How To Help Someone With Trust Issues
By Nate Miller
Updated March 12, 2020
Reviewer Aaron Horn
Trust is fundamental to all of our relationships. You have to trust your friends and family to support you, care about your life, and to be emotionally vulnerable with them. You have to trust your coworkers to do their job and not tear you down behind the scenes. You have to trust dozens of strangers everyday.
Struggling with trust can be profoundly challenging. For some people it's a severe issue, where they find it difficult to open up at all. They may even actively resist people trying to get to know them. Some people struggle with nurturing and growing relationships and tend to draw back from friendships. However it manifests, it may have the same basis, a difficulty believing others, what they say, and if they care.
Helping someone learn to trust again can be extremely difficult. To learn something new, you have to be open to new experiences. You need to believe that the other person knows what they are doing and trust their intentions. When trust is the thing you need to learn, how do you even begin?
This article reviews what trust issues look like, where they come from, and some tips and general guidelines for helping people overcome them.
What Does It Mean To Have Trust Issues?
Have you ever met someone who says they are 'a little OCD?' This can be helpful to understand that your friend is very focused on certain small things, but the difference between what they experience and clinical OCD is huge. It's not a problem to use this term, but it's important to understand the difference.
The line with trust issues, however, is a little blurrier. It is possible to have a professional therapist or psychologist decide that you are struggling with severe trust issues that limit your ability to function. It is also possible for you to recognize that you struggle with trusting other people without professional help. For someone to self-diagnose as having trust issues may be an honest recognition of their inability to easily for trusting bonds.
What it means to have trust issues can vary from person to person. You can have trust issues with certain types of relationships, or even certain types of people. Throughout all of these types, there are connecting concepts.
- Constantly assuming ill intent
- Never feeling safe
- Hesitancy or outright fear of forming connections
- Resistant to any form of vulnerability
- Thinking that life is a difficult and lonely place
- Extremely low self-esteem
How Do Trust Issues Develop?
We've all struggled with trust or the pain of dishonesty, perhaps even betrayal, at some point. Lies are a part of daily life, and they do varying damage. Trust issues emerge when that damage is either extreme, repeated, long-term, or any combination of the three. The crucial factor is serious damage that is done to a person's capacity to believe what other people say, that other people have good intentions, and your own judgment.
Damage like this can come from many different sources, and it can vary widely from person to person.
Our early years are rife sources for lasting psychological damage. Growing up in a household where anger and fear were the norms can be profoundly harmful. Having parents who got divorced can cause lasting fears of abandonment. Of course, growing up in an abusive home is very likely to cause trust problems.
Trust issues can also develop outside of the home. Being raised in a tough or dangerous neighborhood can make it hard to trust the safety of even walking out the front door. If society around you seems generally risky and unstable, it can be hard to trust other people.
Having a romantic partner betray you is one of the most painful experiences in the world. It doesn't matter if they felt guilty about it or not. If you have a spouse who engages in an affair or a partner who lies to you regularly about small things, the result is the same: you struggle to believe that other romantic partners care for you.
Compared to the betrayal of loved ones or a traumatic childhood, the damage that can come from the workplace may seem minor. However, there are toxic environments that erode your ability to have faith in others. You may have a boss who constantly undermines everyone's work. There may be coworker(s) who enjoy spreading lies and talking behind people's back. Either way, the lesson is, "you are not safe, and other people are dangerous."
What Do Trust Issues Look Like?
If you are lucky, the people you know with trust issues will be clear about it. If they don't, you may have to learn to interpret their behavior as signs of their challenge.
Tendency To withdraw: Some people with trust issues may seem like ordinary friendly people, then suddenly withdraw from the contact.
Lashing Out: Conversely, some people who struggle with trust tend to blow up during emotional moments because that is how they learned to handle difficult situations. It's part of why they don't trust anymore. They don't expect others to react reasonably.
Difficult To Engage: This takes many forms. Extreme shyness, standoffishness, fake personas, prickly personalities, all of these and more are methods for avoiding developing genuine connections.
Always Responding With Suspicion: As expected, when someone has trust issues, they are much more likely to question other people's motivations. Even after receiving a reasonable and true explanation, they will still have their doubts.
How To Help Someone Overcome Trust Issues
First, understand that the only person who can overcome your friend's trust issues is your friend. You can do your best to be present and supportive, but in the end, your friend is the only one who can learn to navigate their problem. Your role is to help, not heal them. Doing that work will require patience, presence, and support network. It takes a long time to overcome emotional trauma.
Learn More About The Source Of Their Trauma. They may get some help from simply telling someone else about how they learned to stop trusting others. It may be a story they haven't shared with many people. Hearing where it comes from will also help you be more supportive. You'll be able to spot potential issues faster and talk them through, and it will help you be more patient.
Find Value In The Little Things. Big changes have small beginnings. Helping someone learn to trust again cannot start with a big risk. They are terrified to trust anyone about anything. A good place to start, then, is with small things that are low risk. Something as small as setting an appointment and showing up right on time can go a long way. Following through on simple promises may seem like minimal effort, but it brings your friend that much closer to believing what you say.
Remember That They Are Trying. When working with someone who has trust issues, it can be very easy to assume that they don't want to change, or that they don't understand how hard you are working to reach out. They may seem stuck in their ways. This is where patience and understanding are key. If your friend has told you, they have trust issues, and you have talked about working on them, no matter how slow the progress, they are probably trying just as hard as you are, if not harder.
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition. This does not mean keep telling them, "You can trust me." This isn't something they can take your word for, it's something you'll have to earn. What you should repeat are positive affirmations about your affection for them and your commitment to working on this with them. Your friend has probably experienced abandonment or rejection in the past that caused or fueled these issues. Repeatedly presenting the opposite can go a long way.
Always Maintain Healthy Boundaries. When you start helping someone with trust issues, you may start tolerating behavior from the other person you shouldn't. Yes, it's important to be patient and understanding, but that does not mean you should accept treatment that you normally wouldn't. You can be gentle, but be clear about what you won't accept. Similarly, try to avoid becoming the sole source of support. It's great you want to help, but if they are coming to you every time there is an issue, it can be overwhelming and doesn't help anyone.
Don't Take It Personally. It can sometimes feel like you are being punished for someone else's bad behavior. Sure they were lied to before, but you are going out of your way to being extra honest and nice to this person. As true as this is, it's not the core issue. The problem here is, your friend was hurt very badly, perhaps repeatedly, by someone they thought they could trust. They are still in a terrible place because of that initial wound. They aren't taking it out on you. They are struggling.
Encourage Them To Seek Professional Help. It's a great and generous thing to decide to help someone overcome their trust issues. You have taken on a difficult project to support someone you care about, and your willingness to do that could change their life. Nevertheless, there is no shame in encouraging your friend to seek professional help. Trust issues can be extremely difficult to detangle and process, and having a trained counselor can make a huge difference. It will also make it easier to support them if you are not the only resource they have.
Trust Issues Take Time But Are Worth The Trouble
Anyone can struggle with trust in their lives. As you can see, however, not being able to trust others can make life extremely challenging. Trust is the bedrock of every interaction and is the basis of your ability to chase your dreams, take risks, and enjoy yourself. Without trust, the world is a much darker place.
Knowing that someone has trust issues and doing the work to solve them are two very different things. The work is going to take time and hard work. Patience for the other person will be vital every step of the way. Tiny gestures can make a huge difference, and untangling the source of the trauma can take forever.
Friends, family, and loved ones are vital in helping someone learn to trust again. Professional support in the form of counselors like the ones at ReGain can also be crucial. They have the skills and experience to understand what issues are at play in different situations and determine the best response, as well as keep everyone focused on the real problem.
In the end, if you are willing and able to help a friend with trust issues, your friend is lucky to have you. It won't be easy, but there is a better life for both of you on the other side of this challenge.