Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

How Do I Know I Can Trust You?

How Do I Know I Can Trust You?

“I used to take on trust a man’s deeds after having listened to his words.
Now having listened to a man’s words I go on to observe his deeds.”


Trust is a more difficult concept than one would think at first glance. Yes, there’s the financial meaning of the word (putting your assets in a trust, e.g.), but that’s not what we’re talking about here. According to the Oxford dictionary, trust is “a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something.” Pretty all encompassing, but in this post I want to talk about the origins, difficulties and ways to improve your issues with trust.

Where does it start? Not surprisingly, in early childhood. An infant instinctively knows from birth that mother (these days the caregiver is often someone other than the mother, but for the sake of simplicity, I will use mother to represent anyone who is a child’s primary caregiver) will know when to feed, change a wet diaper, soothe and love an unhappy baby, who will scream loudly to ensure those needs are met. An infant grows into a small child who still depends on mother. It’s not possible to survive alone. Many animals become self-sufficient within weeks of birth. We humans take several years to be able to live independently.

The concept that we know our caregiver will be there for us even when not in the same room at the moment develops early – around two years of age. Mother can bring a child into a room with toys to play with, and then leave the room. A healthy child will have learned to trust that mother will return. This is the simplest way to explain what we call “basic trust.”

But sometimes this goes awry. Mother does not return, or does and doesn’t arbitrarily, and the child can’t count on it. Can’t trust it. This early inconsistency will plant seeds of doubt that can become the source of deep-rooted mistrust well into adulthood. If you were exposed to early inconsistency or neglect, it will be difficult for you to trust other people.

The positive side of how we learn to trust stems from being given the message throughout childhood that you are a good and worthy person. You have a positive sense of yourself. You trust yourself.

Even if both those early basic conditions for a healthy development were met, there are times when we’ve been hurt, betrayed, disappointed, or rejected. It’s part of life. And since all humans are different, we don’t always know who we’re dealing with when we first meet them. So we have to be able to recognize the signs that someone is trustworthy, or is likely to betray the trust we initially accorded them.

Rather than blindly and wholeheartedly trusting someone right off the bat, it might be wiser to do so gradually. Let someone earn your trust. And surely it’s harder when we’ve been hurt in the past, but we can learn from experience.

If you’ve been hurt many times, take a look at what happened. Maybe there are patterns you haven’t recognized. Maybe there were red flags you didn’t see or chose to ignore. At the same time, just because you made a bad choice last time, doesn’t mean that the current choice is necessarily going to end in disaster.

And I’m talking about all kinds of situations where another person is involved that we have to make a judgment about. An intimate relationship, of course, but also friends – close and less close, or a boss who will be over you for as long as you’re in that job, even relatives with whom you’re just now making a first acquaintance.

How do we know? What should we look for? Here’s the hard part: as wisely as you may make a choice, there aren’t ever any guarantees. It might not end well, because you can’t control someone else, or all external situations. So again, how do we make the best possible judgment in any given circumstance?

First, I’d like to address the part over which you do have complete control, and that’s YOU. If you are a confident, dependable, reliable, self-aware person, someone willing to listen, communicate openly and show genuine interest, you’re off to a very good start.

In order to trust, you should be trustworthy yourself. Don’t make promises you have no intention of keeping, or somehow letting things fall through the cracks. Be prompt, rather than often rushing in late with some excuse that falls flat on the listener. Be respectful, loyal, honest, direct and empathic. And be able to admit your mistakes – take responsibility for your part when something goes wrong.

In other words, be someone you would trust because you trust and respect yourself. Even when life throws its inevitable curve balls, you know you’ll be ok. You’ll get through it because you have self-confidence that has developed over your life from the reliable and supportive care you got along the way or evolved organically due to your natural internal resilience.

“If you are untrustworthy, people will not trust you.”
~ Lao Tzu

But how do you recognize someone you probably shouldn’t trust, or at least someone you begin to trust only over time when that trust is been earned? If that person sends mixed messages, and you get confused about what to believe, take note. Patterns of inconsistency might emerge. The person can’t take responsibility and always finds a way to blame someone or something else for the snafu is a big red flag. Something you told in confidence somehow gets around. Confidentiality was not kept.

There’s a cute way of demonstrating that last trait. You need a piece of paper and pencil for this one. You are a person. (Draw a vertical line for the number one, which is you.) You have a secret. You tell ONE person, in the strictest of confidence. (Draw another vertical line – the person who told this to – next to you.) Magically, eleven people know. If you don’t want something shared around the world, until you know with absolute certainty that you can trust the person you’re telling this to, don’t.

And if you sense that this person is not capable of empathy, and whose moods are all over the place, you’d be best to choose someone else to be your BFF, or at the very least, trust slowly. This may be a difficult thing to suss out with someone who may be your next boss, but you may have a chance to talk with others who know something. If not, you’ll have to trust your own judgment.

The issue of trust comes up most often in intimate relationships. It’s hard to be completely open, show vulnerability, trust that you’re not going to get cheated on (again), or dumped (again). And it’s really hard to let go of the pain that may linger from past betrayals.

But try to remember that just because it happened before doesn’t mean it will happen again. In other words, separate the past from the present. That was then, this is now, and they’re different. If you start to see patterns you’ve seen before, empty promises start to appear, your new interest isn’t able to communicate openly (at least after some time has passed), integrity is sketchy (maybe you were told a story that set off some alarm bells), you may want to reconsider how far you’ll take this relationship.

At the same time, we’re all human, and we all make mistakes, so we have to allow for that, and be able to forgive. You’re signing up for a relationship with a human, not a bot. So in all cases, you’re taking a bit of a risk, and you have to be willing to do that, knowing that if the worst happens, you’ll survive. With lessons learned from the past, and with trust and confidence in yourself, it will turn out well. There will always be bumps along the road, but you can trust your ability to ride them out, as well as your judgment in trusting the person you’ve chosen to engage with.

1 comment on “How Do I Know I Can Trust You?”

  1. Trust is a complicated issue. I found the points you emphasized helpful. In particular, it’s good to be reminded about being able to take risks and trusting our own judgement.


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