Monday, June 27, 2011

How do I learn to trust people?

How do I assess my own mistrust?

If I have a bad intuition about someone, how do I determine whether it’s sound or whether it’s just my own considerable issues with trusting others? Every time I have trusted someone it has been a mistake. Every time I haven’t, I’ve been proved right, eventually. Therefore, isn’t it rational not to trust anyone? One can always find reasons not to, if that’s what one is looking for.

NO, THAT’S NOT RATIONAL, because it assumes that the same pattern will repeat itself indefinitely, which is unfounded. It’s possible that you’ll meet someone else who you will or won’t trust, who will end up meeting your standards of trustworthiness.

I don’t know if your perception is distorted. Maybe you’re meeting mean people, or maybe you’re blowing things out of proportion to protect yourself from being rejected/forgotten/belittled. The good news is that my advice is the same in either situation—talk, and equally important, listen. When someone breaches your trust, tell them without attacking them. Explain what offended you and how you see it. Let them say their part and then wait. At first your instinct will probably be to fight and defend, but after a little bit, you’ll actually start to listen to one another and you’ll have a chance to examine what happened without being so emotionally charged.

If you change your mind, that’s okay. You now have a little insight into your distortion. Make a note of it, but don’t beat yourself up, okay? Trust is at the core of all spiritual disciplines. It takes time to work on and it’s a challenge for everyone. You’re aware, so you can (and must) nurture it. It’ll happen slowly without you realizing. 

P.S. Don't blame yourself, really. Sometimes people absorb sensitivities from their parents.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't trust also require us to "assume that the same pattern will repeat itself indefinitely”? What makes trust any less presumptuous than mistrust?
One could argue that adopting a template of trust is more irrational and more presumptuous than one of mistrust, since mistrust only requires that we accept the fallibility of other humans and the potential for that fallibility to cause us harm. The outcomes of being wrong in any particular instance are far less hazardous with that model.

In fact, whether rational or not, expecting future outcomes to be like past ones is how we learn about the world. If we didn’t make (accurate) predictions based on past experiences we couldn’t navigate our way through the world at all: it’s the foundation of knowledge and intelligence. Isn't it the definition of insanity to expect different outcomes from the same behavior?

Philosophical nit-picking aside, I don’t know if I really expressed what I meant. I’m not talking about a “breach of trust” – which presupposes that one already trusts the person and they have done something to dishonor that trust. In that case, I agree, talking with the person is the right thing to do (depending on how serious the breach was and whether you want to salvage the relationship).

I’m talking about mistrusting someone from the start. Something just seems “off”. You feel it in your gut. Maybe you can find some rationalizations, but nothing definitive. It’s not worth talking to the person about, because you will likely alienate them, besides which, you don’t trust them, so why would you trust their reassurances? Opening yourself up like that makes you vulnerable, which is the last thing you want to be around someone who wants to hurt you. And that’s what I mean when I say I don’t trust someone – I don’t trust their motives. I don’t trust them not to harm me/people I care about.

How do you learn to trust your gut in those circumstances? I second guess myself all the time. I give people the benefit of the doubt over and over, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that I don’t consider myself to be a trusting person - the issue is that I don’t even trust *myself* to assess the trustworthiness of others. And yet, I think I should, because I’m usually right. But am I right because everyone slips up from time to time? Am I right because I create self-fulfilling prophecies? And is it more important to have faith in others than to be right? I don’t know. It’s a big issue for me and I don’t have any answers.

Anonymous said...

I wrote a whole bunch and forgot to elucidate the problem: which is the torturous uncertainty of having misjudged someone/written them off unfairly. I find that very painful to deal with.

You're probably going to say that's not the real problem, but it is from my perspective.