**This article also appeared in Elephant Journal. Read it here.
You’ve heard this before. Or perhaps you’ve said it, yourself. I know I have—casually, politely, as though refusing the idea of being in a relationship is as inconsequential as refusing a top-up of my coffee at brunch. “Oh, no relationship for me, thanks! I have trust issues.”
The justification is rarely questioned. It’s fail-safe. An easy out. Protection from hurt, an excuse for eccentric or jealous (crazy) behaviour, sometimes even an intriguing characteristic, at least to a psych-junkie like me.
But really, of course you have trust issues. Almost everyone who’s experienced a wounded heart has trust issues. We could argue that anyone who doesn’t want to be hurt has a degree of trust issues.
Take a moment to ask yourself what “trust issues” actually means to you:
I’ve experienced hurt in the past when I’ve made myself vulnerable, and I don’t want to experience that hurt again.
After (insert ex’s name here) , words don’t mean to me what they used to. I fear betrayal, heartbreak, humiliation—it’s easier for me to stay guarded.
I require certainty. I need to know that I won’t be f#@&ed over. I need to know that you’ll be with me for as long as I want you to be.
But here’s the problem (and I’m sorry for letting realism take over, here): You can never have total certainty. Sure, you can have “I love you’s.” You can have a ring. You can have a ceremony and children and decades together. But you can never have absolute certainty that you will not be hurt. Love and risk of hurt go hand-in-hand. You cannot have one without the other. You can’t control or predict whether or not you’ll be hurt. Nothing someone says or does in a current moment can guarantee the future; and, so long as you fear the pain, the hurt, the rejection that comes with detachment, you will have “trust issues.”
So how to get over them? It’s not about becoming hardened to the point that you can’t get hurt. It’s not about getting into a relationship where you are convinced a person isn’t going to leave you. It’s about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. To risk being wounded and be OK with taking that risk. To know that so long as we form connections with people, we will experience grief and hurt. We experience similar pain when we lose someone due to death, and that doesn’t stop us from forming deep connections with family members or friends.
How do I allow myself to be vulnerable? To risk pain and rejection and grief? By practising my favs, self-compassion and mindfulness/staying present, and thereby finding comfort in the discomfort that is uncertainty and vulnerability (did that sentence make sense?). Let me explain further (as if you have a say…):
1) Self-compassion so you can be whole/complete/happy/worthy/etc. without the other: As humans, we are naturally-attaching beings. We want to belong, we want to connect, we want to be in relation. However, when this becomes a problem is when we require a specific other to consider ourselves whole, happy, complete, worthy, lovable, content, satisfied, etc. This doesn’t mean you become guarded and don’t let anyone in; it means you don’t look to a relationship to fill the void. Connect, attach, fall in love, but prove to yourself that you have the capacity to be without that person. Ideally, by coming to a place of “wholeness” (or whatever word works for you) that does not necessarily depend on your (potential) partner, it results in confidence that you are still whole/complete/worthy as you are, and there’s less at stake by trusting. The result? Being vulnerable becomes easier.
2) Self-compassion so you can make potential hurt less scary: By allowing yourself to be vulnerable—to be hurt without internal judgment, and comforted with compassion and patience, you take away some of the pain that comes with hurt. I had a client the other day who was beating herself up over getting attached to a “player” by whom she ultimately felt “fucked over.” She was blaming herself, stating she shouldn’t have gotten attached. She’d been warned. She should have known. She didn’t have a right to be upset because it was her fault. She felt hurt, humiliated, and ashamed. But through exploration of how it made total sense as to why she’d attached to him in spite of the warnings (come on, we’ve all been there), she couldn’t have known things were going to end as they did, and it she has every right to feel broken up about it, the humiliation and shame lessened. Yes, the hurt was still there, but it was validated and supported, and she could then move on to comforting herself and coping, rather than beating herself up. So, relate to yourself with compassion and you’ll feel more equipped to deal with hurt and/or betrayal should you encounter it.
3) Mindfulness/Being present: Stay present in your relationship and it will help alleviate some of the “trust issues.” It’s natural for “what ifs” to seep in, but as I said before, we just can’t predict and control; so give up the need to calculate every move to prepare for some possible future catastrophe, and focus on what it’s like to be in relation to your partner (or a potential partner) now. You’ll find you actually enjoy your time together rather than being distracted by fear of an ultimate betrayal.
So, to summarize: “Trust issues” are normal. They mean you don’t want to get hurt and you value your relationship (if you’re in one). In order to prevent this natural fear from sabotaging your connections, practise self-compassion and staying present. The outcome? Ability to risk hurt (aka trust).
As a final note, “courage” means heart, innermost feelings, temper, and is derived from the latin “cor” which means heart. To be vulnerable is to be courageous, and to be courageous is to be vulnerable. So the next time you find yourself demanding promises from your partner or looking for the right person to trust to help you get over your “issues,” instead turn you awareness inward: Be courageous, practise self-compassion and mindfulness, and allow yourself to be vulnerable :).
Always bang-on Meg! This was a good self check for me…I’m notorious for saying “I’m not into relationships – they bring out my crazy”…
Thanks, Brit! 🙂 xoxo
I read your passage and I understand where you are coming from but I’m so dam scared to the point I just wanted to brake down and cry or move far away from everyone please help me.
I’m so sorry for your pain. Vulnerability is a terrifying and unfamiliar place for many (most!) of us, and your feelings are completely natural. I’d encourage you to connect with a professional (counsellor or psychologist) for support. If you have trouble knowing where to look in your area, let me know where you’re located and I’ll point you in the right direction.
Thank you, Moshood!
Thank you so much. As weird as it seems im 22 and hadnt thought anynof this before as a way to help myself. Your article has been eye opening. I could feel myself damaging a relationship with someone who seemee so right for me but i was hellbent on making it wrong to stop the inevitable. I was being stupid. Thank you so much for your help. Ive saved this to my phone as a reminder for when i feel down
This article helped. I do have trust issues, and I hold my partner to accountable to not let me down again… Thank you. Guess I need help with it
Megan, your article doesn’t address the challenges in rebuilding your life after a long-term relationship ends. I was married for 20 years when my wife decided to leave. After a lot of pain and suffering I’ve rebuilt my life and am now happy as a single person. I have no interest or desire to have a relationship again, as I don’t want the problems nor to experience the suffering should it end again as it most likely will based on previous experience. My lack of interest in relationships is based on experience which has taught me that it’s foolish to put so much trust in another person. I’m happy in my single life and not about to risk that happiness again.
Hi Paul, these tips are more for people who are unhappy in their single life and yearn for a relationship, but are afraid of being vulnerable. If you’re happy in your single life, that’s awesome–no pressure to open up to vulnerability again unless you yearn for that type of relationship :).
I have extreme trust issues. I’m only 16. I don’t trust my friends or family I feel like they could leave at any moment. I feel like this started when my best friend left me and said she just doesn’t like me anymore. I trusted her with my life and she betrayed me. Another thing is that I’ve never liked or dated anyone. I think this is encase my parents got divorced when I was 13 and I could never love someone ever again because I’m too afraid they’ll walk out of my life. I have a group of 3 friends Angel, Jayda, and Lisabel. I feel like Jayda helps me the most but Lisabel and Angel think it’s no big deal. But whenever those two have boy problems it’s a big deal and everyone needs to stop what they’re doing. Any advice?
Hi Lexi, thanks for your comment. You seem super wise and self-aware, and can see how “trust issues” might hold you back from vulnerability and connection. Honestly, my advice to you would be to see your school counselor! Take advantage of it while it’s free ;). That’s one person you can trust will keep things confidential, will have your back, and will be able to provide support and guidance through these common struggles you’re experiencing–also, I didn’t have my first boyfriend until I was in college, and lots of the clients I speak to are in their 30s and have never been in a relationship, so try not to judge yourself for that :). xx
Thanks for the article. I have written down your comments regarding mindfulness as it rang true with me. I am 39, 2 kids and in a relationship with a wonderful man but for some reason I need to rifle through his stuff and find secret moments to check his phone. We’ve been together 5 years and in my heart I know there’s nothing wrong! It is a great relationship but for some reason I need to jeapordise it. I haven’t found anything yet … probably never will but it does my head in when I think “what if”! I was at work today, everythimg goimg well and all of a sudden I started wondering if he was looking at porn on his phone… My heart raced, I felt sick and I’ve felt like it since. :(? I don’t know what to do to stop these thought.
this is awesome !
Thank you!! ❤
I also experience trust issues with my hubby probably because of what happened to us before (at the beginning of our relationship). I was actually an option for him and never his first choice which is really painful on my part since I love him so much. He cheated and I forgive him, and he did hurt me again still I forgive him. Thankfully, he had changed for the better and I’m really glad he did 🙂
I certainly agree with what you’ve mentioned “Love and risk of hurt go hand-in-hand”, and I’m always holding on this.The only difference is that I’m now I am certain that he loves me so much and that he will not do anything stupid to hurt me again unlike before that I don’t feel secured and often feel scared that he might this the same mistakes again.
There are also stories of real people similar with this issue so feel free to check it here:
I am a bit vary about your example dealing with the player. It is very healthy to question yourself when you make bad decisions in your life and accept that you have failed. I’ve been in a situation where I started a relationship with someone my best friend warned me about, and his warning turned out to be spot on. I just refused to see all the warning signs at the time.
Failures have a potential to be valuable lessons, but you have to be willing to accept the consequences of your own actions. For me that meant accepting that I am not always a good judge of character, eve less so when I have strong feelings of attraction. It is possible that I’ll make the same mistake again.
It taught me to move slower. Slowing things down has many advantages. It gives me more time to feel and think, it reveals a lot about the other person to me as masks begin to drop and vice versa. I’m currently with a person I have very strong feelings toward to, but it’s sill too early to say where things are heading. It is possible that we’re not a good mach, or that she won’t have similar feelings toward me. Or something totally else. But it’s good to be right at this moment, getting to know her and enjoying the time that we have together as things evolve.
Player is solely responsible for his/her actions and the shame is on them for whatever they have done. But as an adult human being, I am in charge of my own life and it is in my hands to craft my life into whatever I wish it to be. The choices I make define my life and it is my responsibility to make sure I have the best possible tools to make wise decisions, including about who I bring into this life I’ve worked hard to build. That means also that I need to look at myself critically and be ready to face my own shortcomings and failures. Validation can be helpful, but standing in front of the mirror naked and raw pushes you further.