Lesson 1 of 7  - free your true Self to guide you

Do You Have a
"Trust Disorder"?

Reduce Excessive
Trust and Distrust

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this 2-page article is http://sfhelp.org/gwc/wounds/distrust.htm

  Updated  December 16, 2014

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      This is one of a series of articles In Lesson 1 in this ad-free self-improvement Web site - free your true Self to guide you in calm and conflictual times, and reduce significant psychological wounds  

      The scope of U.S. social problems like divorce, addictions, obesity, welfare, crime, homelessness, abortions, and "mental illness" suggests that well over half of typical adults are significantly wounded and unaware. This article focuses on understanding and reducing the psychological wound of "trust disorders"- trusting too easily or not enough  A companion article on regaining lost trust builds on this one.   

      This article provides...

  • A "trust status check"

  • Q&A about trusting and distrusting

  • options for identifying and reducing "trust disorders," and...

  • options for improving self-trust and trustworthiness,

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  Status Check

      With your true Self guiding you,  get undistracted and meditate on these statements. T = true, F = false, and "?" = "I'm not sure," or "It depends on (what?)..."

I know all I need to know about trust now (T  F ?)

I can _ clearly define trust, and _ explain where it comes from (T  F ?)

I can name at least 5 things I need to trust about myself now (T  F ?)

I trust myself to handle most situations well-enough now (T  F ?)

Awareness of my trust in _ myself, _ other key people, and _ a Higher Power is usually a high priority for me (T  F ?)

I solidly trust that the world is a safe enough place. (T  F  ?)

I was encouraged  to trust my _ competence, _ perceptions, and _ decisions as a child.  (T  F ?)

I steadily trust in a benign, responsive Higher Power now.  (T  F  ?)

I trust my _ mate, _ parent/s, _ sibling/s, and _ children enough at this time.  (T  F ?)

I know how to handle personal betrayals effectively now.  (T  F  ?)

I have never betrayed any important adult or child.  (T  F  ?)

I’m clear on my options for regaining lost trust now (T  F ?)

I’m comfortable enough talking about trust problems with other people now (T  F ?)

I can describe clearly why I’m reading this article.  (T  F ?)

My true Self is guiding my personality now.  (T  F ?)

      Pause and notice your thoughts and feelings now. Then review these basic ideas with the open mind of a student...

Trust 101

      Get undistracted, meditate, and try answering these questions out loud, as though to a pre-teen.

  • What are trust and distrust?

  • What is betrayal?

  • How does trust in someone or something originate?

  • How is trust lost?

  • How do most people react when it's lost? How do I react?

  • Which of my subselves determine who and what I trust - or distrust?

  • What are pseudo and blind trust?

  • What do adults and kids need to trust in each other?

  • What is a "trust disorder" (psychological wound)?

  • How does excessive dis/trust relate to the other five psychological wounds?

  • Does this excessive dis/trust affect spiritual health and growth?

  • How does this dis/trust wound relate to false-self formation?

What did you just learn?

      Now compare your answers to these:..

  What Is trust?

       Think of an adult you totally trust. Then identify someone you distrust. What’s the difference between those people? I propose that trust is an automatic (semi-conscious) judgment, attitude, and expectation adults and kids make about ourselves and others, starting in infancy. It is powered by our primal need for safety - i.e. our instinctive drive to avoid pain and injury.

      People who have consistently "sound judgment" and who have never been betrayed (had their trust "broken") may not worry much about trust. Do you know anyone who hasn't been let down, lied to, misled, cheated, disillusioned, back-stabbed, conned, used, manipulated, or betrayed by someone important to them? By God? By an organization? Would some adult or child say that you've done any of those to them?

       Complete trust says "I can absolutely count on someone or something) to be or act in a certain way that affects my physical, emotional, or spiritual security." For example, I trust that the sun will rise tomorrow (again) to warm and light my world, and that there will (again) be oxygen enough for me all day. 

       From our primal need for safety, our language includes many trust-related words like (un)reliable, confidence, (un)faithful, assurance, pledge, promise, (un)trustworthy, contract, reliable, reliance, vow, promise, (un)certainty, doubt, (un)sure, betrayal, worry, cynic(al), skeptic(al), pessimism, and (dis)honesty. Our laws promote trust in each other and organizations, partly by threatening significant pain to those who break legal or ethical promises.

      Trust in ourselves, each other, and the universe varies in degree and scope. I can trust you to make a delicious omelet, but not to always tell me the truth about your spending our money. I can trust myself to drive a car without crashing, but not to always remember your birthday. Trust and distrust are ultimately a measure of faith about how we or another will behave in a predictable way. Paradox - "I trust that I can't trust you about _____"

       Trust may be granted until it's broken. Otherwise, it can only grow naturally, if conditions are right, over significant time. Like love, respect, interest, and bonding, Trust cannot be requested, demanded, decreed, bought, or bartered for. "You should trust me" is a Be-spontaneous! paradox. One implication is: if you and/or an adult or child have lost trust in the other, it may not be possible to rebuild it "well enough" for both people. Time, motivation, and behaviors will tell.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  What is distrust?

      As we newborns experience significant discomforts (unmet needs), distrusts begin to form. Paradoxically, distrust is trusting that something or someone is unsafe - i.e. that...

  • they will not satisfy current primary needs, and/or that...

  • they won't satisfy our needs in a way that feels "good enough."

Distrusts inhibit human and spiritual intimacy by blocking us from revealing our true thoughts, feelings, and needs. Chronic suspicion and jealousy suggest a significant trust disorder - i.e. false-self dominance in one or all  people involved.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  What is "betrayal"?

      Here it means "expecting someone (including our ruling subselves) to fill important needs, and finding that they don't." The most agonizing betrayals (e.g. parental neglect and marital affairs) are those which send the glaring public message "I don't care about you or your welfare."

      Shame-based (wounded) people are highly sensitive and reactive to perceived betrayals, or they have learned to be protectively "indifferent" to (numb and deny) them because their childhoods were full of painful betrayals (neglect and abandonment) they didn't cause, and couldn't understand or prevent

  Where does trust come from?

       Pause and try answering this question out loud. Then compare your idea with this premise:

       In interpersonal relationships, trust comes from needs + direct experience + hopes +  assumptions.

      Needs.  Our earliest experience of dis/trust occurs in infancy. We're entirely dependent on giant adults to know and fill our current physical and developmental needs. If they do so reliably and effectively, we grow wordless trust that they value us and want to help us feel safe and comfortable.

      If our needs are met erratically, harshly, or poorly, we grow wordless distrust about (a) our own worth, (b) the reliability and intentions of our caregivers, and (c) the safety of the local or whole universe

      As we age, we slowly become more capable of filling many of our own needs, and we can become increasingly selective about which other people we trust for maintaining our safety and comfort. An inescapable challenge is whether we learn to trust our own abilities to fill our needs in different situations or not (self dis/trust). 

      Hopes ("faith"). Hope-based trust is faith in something without direct experience with it. A primal example is hope for (faith in) an afterlife free of Earthly suffering, and reunion with God, ancestors, and beloved friends and hero/ines.

      Experience. Your trusts also come from repeated observations over time – e.g. "In 22 years, Pat has never broken a promise to me." So if trust is lost, we need repeated experiences, vs. verbal assurances, to rebuild it.

      In some cases, we start out unsure or distrusting (doubtful and/or cynical). We may reverse that to some extent over time based on accumulated experiences: “When we met, I was uneasy hearing that my future stepson had been recently caught shoplifting, but since our wedding he’s never done that again.

      Assumptions. Trust also comes from observing what's "normal" in the world, and from believing reliable sources of information: e.g.

"Pastor Lueking would never lie to me!"

The mail carrier will never read my personal mail.

I trust my doctor to assess me accurately and prescribe the right thing.

     We also assume the reasonableness of some things: “I trust that Martha will never run for President, become an exotic dancer, or shave her head.”

     Can you think of other sources of the trust (faith) you have in living and spiritual things and in Nature?

   Who causes or blocks trust?

      This educational Web site is based on the premise that normal human personalities are composed of a group of subselves who behave chaotically to harmoniously. A corollary is that one of your subselves is a naturally talented leader – your true Self (capital "S"). If less talented subselves distrust your Self, they usurp personality leadership and can be called your false self because they inexpertly direct your thoughts, perceptions, needs, and behaviors.

      From this perspective, the question above becomes:

  • Do all your active subselves solidly trust your Self’s judgment and ability? (self-trust)”, and…

  • If ‘you’ (your ruling subselves) distrust another person (or the universe) in some ways, which subselves are distrustful, and why?”

      “Growing up” (maturing) and reducing psychological wounds ("recovery") are trust-building processes. They hinge on all your subselves’ accumulating experience that they can rely on...

  • the wisdom and judgment of your Self and Higher Power and...

  • the ability of your team of subselves to keep you “happy” and safe enough day by day.

      My experience as an inner-family therapist since 1992 is that each of your subselves has it’s own level of trust (low > high) in your Self, your inner family, your mate (if any), key adults and kids, and in a Higher Power. Some subselves trust more than others. That promotes normal or excessive confusion, ambivalence, doubt, anxiety, and uncertainty.

      Implication - to build trust in your own judgment and your ability to handle any situation ("self confidence"), your Self will need to identify which of your subselves are distrustful, and work with them respectfully to change their beliefs. Another implication: rebuilding lost trust in another person requires you to...

  • be steadily guided by your true Self,

  • identify your distrustful subselves and learn what they need,

  • assert those needs to appropriate people effectively, and then...

  • the other person must want to change and fill your and their needs equally.

Until the other person's true Self guides them, the last requisite is unlikely. That means that it may not be possible to regain lost trust. Note what your subselves are “saying” now – i.e. notice your thoughts, images, and feelings.

  What are pseudo and blind trust?

      Have you ever experienced a double message (like "I love you. You disgust me!") from someone? These are common signs that different subselves in us have different opinions, motives, perceptions, and needs. Another common symptom is making superficial (vs. core attitude) changes like dieting earnestly, and then regaining the lost weight - over and over again.

      In the same way, some of your subselves may trust your Self and certain other kids and adults, and some don’t. That causes pseudo trust: declaring or acting like you trust, but your actions imply you don’t (a double message). For instance, you may say sincerely “I trust that you love and need me,” and suffer episodes of feeling unloved and unimportant.

      A widespread psychological wound is excessive reality distortions like denial. Pseudo trust results from some well-intentioned subselves protecting you from the pain of admitting you can’t trust someone or something, or that you’re unable to trust wisely in general (self distrust).

      A similar phenomenon is blind faith or trust: rigidly avoiding or ignoring facts and experiences that clearly say to other knowledgeable people “you’re trust is misplaced.” Blind faith is an example of rigid black/white thinking, which often indicates false-self dominance. Do you know anyone who denies that a loved one is addicted, emotionally unstable, sick, self-destructive, or criminal?

      Are there any fanatics or zealots among the people you know? How about “eternal optimists"? Such cases imply that there are ruling subselves who cannot tolerate the pain of facing that trust (security) in some precious person, perception, or concept is not justified. Restated: it’s possible to trust too much.

      Recall that one of five symptoms of early-childhood trauma is “trust distortions”: i.e. not trusting safe people or a reliable Higher Power, or repeatedly trusting unsafe people and getting betrayed. Either way, the primary (underlying) problem is unawareness of a disabled true Self and these psychological wounds.

  How is trust lost?

      Can you recall having significant trust in a person, group, or belief, and losing it? Do you remember how that happened? The most memorable trust-losses are sudden traumatic discoveries ("betrayals"), like learning that a mate is having an affair, using drugs covertly, has a terminal illness, or is molesting a child. These are shattered expectations, which may or may not have been justified originally.

      Distrust can also grow from unremarkable events that accumulate over time. We grow hunches or feelings that “something’s not right here” without clear or dramatic evidence. This can come from a trusted person’s need to hide deceitful or shameful behaviors, and/or our need to hide from the painful reality that the other person is not who we thought they were (or need them to be). Distrust can also come from significant social or environmental events that we never experienced or expected.

      I've had hundreds of couples-therapy cases where one or both partners had gradually lost trust in the other, and/or lost faith that their relationship could survive. Do you know anyone like that?

  How do we react when trust is lost?

     Each of us develops a strategy for reacting to lost trust. Do you know what your strategy is? See if you recognize it among these:

Avoiding full trust in the first place, and pretending this isn’t true.

Distrusting your own perceptions and emotions, and/or your ability to trust appropriately.

Generalizing. “All females / males / gypsies / (etc.) are basically conniving, selfish, and deceitful.”

Minimizing, denying, pretending, or explaining lost trust without much feeling. Related false-self strategies are emotional numbing, and self-comforting via an addiction.

Blaming ourselves and not seeing a partner’s half in losing faith (“If I had been a better sexual partner, Jamie wouldn’t have had the affair.”) This can manifest as feeling guilty and/or ashamed for choosing an untrustworthy partner, or for losing faith in them. Or your strategy may be...

Blaming someone else for our loss of trust, and denying our half of the action. (“Your sexual affair proves you’re a morally weak, corrupt person.”) This may be embellished by choosing a comforting martyr or victim role.

Acknowledging lost trust, and not doing anything about it – i.e. ignoring the needs that distrust creates, and/or avoiding scary confrontations and other choices required to fill those needs (“Marian, if you forget to fill the tank one more time, I’m going to ask you for your ignition key.”) A major case of this is not grieving our loss. (“I’ve got too much to do to be sad, these days.”) Or...

Denying or not seeking patterns in the trusts we form or lose, over time (“It’s too weird: I’ve picked three dishonest partners in a row. Am I under some curse or spell?”)

Adopting and denying pseudo or blind trust, rather than admitting an agonizing or terrifying loss of faith.

Getting depressed” – calling healthy grief over lost trust "depression," and perhaps seeking medication or therapy for it. Another strategy is...

Anxiety attacks” – focusing on the effects of lost trust (less security), rather than the cause/s, and taking responsibility for healthy reactions.

Admitting lost trust without blame, (b) learning from it, (c) assessing current needs, and (d) acting responsibly and compassionately to fill them. (“Carlos is terribly wounded and in denial. He wants to tell me the truth, but his false self often won’t let him. He’s not in a place yet to recognize and change that. I can’t control that, and I need a partner I can trust.”)

Some combination of these, and/or other strategies.

      What do you notice about these responses to lost trust? What I notice is that only the last one is wholistically healthy, and the others imply a disabled true Self. Recall that the core benefit of trust is feeling safe from pain, injury, loss, and/or overwhelm. Your true Self and inner advisors are competent to adapt to lost trust, and rebuild securities if your other subselves will trust them to do that.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  What do adults and kids need to trust?

      See how you feel about this summary, point by point: We each need to trust...

  • our own judgment (i.e. our true Self), our competencies, our intrinsic human worth, and our perceptions.  (I Agree / Disagree / It depends on...)

  • that there is purpose and meaning to our life, despite periods of doubt and "failure."  (A  D  ?)

  • that adults and kids are basically good, and that life on Earth is usually safe enough.  (A  D  ?)

      And we each need to trust that other people want to...

  • consistently keep their promises to us.  (A  D  ?)

  • respect our needs, opinions, habits, and beliefs equally with their own, even if we conflict. (A  D  ?)

  • affirm and encourage us in troubled times, vs. ignoring, criticizing, or abandoning us.  (A  D  ?)

  • tell us their truth, or tell us they don't feel safe doing so, and why.  (A  D  ?)

  • accept us for who we are, rather than how we look, sound, or behave. (A  D  ?)

  • respect (vs. agree with) our choice of friends, activities, and spirituality (A  D  ?)

  • be honest with themselves and us in important matters. (A  D  ?)

      And we each need to trust other people to want to...

  • understand and empathize with us, within their limits. (A  D  ?)

  • confront us directly when they need to, in a loving, empathic (vs. shaming, insensitive) way
    (A  D  ?)

  • respect our limits and boundaries including times we need privacy and solitude.  (A  D  ?)

  • listen to us  empathically, vs. fix us (solve my problems), when we need to vent.  (A  D  ?)

  • seek compromises when we differ on important matters.  (A  D  ?) 

  • appreciate our personal talents and limitations.  (A  D  ?)

  • be respectfully direct and assertive with us, rather than aggressive or submissive.  (A  D  ?)

  • balance our flaws and mistakes with the good in us.  (A  D  ?)

  • (add your own trust items)


      This summary is suggestive, not comprehensive. Change or add any items to make this more complete and relevant for you. Note that this summary omits trust-items related to mates, kids, relatives, friends, possessions, Nature, government, and assets. Special social roles and relationships - like mate-mate, parent-child, and employer-employee merit unique trust items.

      Each item above is a chance for betrayal (broken trust) or for relationship satisfaction and security. Note the key phrase …want to…” If someone provides trusts like these out of duty, guilt, shame, or fear, instead of genuinely wanting to, would that fill your needs for trust?

An important implication of this inventory is I don’t trust you” can have many meanings. One is "I don't feel safe with you." Another is "I don't trust you to value me or my needs equally with your own."

      With the above background, new we can explore...

What is a "Trust Disorder" (psychological wound)?

      Typical psychologically-wounded adults and kids may...

Distrust (second-guess and doubt) their own perceptions, wisdom, conclusions, ideas, feelings, intuitions, and decisions, and they may....

Over-trust other people who then disappoint and betray them ("I never learn!"), or they...

Under-trust reliable (trustworthy) people, and/or they...`

Distrust that a benign (vs. "jealous and wrathful") Higher Power affects their lives, guarding and guiding them toward their long-term good and life-purpose.

      Unawareness of, or minimizing or denying trust disorders and other psychological wounds promotes stress, and degrades personal health, growth, and key relationships.

      Psychologically-wounded parents often unintentionally pass wounds on to their kids. Thus trust-disorders and other wounds are an individual stressor and a family problem. Self-motivated progress at Lesson 1 can reduce psychological wounds over time.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  How do trust disorders relate to
 the other five psychological wounds?

      They relate In many ways. Early-childhood betrayals (caregiver neglect and resulting distrusts) promote excessive fears ("I'm not safe here!"), reality distortions ("I know you love me, though you're never around."); and core shame ("You let me down again. I must be worthless.") Extreme infantile distrust, shame, and fear may block the normal instinct to form healthy bonds with key people. Clinicians call this crippling condition Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).

      This can mean that excessively-distrustful, shamed, and fearful (wounded) people can't feel, express. and/or receive genuine empathy and love. Common symptoms of this wound are never marrying, a series of broken relationships, cyclic "approach-avoid" relationships, difficulty empathizing and sharing intimacy, "coldness," chronic detachment, codependence and/or other addictions.

      Significant fear promotes distrust, and vice versa. So working intentionally to reduce worries and fears is likely to automatically improve your range of realistic trusts!

 Trust disorders, continued on p. 2. Do you need a stretch break now?