Working Through Your Trust Issues

At the root of all trust issues is a past betrayal. Whether abused as a child or cheated on by a spouse, the betrayed person will go through life seeing herself as less desirable than others, or believing herself to be unlovable. She will keep others at a distance, avoiding intimate relationships. Only by working through these trust issues - or, rather, lack of trust issues - can the person learn to maintain a healthy boundary while still letting others in.

The deepest issues stem from child abuse, whether sexual, physical or emotional. Sexual and physical abuse are easier to be aware of as an adult, but emotional abuse can cause even more psychological problems and trust issues in an adult abuse survivor. As children who were abused grow up, they may perceive that others will not love them for making mistakes or behaving in certain ways. They also might have a hard time saying "no" to people they care about and people in positions of authority.

All humans are born with a fundamental need to be loved and to love. When children don't receive love, as adults they'll feel a lack of self-worth, that their feelings don't matter, that they lack personal power and that they are unlovable. With these thoughts can come an inability to trust others or their own gut feelings, or a pattern of continuing to trust the wrong people.

When an adult is in an intimate relationship and is betrayed by a partner - whether cheated on, abandoned or abused - she may internalize some of the same ideas as the abused child. She feels powerless, unlovable, and that she is responsible for the betrayal or deserved it. If, at this point, the adult doesn't begin to realize that these internal beliefs are flawed and can hurt her just as much as the hurtful betrayal of another, she'll go on to develop relationships with other abusers or to find inappropriate coping mechanisms such as addictions, perfectionism, misplaced anger or symptoms of physical illness such as high blood pressure or migraines. In any case, she may find herself unable to trust another person enough to form a truly intimate relationship.

To work through your trust issues, you need to recognize the source of the betrayal and the cause of your anger. If you've been wearing a mask of "I don't care" or "I don't need anyone," it's time to drop the mask and examine yourself. If the betrayal occurred in childhood or hurt you very deeply, it can be helpful to have a therapist or counselor advise you as you work through these issues.

After you dig up and acknowledge your real feelings, it's time to understand and express them. Even in an otherwise healthy relationship, it's easy to express your feelings the wrong way. For example, you may say, "You never come home when you say you will," after your partner stays out too late. Remember that you're responsible for your own feelings and actions, and you can't control the other person's behavior. Say instead something like, "I felt hurt and worried last night, and I don't like feeling like that." Focusing on your feelings instead of the other person's behavior may help him to actually listen and hear you. If he does listen to you, you've both made a step towards resolving your trust issues. If, on the other hand, he refuses to listen to how you feel, you may want to reassess the relationship. Just the act of stating or owning your feelings is a step toward recovering trust.

Next, you need to examine your history of relationships. If you see a pattern of behavior, such as repeatedly choosing people who are verbally or physically abusive, you should consider changing both the behavior and your boundaries, two important factors in trust issues. Boundaries can be externally physical (like "your space" or "comfort zone"), sexual (you determine when, where, how and with whom you choose to be sexual), or internal and emotional (only you are in control of how you feel and what you think, and the same is true for others). You need to "say good-bye" to past abuses or betrayals after seeing how they've been affecting your life. It's likely that you haven't truly done that, even if you think you have. Then you can grieve for those memories you've put behind you. You're giving up an old familiar way of thinking and acting, and that can be both difficult and painful. But it is a vital step in resolving your own trust issues.

Finally, use what you've learned about your feelings and your boundaries to establish relationships in which you assume responsibility for your feelings and actions, and the other person does the same. By healing past betrayals, forgiving the betrayer and yourself - especially your child-self - and taking responsibility for your adult-self, you can reestablish your ability to trust and overcome your trust issues.

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