Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

Options for Regaining
Lost Trust

A relationship essential

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/keys/trust.htm

Updated  02-20-2015

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      This brief YouTube video previews what you'll find in this article. The video mentions eight lessons  in this self-improvement Web site. I've reduced that to seven.

      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 4 in this Web site - optimize your relationships. This is excerpted and adapted from a larger Lesson-1 article on reducing the common psychological wound of major trust disorders. This article is for people interested in rebuilding lost trust. It offers:

  • Perspective on trust: where it comes from, and what people need to trust about each other.

  • Options for (re)gaining someone else's trust in you; and...

  • Options for your learning to (re)trust someone else.

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 3

  • requisites for healthy relationships

  • nine barriers to healthy relationships

  • perspective on interpersonal honesty and respect

What's the Problem?

      A 60-something client of mine traveled to Florida and - among other activities - spent time with a young woman friend "to help her through a tough time." He didn't tell his (second) wife of 25 years about helping, and she found out "by accident." He insisted there was nothing romantic or sexual in his intentions, and that he "simply forgot" to tell her. He had never had an affair (nor had she) in their remarriage.

      The couple called me a year later because the wife was voicing suspicions about another Florida trip her CEO husband was about to take to "be alone for awhile." He swore he had no interest in contacting the young woman, and was astonished his wife didn't trust him "after all this time." They had made no conscious effort to rebuild her trust in him. He had thought her distrust would "heal itself."

      It didn't.

      She said "For a year, I've wondered whether you're telling me the truth about other things because I'm not convinced you did then." He was stunned, and had called me for ideas on how to rebuild her trust in him. Like many couples, they didn't know how to do this.

      Two essential ingredients for satisfying relationships are mutual respect and trust. "Betrayal" occurs when someone violates (breaks) our trust - e.g. "I always thought you'd tell me the truth, and now I find you lied to me." Each time someone violates a person's trust it becomes harder to regain it.

      Trust is solid faith (belief) in someone or something. The opposite of trust is doubt, disbelief, and skepticism. Four major types of lost trust are in...

  • your own worth, judgment, and competence - i.e. self doubt and loss of self confidence;

  • your hope for some prized outcome in the future;

  • your Higher Power's intentions, priorities, and reliability, thing;  and...

  • another person's reliability, honesty, interest, and/or dependability.

      This article focuses on the last of these. To understand what's needed to re/grow trust in or from another person, consider...  

  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. Let's look at each of these sources briefly:

      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 inadequately, we grow wordless distrust about...

  • our own worth,

  • the reliability and intentions of our caregivers, and...

  • the safety of the universe

      As we age, we slowly become more capable of filling many of our own needs, and we can become increasingly selective about which 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 trust). 

      Hopes ("faith"). Hope-based trust is faith in something without direct experience validating 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.

      Another implication: in some relationships we start out unsure or distrusting, and 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 believing certain 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) that you award to living and spiritual things and Natural laws? 

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

      Think of an important relationship in your life, and see how you feel about each point below. 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...)

  • 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 if they don't feel safe doing so, and why.  (A  D  ?)

  • accept us for who we are, rather than how we look, sound, or what we do. (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 win-win 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 interpersonal trust items)


      This summary is not comprehensive. Change or add any items to make this more complete and relevant. 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 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 summary 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."

      Now let's put these foundation ideas to work:

Options for (Re)gaining Someone Else's Trust

      If someone you care about says or implies “I don't trust you (about something),” three possibilities are:

  • The other person is significantly wounded and excessively distrustful - in general, or of people "like you." If so, you can do little about that  except feel compassion (vs. scorn or pity) and perhaps suggest they assess themselves for psychological wounds - specially if they're a parent. Or...

  • You two had a communication problem - e.g. the other person misunderstood a commitment s/he thought you made and didn't keep; or...

  • You're psychologically wounded, and your behavior with the other person merits distrust - i.e. your false self (a) committed to something you couldn't do (or didn't want to), or (b) broke a promise, lied, or otherwise disappointed or betrayed the other person once too often.

      If the last case applies to you, what can you do?

      First, honestly assess yourself for psychological wounds (Lesson 1 here). If you find symptoms, then focus on intentionally freeing your true Self to guide you in all situations. As you do, there are specific things you may choose to regain someone's lost trust in you - if they are guided by their true Self. Do you know how to test for that?

Regaining an Adult's Trust in You

      You have more choices if your distrustful person is an adult than a child. We'll look at your options with suspicious kids later.

Check for Psychological Wounds

      To regain another's trust in you, first assess both of you for psychological wounds - specially for significant trust disorders. Because of childhood trauma, some people are inherently suspicious of some or all other people, regardless of their behavior. Lesson 1 in this Web site offers an effective way to assess for and reduce wounds.

      If you are wounded, your behavior (like lying, stealing, or making false promises) may merit the other person's distrust. If this is the case, you must commit to reducing your wounds and freeing your true Self to guide you. Then you can change your behavior and become more trustworthy.

      If the other person is wounded (controlled by a false self), you may be unable to regain their trust no matter what you do. In that case, learn how to relate to wounded people, and use the Serenity Prayer to accept what is.

      If neither of you are significantly wounded (a subjective judgment), the next step is to...

Confirm the Distrust

      Option - if the person hasn't said they distrust you but you suspect they do - ask them. That might sound like...

"(Name), I have the feeling you don't trust me about (whatever). Is that true?" 

      If the other person is guided by their true Self, you'll probably get an honest answer. If so, that opens the door to asking why they distrust you now. Caution - if the other person describes some actions by you that caused their mistrust, avoid defensive explanations and criticisms ("Well, how 'bout the time when you (did something similar)?!" They usually indicate false selves have taken over. Try empathic listening instead.

Learn What the Other Person Really Needs

      If the other adult is vague or generalizes about what they mistrust, seek clarity on what they need from you -  e.g...

Other person - "Well, you know, at times I just can't count on you." (fuzzy thinking)

You: "Can you be more specific? You can't count on me for what?"

Other person - "OK, I never know if you're going to be here when you say you will. You're late all the time."  (generalizing)

You: "You don't trust me to be on time when I commit to doing that, and you want (need) to trust that I'll be here when I say I will." (This is an empathic listening statement, not a question.)

      This example shows that the other person may distrust one aspect of your behavior, and trusts other things about you. Implication - 'I don't trust you" can mean many things - so in important relationships, dig down to identify the real problem (unmet primary needs).

       As you learn what the other person needs to trust about you, check for an equally important need: respect. What happens to your respect for a person if you don't trust something bout them? Often, the more things we distrust about someone (including ourselves), the less we respect them. Do you agree? When you're done here, see this article for more perspective and options.

      Now decide whether the it's important to you to regain their faith. If so, an option is to tell them you want to do that - e.g. ...

"(Name), I'm sorry I haven't been more prompt (or whatever). I understand that's bothered you, and I'm going to be more timely from now on. If I'll be more than 10" late, I'll call you. If I don't make good on this, I need you to tell me right away, OK?":

Think of an adult who distrusts something about you now, and imagine saying your version of this to them. Could you do so, and mean it? Beware your false self trying to be "nice" and making promises you can't or won't keep! If you've promised to be "more prompt" before and haven't done so, the issue is can the other person believe any commitment you make?

Follow Up

      After trust is lost, you'll need to repeatedly demonstrate promised behaviors and attitude changes, rather than talk about them. To do this without background senses of resentment and anxiety, your true Self must be steadily guiding your inner family of talented subselves. As you demonstrate your reliability, three options are...

  • say something like "I hope you're aware that I've kept my promise about (whatever) six times in a row. I'm telling you this because I want to regain your trust." and/or...

  • "(Name,) have I regained your trust (about whatever) yet?" Be prepared for "not yet"; and...

  • as you make good on tough commitments. notice how that affects your self trust and self respect. Affirm and enjoy your progress!

Special Case: Dishonesty

      Convincing another person that you're telling them your truth can be tough if your subselves haven't felt safe doing so before. If you and another person can negotiate such safety, then how is s/he going to determine that you're now speaking the truth? S/He'll have to validate that through other people who know you and your situation - which is beyond your control. So meet your commitments (preserve your integrity) and let go of the other person's reaction - specially if s/he is ruled by a false self.

      For more perspective on and options about honesty, see this after you finish this article.

 Regaining Kids' Trust

      Typical dependent kids are less likely to think or say "I don't trust you" or equivalent than honest adults. Young kids may need help in understanding what "trust" and "distrust" are, and may be unsure of their right to distrust unreliable adults without shame, guilts, and anxieties. Remember how that was?

      Distrust is an instinctive reaction to fear of discomfort and injury. So if you perceive a child is avoiding you physically or behaviorally (e.g. little eye contact and/or notable silences) suspect they distrust something about you but can't or won't say so. They also may distrust their ability to keep themselves safe from pain - around you or in general.

      Six essential trusts all kids need with their caregivers are: "I'm sure...

you genuinely value, care about, and enjoy (love) me, despite my flaws and mistakes;

you'll genuinely accept and respect me as a worthy person, tho I'm weak, ignorant, and clumsy at times;

you want to know how I feel emotionally and physically, and you'll make my pain go away;

you want to help me learn how to be OK in the world by myself;

you'll always do what you say you'll do; and...

you'll tell me the truth, every time. 

      Recall your early years. Did you trust your main adults at home and school with these six essentials? If not, how did you (a) feel and (b) cope? If there are kids in your life now, do you feel they trust these things about you and other adults well enough?

      The most powerful things you can do to earn and keep a child's trust (and respect) are to...

  • keep your true Self steadily in charge in calm and stressful times;

  • be clear on the difference between surface needs and the primary needs  that cause them;

  • learn what you and the child each need in various situations, and stay aware of whose needs are most important in stressful situations (yours, mine, or ours); Take responsibility for identifying your primary needs, and managing your frustrations rather than blaming the child;

  • keep an attitude of genuine respect for them and yourself,

  • stay aware of your and their equal rights as worthy persons, and teach them their rights,

  • learn how to think, communicate, and problem-solve effectively, and teach the child/ren how to do those (see Lesson 2);

  • learn how to give and enjoy "dodge-proof" praise when it's merited;

  • consistently say what you mean, and mean what you say. Keep every promise, or explain honestly and promptly why you can't, without shaming yourself;

  • stay aware of the difference between "bad behavior" and a "bad child;"

  • teach and model tolerance and compassion, not indifference, scorn, and ridicule;

  • intentionally make it safe for the child to tell you their truth. Learn to want to guide, teach, and discipline respectfully

  • when they're old enough, teach kids to tell you without anxiety or guilt if they don't trust you about something, and why they don't.

  • don't expect kids to be as trustworthy as adults, because they're far more impulsive and focused on immediate gratification. Remember that kids unconsciously need to test you and the world to see how things work, how much power they have, and whether they're really safe

  • (add your own ideas about earning a child's trust.)

      Pause and reflect: what are you aware of now? If there is a child who distrusts you now, do these options seem useful in regaining their trust? If not - why? If so, is there anything blocking you from trying these options?

Options for (Re)gaining Trust in Someone Else

       If the wife in the example at the top of this article wanted to regain trust in her husband's fidelity and honesty, what could she do? See if you agree with these options:

      Again, assess each of you for psychological wounds, and commit to reducing any you find (Lesson 1). If false selves control either of you, rebuilding lasting trust and respect is unlikely no matter what you two do or say.

      Acknowledge that stable mutual trust and respect are essential for any important relationship. Then acknowledge honestly that you've lost trust in some aspect of the other person. Refer to the summary above to help you do this. Beware of generalities!

      Ask yourself "Do I still respect this person?" If you've lost some or all respect, accept that to save the relationship, you now have two concurrent problems to resolve. See these options on restoring lost respect when you finish this article.

      Review your current life priorities, and assess how important repairing this relationship is to you (e.g. low > medium > high). When you must choose where to put your time and energy, use this priority-ranking to decide.

      Face the reality that it will take an unknown number of tests over months or years to restore full trust and respect if (a) your true Selves are steadily guiding you both, and (b) you both work together to  repair your relationship. It will also require you two to communicate and problem-solve effectively. (ref. Lesson 2).

      Define what specific behaviors (vs. words) you need to experience from the other person. In the opening example above, that might sound like "The next time you talk to, email, or see this young woman, I need you to want to tell me about it immediately - beforehand, if you're going to initiate contact. I need this to happen some number of times without me asking, snooping, or nagging." Note how different this is from "I demand that you promise to never contact this woman again."

      Remind each other periodically that rebuilding lost trust (and respect) are still current goals. Other-wise "daily life" is apt to diffuse your efforts and defocus you from this vital relationship task.


      This Lesson-4 article is extends a longer one on reducing the common psychological wound of compulsively trusting too little or too much. This article offers perspective on interpersonal trust, and practical options for intentionally regaining lost trust with adults and kids. It suggests that doing this also may require restoring lost respect at the same time. 

      Pause, breathe, and reflect: why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your wise true Self, or ''someone else''?

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