Trusting Others and Ourselves: A Key Determinant of Our Well-Being

Trusting others. It sounds so simple, but can be so hard to do. When I look at my own life, and as I work with others, I am left with the conclusion that trusting others and ourselves is one of the key components of a happy and successful life. Make no mistake, for many (perhaps most) of us, extending trust is a challenge, primarily because it involves being vulnerable. Vulnerability is not a comfortable feeling, although to some degree is absolutely necessary for a fulfilling life (consider what life would be like if we didn't allow ourselves to be vulnerable in any way, shape, or form...and whathis would do to any sense of love and joy in our lives). 

Shame researcher and educator Dr. Brene Brown is an excellent resource on this subject. Her writings and videos on shame, vulnerability, and living authentically are very helpful, and I highly recommend them. In particular, her book entitled "Daring Greatly" is a wonderful work about these topics, as well as what tends to underlie happiness, and more. She also has many good videos online, especially on YouTube.

In any case, a very important question to ask ourselves is this: What tells me I can trust someone and to what degree? What tells me I cannot trust someone? Being consciously aware of determinants of trust is very helpful, in my experience, and is something I often discuss with clients. More on this point a bit later.

An outstanding book on this subject is “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen Covey Jr. For more information on this wonderful and inspiring book and other great books and websites, check this outOne of the best aspects of Covey’s book is that he invites you to weigh the cost/benefit of extending trust versus playing it safe in various areas of life--internally, at work, with our family, and so on.

Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself whether or not it’s wise to be trusting others or not, with any given person or situation. This page is intended to help you become clearer on your own concept of trust, and hopefully convey to the reader the supreme importance of trust in our lives.

As you read this page, I’d invite you to consider something: As you look back on your life someday, would you be happier that you

  1. Extended trust wisely in certain situations where it may be a calculated risk? OR
  2. Consistently withheld trust out of fear of the consequences?

Clearly, both involve risk. In “A”, you risk betrayal or disappointment from others. In “B”, you risk missing out on rewards and the synergy that comes from working with others and experiencing a true sense of connection with people.

In discussing trust on this page, I’m going to start with the notion of self-trust, because (like Mr. Covey) I believe that without this, trusting others is very difficult to do.

The Foundation: Trusting Ourselves

What allows us to have a solid level of trust in ourselves? Here are a few key components:

  1. Integrity. I’ll define this as “living in accord with what we believe is right and important in our life”. To the degree that we do this, we are true to ourselves. With true integrity present in our lives, we feel a solid foundation in our lives, one that empowers us to venture forth and extend trust to others wisely. It also helps us to be 'comfortable in our own skin'.  
  2. Clarity. Being clear about what is important to us in our lives. To the degree that we are clear about what is most important to us in life, we have congruence (agreement and harmony) in the different areas of our lives--spiritual, physical, mental, social, career, etc. Without a doubt, this takes some work! You may want to do an inventory of your values and beliefs, or do some introspection. For more on the values inventory click here.
  3. Confidence. I’m defining this as having belief in ourselves, that we can do what is needed to stand up for what we believe is right and garner the results we need. Self-esteem is a very important factor when it comes to confidence.

I will say this: it’s amazing the amount of progress that clients can make in counseling when they have these things in place. Counseling can also be very helpful in empowering people to develop more of these traits in their lives. All three of these are monumental in building self-trust. With this type of trust, we can move forward in a strong manner in our lives, toward the goals that are truly most important to us and our loved ones.

Make Your Word as Good as Gold

Another key dimension of self-trust is this: making our word as good as gold--both to ourselves and others. Do what you say you’re going to do. Doing this makes you reliable to yourself, and the confidence and momentum that come from this are very significant. On the other hand, keeping commitments to other people builds credibility--something that’s critical to trust in our relationships with others!

Trusting Others Can Be Very Hard

Do people have good reasons not to trust? You bet. None of what I’m saying on this page is intended to discount what you, the reader, have gone through in your life. If you have been through emotional, physical, or sexual trauma, this will obviously be a major factor influencing your ability to trust. For more on trauma and working through it, visit my page on this topic

HERE IS THE IMPORTANT THING: No matter how badly we’ve been burned (and believe me, I’ve worked with many people who have been abused, neglected, and exploited in horrible ways), if we don’t learn to trust again to some degree, we will live isolated, unhappy lives. Therefore, being able to accept some vulnerability in our life is a must. Without this, we are doomed to be empty and unhappy. Vulnerability is a crucial concept in itself, and I will discuss more about it further down on this same page.

In addition, it's helpful to remember that trust isn't an all-or-nothing concept. Visualize it like a target board with a bullseye. We trust many people on some level (for example, to not turn out in front of us in traffic!) but not on other levels (with our money). Many people aren't in the bullseye (we don't trust them completely, with everything), but they're also people we trust with some things, to varying degrees. Consider what people do that puts them closer to our bullseye, or pushes them farther away from it. Thinking about this will also tell you a lot about what's important to you in interpersonal relationships. 

What Determines Whether or not Someone is Worthy of our Trust?

No question, we need to be smart about who and when we trust. This is a question we must consider on a continuous basis. Consider these factors:

  • Does the individual do what he/she says their going to do? In other words, do they keep commitments? Integrity is all about keeping one's word and matching one's intentions and actions. 
  • Does their non-verbal communication jive with what they actually say?
  • Do they respond to adversity by taking responsibility for their part, or do they blame other things or people?
  • Are they often vague in their communication? Or are they specific and to the point?
  • How fast do they move? In other words, how quickly does the person try to get close to you? If they seem to be in a rush, something is usually wrong. I’d invite you to take a step back and look at the situation. Ask a close friend or relative for their take on the person.
  • How does the person treat others, especially those they don’t have to be kind to? In my experience, this reveals a tremendous amount about a person’s character.

Do You Want to be More Trusting but Don’t Know Where to Begin?

First of all, as I stated earlier, I think you must start with yourself. Be honest--how much do you really trust yourself--your judgment, your ability to do the right thing? This is huge, and I believe we must trust ourselves before we can really be trusting of other people.

In terms of trusting others, start small--pick the low-hanging fruit. Think about where you can start to trust just a little bit more. Consider who is worthy of your trust, and how trusting them would benefit both of you.

To be clear, I’m talking about smart trust--trusting others because it makes sense for you to do so. In other words, it’s a ‘good bet’. Extending trust is a calculated risk, but if it’s done with proper analysis, it usually pays good dividends in our relationships. Think about it--when you extend trust to someone, what does it tell that person? You are saying “I have faith in you...I believe in you”. There are many situations where doing this will inspire a great deal of loyalty from others.

Let me put it this way--some of the people to whom I feel the most loyal are people who’ve placed their faith in me when it really mattered. Thus, they have earned my loyalty. I know many other people who've had similar experiences.

Make no mistake, to trust someone else is an act of faith and courage. However, without trust our relationships are pretty shallow, and our lives empty. Consider this: trust doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing; it can be a matter of degree, like a scale from 0-100, with each situation and person being a little different. 

It may be helpful to envision a target board, with a bulls-eye in the center. Think of the people in your life in terms of where they fit on the board. The people in the bulls-eye are those in whom we have the maximum level of trust, and as you go farther out on the board, people have some of our trust, but not to the level of those closer to the center. Finally, there are people in whom we have no trust, and they aren't even on the board at all! 

Vulnerability and Trusting Others

You must be willing to be vulnerable to have true connections with others! Many people have a very hard time with this, usually because they've been burned in the past when they've been vulnerable. If you find this is true for you, I strongly encourage you to do some introspection, read Covey's book, and/or seek professional support. The time spent will be well worth it.

An excellent Ted Talk video on vulnerability (20 minutes long) can be found on YouTube under “Ted Talk Vulnerability”. Brene Brown does an amazing job of describing the importance of allowing some vulnerability in our lives. I can tell you with confidence that watching this video will be time well-spent!

Having Trust and Trusting Others--Some Words of Wisdom

If you’ve read this far, you are obviously quite interested in this subject and probably are pretty open to considering what I’m saying about the concept of trust. I’d like to conclude this page by leaning on some individuals who have shared some of their thoughts on this incredibly important topic. These quotes come from this source

"We need people in our lives with whom we can be as open as possible. To have real conversations with people may seem like such a simple, obvious suggestion, but it involves courage and risk." --Thomas Moore

"The glue that holds all relationships together--including the relationship between the leader and the led--is trust, and trust is based on integrity." --Brian Tracy

"Trust each other again and again. When the trust level gets high enough, people transcend apparent limits, discovering new and awesome abilities of which they were previously unaware." --David Armistead

"When people honor each other, there is a trust established that leads to synergy, interdependence, and deep respect. Both parties make decisions and choices based on what is right, what is best, what is valued most highly." --Blaine Lee

"Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him." --Booker T. Washington

"It is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest, that holds human associations together." --H. L. Mencken

"When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective." --Stephen R. Covey

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