Many Levels of Trust

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Trust plays such an important role in our relationships that it’s important we have a better understanding of it if we’re to have the most optimal relationships possible.

One of the most common issues I observe when it comes to trust is that people often overgeneralize when determining whether or not they can trust someone. For example, it’s not unusual to hear someone say, “I can’t trust him” or “I wouldn’t trust her if I were you.” In an effort to protect ourselves and navigate the world efficiently, our minds often tend to categorize people broadly as either trustworthy or not.

One suggestion I have regarding trust is to change the question you ask yourself when it comes to determining how trustworthy someone is. Rather than asking yourself whether or not someone is trustworthy, ask yourself the following question: “In what ways, or in what situations, has this person demonstrated to me that I can trust him or her?”

People are complicated and multifaceted. Someone who is extremely trustworthy in one aspect of their life, or in certain situations, may be entirely unreliable in others. For example, you may be able to explicitly trust that your partner would be faithful to you but you may not be able to trust that he would stay calm in a pressure situation. The same person who would never betray his commitment to you may not be able to prevent being overwhelmed by emotions in a pressure situation and subsequently unable to function as he would like despite his best intentions.

By transitioning from categorizing someone as broadly trustworthy or not to asking yourself more specifically in what ways/situations has the person demonstrated they are or are not trustworthy, you would be in a much better position to both navigate relationships and develop deeper emotional connections.

For example, in my senior year at Boston College, I was part of two blocked six-person apartments so, in essence, I had eleven roommates. While we all got along relatively well, I definitely trusted my roommates at varying levels. There were some roommates whom I could always trust to be fun while socializing but whom I also knew would have the tendency to gossip about personal information. There were others whom I could always count on to help me with logistical tasks such as homework or things around our apartment but who couldn’t handle particularly emotional situations. Then, fortunately, there were a select few roommates whom I knew I could trust explicitly. Over the years, they’ve seen me at my best and worst and I feel very blessed to still call them some of my closest friends 20+ years after college.

Being conscious of specifically how you can trust someone helps you set clearer expectations in any relationship. With clearer expectations, you are less likely to be hurt and emotionally withdraw in a relationship. You are also better positioned to make wiser choices as to whom and in what ways you make yourself emotionally vulnerable.

Developing deep meaningful relationships does require you to make yourself emotionally vulnerable to someone even if it’s very gradually over time. When “testing the waters” to see if someone is indeed trustworthy in a particular situation or with certain information, start slowly as if you’re carefully getting into a pool of water. Instead of jumping into the deep end without testing the water, dip your foot in or take a small step – that is, disclose something slightly more personal but not something that would make you too vulnerable and see how the “water” treats you. In order words, did the person respond sensitively? If you asked them to keep the information confidential did they do that? Also, notice if the other person is also taking steps into the pool. Are they also making themselves vulnerable to you by disclosing information or struggles they’ve had in their lives?

Ideally, in a relationship, both people are gradually taking similar steps in the pool (no one is significantly deeper in the pool than the other or trying to force someone to go deeper). If the water continues to treat both people well, they will ideally continue further into the pool deepening the emotional connection between them.

A sense of mutual trust is a prerequisite for both parties to continue to make themselves more vulnerable to each other and venture further and further into the pool. It’s my hope that viewing trust in the multifaced way I’ve described will help you find those select individuals with whom it is safe to make yourself vulnerable so that you may enjoy the blessing of deep emotional connections with them.

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