One cornerstone of good mental health is the ability to discern who can be trusted and under what conditions. Mistakes in this critical area often lead to self-deprecating feelings and depression.
Deciding who is to be trusted, about what and under what circumstances, is one of the most profoundly complex conundrums of human existence. Most people claim they want to be trusted and also seek out others they can feel that way about. The problem is, of course, the experience of finding someone any of us can trust always and about everything is much rarer than we might wish.
There are both benefits and risks of trusting. The benefits include, of course, the comfort of being able to be open and non-defensive with another person while feeling free to share our deepest thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or betrayal. Feeling trusted by others also tends to reinforce our own feelings of trustworthiness about ourselves. In-and-of itself, this singular element is a powerful boost to most peoples’ self-esteem.
On the other hand, there are risks generally associated with trusting someone and these risks are so openly ubiquitous both in their commonness and consequences, that many people who may really want to trust are unable to allow themselves to do so.
So then, here are two of the realistically key risks of trusting:
1. That your trust will be betrayed:
When a person decides to trust someone else, it is usually with something private and important. The decision is predicated partly on a person’s need to tell someone something they have been carrying, often with some sense of heavy burden, within themselves and partly on their assessment that the person they will trust will hold their trust and whatever non-public secret though or action it may involve.
Betrayal, in this instance, is the act of violating that trust by telling someone else – Someone the person who risked trusting would not have told or wanted to know.
To reveal knowledge given in confidence with the trust that it would be held in a deeply personal way is probably the trust issue most frequently violated. I often quote my grandmother, and this is one of those times: “If you need something to be a secret, don’t tell anyone.” A person who is your friend, worthy of your trust and able to hold your confidence today may find themselves in circumstances that can cause any or all of those conditions to change at some unforeseeable point in the future.
Because loyalties and friendships can be particularly fluid and abruptly mutable in adolescence, this tends to be a very important issue and especially difficult experience for teenagers. It is, however, not unique to them.
2. That the trust will not be reciprocated:
There is a common hope, wish, assumption that once trust is granted, it is reciprocally received. The singular expected exception to this is probably found in the patient/doctor, client/therapist or client/attorney relationship where reciprocal revealing generally does not occur as a function of professional practice, nor would it be appropriate, to expect.
On a personal level, however, most people tend to assume that if they decide to trust someone, that their trust will be reflected in the other person’s trust in them. This does not always happen. There are many people who are sought out to be trusted because people feel they can hold a confidence, but who hold their own inner secrets and thoughts tightly to themselves.
This inequity can cause a relationship to seem somehow unbalanced and, thus, unacceptable.
People who have had, especially repeatedly, either of the experiences described above tend to grow, not surprisingly, less willing and able to trust others over time. After all, the more often one is burned, the more cautious one is apt to be about getting close to fire.
These risks (and there are certainly many others) can support the feeling of many people that their deepest and only entirely secure trust can be put Into the hands of a Higher Power. Deities simply do not tell, nor do they share their inner workings – but, for most believers, that is neither expected or required as they feel that what they need to know about God, for example, has already been amply revealed to them in scripture. And for the true believer, God cannot and would not betray them … ever.
There are, however, important and perhaps adequately compensatory reasons to allow one’s self to trust another person. As with most important choices in life, a kind of Cost-Benefit analysis can be thought through. What are the potential risks and how do they stack up against the potential benefits?
The two most common benefits of deciding to trust another person are that:
1. Intimacy is strengthened by the sharing of confidences:
Few things that happen in a relationship between two people are genuinely or completely neutral. Every decision, event and experience tends to impact the relationship either positively or negatively.
Not sharing something that is especially important to you with someone you are close to, and perhaps hope to feel even closer, will not serve that intent. Secrets are like dark shadows the extend further and further and become darker and darker until they obscure the light that was once at the core of the relationship.
Trust brings people closer.
Secrets tend to reinforce the need for solitude, isolation and the idea that relationships with other people are best kept superficial and one needs to always be on guard. This is not a particularly comfortable mindset for most people to live with.
2. Those that do not trust are less apt to be trusted:
There is something about being trusted by another person that tends to increase our self-esteem and sense of self-worth. “If so-and-so trusts me, I must be, somehow, trustworthy. That makes me a good (or at least a better) person than I sometimes suspect about myself.”
Although the degree to which others trust us is only one measure and influencing aspect of our sense of our own value, it is an important one.
While trust is not always, as has been pointed out, not always reciprocated in a directly proportional way, one who cannot or does not trust is a lot less likely to be trusted by others. Those seen as being untrustworthy are left with two perhaps equally undesirable alternatives: Aloneness or the company of other untrusted people.
So, unless one or the others of those things is a person’s goal, taking the inevitable risks involved in trusting some people to some degree some of the time may be an option worth reconsidering.
There is no trust without risk among humans. Likewise, there is no life without risk, either.