How Do I Trust Wisely?

Trust is such an important commodity in human relationships. In my own experience, having been both untrustworthy at times and having had others be untrustworthy with me, I have found trust to be critical to maintain a loving and intimate relationship. Once trust is lost, it is very difficult to gain it back and yet all of us at sometime or another will deceive or be deceived by a close friend, family member or partner.

People lie all the time. We all do. It’s part of polite conversation. We love to watch programs where one of the characters “tells it the way it is” because it’s so unusual. It can be shocking and humorous. Reflect on the last time a friend asked how the meal was or how they looked and check how honest you really were in your response.

Trust is an important life skill to master because if you don’t, you will probably be either ripped off (financially and/or emotionally) or remain an isolated hermit too afraid to engage. Neither options are a full and healthy lifestyle choice.
How do you stay safe when you know others will lie to you? How vulnerable can you be with another person? Who can you trust?

Trust is an important life skill to master because if you don’t, you will probably be either ripped off (financially and/or emotionally) or remain an isolated hermit too afraid to engage. Neither options are a full and healthy lifestyle choice.

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I have meet people who operate in a naive trust. They think the best policy is to trust everyone they meet. They often end up in abusive relationships, with empty bank accounts and broken hearts. The other extreme is trusting no one. This type ends up in an “orphan-like” existence where it seems like life is ‘all up to me’. Both these strategies are self-destructive and come from the same approach to life, an “all or nothing approach”.

When we meet a person for the first time, we are not well served with the assumption that this person is either ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’. No one is like that in real life! We are all a mixture of good and bad. We all have areas that we can be trusted in and others we can’t. Rather than approaching some one with the attitude, “Are you good or bad?”, we are better served to ask ourselves, what can I trust this person with?

For example, you may know someone you would trust with your kids, but not your car. They may have proven themselves to be wonderful baby sitters but have a terrible history with car crashes. I had a friend in the past who was great with kids, but I’d never trust them with a secret! They just seemed to struggle to keep confidentiality. Maybe they are excellent with money and you’d happily trust them with the running of your finances, but they have an awful temper. You wouldn’t be safe with this persona as a close friend or partner, but they may be an excellent accountant.

People are not cut and dry “goodies or baddies”. We are all a mixture. We have weaknesses and strengths. Wise trust is learning how to find the strengths in others and compensate for their weaknesses.

As children, we are prone to a black and white analysis of people. I see it with my students all the time. If I make a good impression, it’s likely that they will love me as a teacher. On the other hand, if it get their name wrong or seem unfair, I’ll find it very difficult to get them to reassess me, even after multiple positive experiences.

That childish, dualistic thinking is affirmed in movies and books we read. When we watch a movie, we will be looking to see who the good guy and the bad guy is. We love one and hate the other. It can be quite confusing when we see a “good” guy make a mistake. It doesn’t fit the stereotype. People are much more complex than they are portrayed in fiction, which makes them much more interesting as well.

We take this black and white approach into adulthood and beyond. It’s a sign of dawning maturity when we can start to see the subtle shades in between. Approaching trust with this childish perspective will cause you endless problems. To develop more realistic, safe and intimate relationships, we need to move past black and white, to all the shades in between.

So how do you develop wise trust? Firstly, approach a new acquaintance with “guarded openness”, Watch for clues… do they share confidential information about others, what are their spending habits, how do they react to your push backs? For example, if a person reacts with anger when you are gently assertive, you need to take that into account. They may struggle with boundaries. What do they tell you about others? Maybe you need to be careful what you share with them? Build a trust profile over time. Try out small invitations to closeness, like sharing a trouble, or asking for advice or loaning something small. See how they treat this sharing experience. Trust needs to be built over time. Never give a person complete trust all at once. This is naive and dangerous. On the other hand, never trusting anyone is isolating and denies basic human needs.

Build trust slowly and carefully. Give people second chances, offer feedback when they have lost trust, but also explain what they can do to get it back. Keep it clear in your mind that, just because they have lost trust in one area, that doesn’t mean you can’t trust them with anything!

So, which are you more prone to…naive trust or no trust? Wise trust is such an important life skill, so start developing it today!

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