Our natural tendency is to trust, because, as infants, we trust our parents. It feels good to really trust. It is also an essential component of love and an important test thereof. Love without trust is dependence masquerading as love.
We must trust, it is almost biological. Most of the time, we do trust. We trust the universe to behave according to the laws of physics, soldiers to not go mad and shoot at us, our nearest and dearest to not betray us. When our trust is broken, we feel as though a part of us had died and had been hollowed out.
To not trust is abnormal and is the outcome of bitter or even traumatic life experiences. Mistrust or distrust are induced not by our own thoughts, nor by some device or machination of ours — but by life’s sad circumstances. To continue to not trust is to reward the people who had wronged us and rendered us distrustful in the first place. Those people have long abandoned us and yet they still have a great, malign, influence on our lives. This is the irony of being distrustful of others.
So, some of us prefer to not experience that sinking feeling of trust violated. Some people choose to not trust and thus skirt disappointment. This is both a fallacy and a folly. Trusting releases enormous amounts of mental energy, which is more productively vested elsewhere. But trust — like knives — can be dangerous to your health if used improperly.
You have to know WHO to trust, you have to learn HOW to trust and you have to know HOW to CONFIRM the existence of a mutual, functional sort of trust.
People often disappoint and are not worthy of trust. Some of them act arbitrarily, treacherously and viciously, or, worse, offhandedly. You have to select the targets of your trust carefully. He who has the most common interests with you, who is invested in you for the long haul, who is incapable of breaching trust (“a good person”), who doesn’t have much to gain from betraying you — is not likely to mislead you. These people you can trust.
You should not trust indiscriminately. No one is completely trustworthy in all fields. Most often our disappointments stem from our inability to separate one realm of life from another. A person could be sexually loyal — but utterly dangerous when it comes to money (for instance, a gambler). Or a good, reliable father — but a womanizer. You can trust someone to carry out some types of activities — but not others (because they are more complicated, more boring, or do not conform to his values.)
We should not trust with reservations: this is the kind of “trust” that is common in business and among criminals and its source is rational. Game Theory in mathematics deals with questions of calculated trust.
If we do trust, we should trust wholeheartedly and unreservedly. But, we should be discerning. Then we will be rarely disappointed.
As opposed to popular opinion, trust must be put to the test, lest it goes stale and staid. We are all somewhat paranoid. We gradually grow suspicious, inadvertently hunt for clues of infidelity or worse. The more often we successfully test the trust we had established, the stronger our pattern-prone brain embraces it. Constantly in a precarious balance, our brain needs and devours reinforcements. Such testing should not be explicit but circumstantial: your husband could easily have had a mistress or your partner could easily have robbed you blind — and, yet, they haven’t. They have passed the test. They have resisted the temptation.
Trust is based on the ability to foretell the future. It is not so much the act of betrayal that we react to as it is the feeling that the very foundations of our world are crumbling, that it is no longer safe because it is no longer predictable.
Here is another important lesson: whatever the act of betrayal (with the exception of grave criminal corporeal acts), it has limited and reversible consequences if you do not let it get out of hand.
Naturally, we tend to exaggerate the importance of such mishaps. This serves a double purpose: indirectly it aggrandizes us. If we are “worthy” of such an unprecedented, unheard of, major betrayal we must be worthwhile and unique. The magnitude of the betrayal reflects on us and re-establishes the fragile balance of powers between us and the universe.
The second purpose of exaggerating the act of perfidy is simply to gain sympathy and empathy — mainly from ourselves, but also from others. Catastrophes are a dozen a dime and in today’s world it is difficult to provoke anyone to regard your personal disaster as anything exceptional.
Amplifying the event has, therefore, some very utilitarian purposes. But, finally, blowing things out of proportion poisons the victim’s mental circuitry. Putting a breach of trust in perspective goes a long way towards the commencement of a healing process. No betrayal stamps the world irreversibly or eliminates all other possibilities, opportunities, chances and people. Time goes by, people meet and part, lovers quarrel and make love, dear ones live and die. It is the very essence of time that it reduces us all to the finest dust. Our only weapon — however crude and naîve — against this inexorable process is to trust each other.
by Sam Vaknin, PhD, the author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited” and other books about personality disorders.
Read “Infidelity: ‘After multiple affairs, he promised he’d never cheat on me again. Can I trust him this time?’” by Alison Poulsen, PhD.