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Trust and the Fractured Self

It is more shameful to distrust our friends than to be deceived by them


We talk about trust a lot. Trust in ourselves, in others, in the benevolence of the universe. Relationships are built on trust, and trustworthiness is high on the list of qualities we seek in our partners in life, work and love.

Trust is defined as a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something. Trusting and being trusted are key elements of self-esteem, strengthening our ability to act, our willingness to join, our courage to lead. Consistent, positive and reliable behavior are essential to trustworthiness, and we’re taught from an early age to develop this character traits.

Trustworthy people follow through, they go above and beyond, they maintain authenticity, they own their mistakes. Do those things, we’re told, and you’ll be trusted.

We don’t discuss the impact of a lack of trust, but let's consider: what damage is done when we don't trust those around us? What distance is created, what problems of confidence and communication?

While we strive to be worthy of trust ourselves, it can be very disorienting when we feel untrusted by others. We trust those close to us to mirror us in supportive ways, to tell us we’re living our best selves, and when our own trustworthiness isn’t reflected back to us, we have to make a choice: either I’m wrong, thus untrustworthy, or this person I’m close to is not to be trusted. Neither choice is comfortable, and both require a re-examination of the relationship. That which we thought true and solid may not be.

We cause pain by not trusting: when we don’t trust someone who thinks they’ve earned our trust, they feel it, without knowing what they’ve done. They may be completely trustworthy, but our lack of trust in them creates uncertainty and confusion, sometimes pain.

A friend was engaged in a trust fall exercise, several people standing behind him to catch him. Mid-fall, his trust failing, he buckled, falling awkwardly into the arms of those behind him. The awkwardness of his fall caught the catchers by surprise, and one of them was injured.

Another friend was part of a group built on mutual trust and reliance. Confronted with his own crisis of faith regarding the group itself, he lost his trust in his companions, leaving them confused and concerned as he tumbled into a nightmare of self-destruction. They wanted to help, but were no longer sure that they could: his doubt in them created doubt in themselves.

Trust isn’t graded on a curve. If we don’t trust someone to lend them ten dollars, the same is true for any amount of money, whether it’s ten cents or a thousand dollars. We either trust, or we don’t. It’s not provisional.

Why don’t we trust? Why is our trust so fragile?

The following self-perceptions commonly underlie a lack of trust in others: • I have a hard time recognizing or believing in my innate value and worth. • I accept self-negating messages that I received in childhood. • I feel a need to prove my value to others, that it isn’t intrinsic to myself. • I find safety by controlling things around me. • I negatively compare my choices to those of others. • I consciously and resentfully minimize my own needs. • It can difficult to recognize or tell the truth. • I don’t value my own voice. I sometimes wonder if I have one. • I’m unable to challenge self-sabotaging beliefs. • I obsess on past traumas or adverse events. • My self-evaluation is not objective, and is usually negative. • I repeat behaviors that create shame and guilt. • I break promises I make to myself and others. • I resent those who I feel have hurt or harmed me. • I rely more on my physical senses than on my instincts and intuition. These are a few of the emotional constructs that prevent us from trusting others -- there are of course many others. While we might feel some of these from time to time, it’s when they become pervasive and incessant that they undermine our security and make it difficult to trust others. These ideas may have evolved as protective mechanisms early in our lives when they were effective strategies in dealing with traumatic events, but they serve no purpose in our adulthood.

To be trusting is not to be gullible. To be trusting is to believe in the innate goodness and positivity of things, and it’s the source of calm, patience and understanding. It’s a place of responsiveness and acceptance. And trusting others is a gift we give them.

To live in a state of constant suspicion, distrustfulness, is to be ever on high alert, vigilant, hunched against the next pain, reactive and negative; assumptions about the world and our place in it are filled with anxiety and defensiveness. The way out of this, simple but not easy, is to develop trust. To trust more, not less. If withholding trust from others causes pain and isolation, and our past trauma causes us to withhold trust, how can we heal ourselves to the point where we can trust? The ideas above indicate that the source of a lot of our distrust is within us: we don’t trust others because we don’t trust ourselves.

So when we heal ourselves, we learn to trust others, and they in turn trust us, reflecting the truth of who we really are, that we are trustworthy ourselves and can be safe in trusting others. And the cycle ends. Trust engenders trust, and from that emerges a more integrated sense of the self. We don’t need to be on our guard anymore.

We become what we wish the world to be, and it creates itself around us every moment, in a shape and with a heart that is ever more trusting.

Trust me on this.


Tim Lea is a creativity and life coach based in Marin County. His SkyWriter Coaching programs guide established and aspiring artists to writing as a spiritual and practical tool for accessing their core creative truth. This practice also forms the basis of his life coaching work. He can be reached at

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