd, and even marijuana in high doses.
Post traumatic stress, in which a person is subject to severe danger or perceived danger, can lead a previously healthy person to experience tremendous difficulty with trust. People may experience and re-experience the trauma in their minds, along with the associated anxiety, and often go to great lengths to create a feeling of safety, sometimes isolating themselves from others or becoming overly dependent.
Elizabeth, 38, continually accuses her husband of cheating on him, even though she admits she has no good reason to believe this. She attributes this to past experiences with boyfriends who did cheat. Therapy reveals she also mistrusted her father, who cheated on her mom. Learning to distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy people, and learning to trust her own judgment and reasoning, help Liz establish greater intimacy with her husband.
Dave, 27, has just returned from Iraq where he saw several friends die in a battle. He is racked with guilt about their deaths, and finds himself terrified most of the time, even at home. He sometimes thinks his wife is going to send him into harm’s way on purpose. Dave has rigid beliefs about what a man should or should not feel, say and do. For this reason, he has never once cried or gotten outwardly angry about his experiences. In therapy, he finds catharsis and begins to establish trust with his wife, which helps regain a sense of normalcy. Support groups with other veterans also help tremendously, as Dave feels he can trust them entirely and is able to reconnect socially through his time with his fellows.
Do you have personal experience with overcoming or coping with trust issues? If you would like to share your story about trust in writing with others, we invite you to submit your nonfiction story for consideration to GoodTherapy.org's Share Your Story. Stories that are selected for publication will be featured on The Good Therapy Blog.
Last updated: 06-05-2013
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