Do you notice yourself second-guessing most people?
Is the lack of trust you feel with others impacting your relationships?
Did you know that lack of trusting others can be a trauma response?
Do you worry that your trauma responses are getting in the way of healing?
Do you feel your inability to trust people is holding you back?
Trouble trusting can be a familiar struggle on the road to recovery from complex trauma. And if you’re wondering about this, you’re not alone! Today we’re going to talk about why trauma survivors don’t trust, and how to continue on your road to healing, while also honoring this protective part of yourself.
Why is it so hard for trauma survivors to trust?
Complex trauma survivors rarely trust people — of course! Because they were betrayed by the exact relationships that were supposed to take care of them. Even if it’s been years since the trauma occurred, trust likely doesn’t come naturally to you.
Even if you acknowledge that there is work to do … even if you acknowledge that you want to heal … even if you acknowledge that you were powerless over what happened to you — this doesn’t mean you will SUDDENLY trust people. And guess what? That makes complete sense!
Of course, trusting doesn’t come naturally to you! And that doesn’t mean that trust isn’t possible. It is! Because hurt that happened relationally actually heals from (likely other) relationships. While childhood relationships may have hurt you (and maybe some adult ones, too), you can have adult relationships that help you heal. This is one of the foundations that trauma-informed therapy is based on!
When trust is nurtured in childhood vs. when it’s not.
If someone’s primary caretakers were trustworthy, predictable, and kept them safe, they learned a felt sense of secure attachment. Trust was nurtured into them. They grew up believing that in general, people would do what they said and it was caretaking of them — because that is what they experienced. (This doesn’t mean the relationship was perfect and there was never discord; but in a securely attached relationship, attunement occurs, and ruptures are repaired. Here’s an example: “I’m sorry I raised my voice earlier. It wasn’t your fault. I’m still working on managing my big emotions!”)
If someone was raised in an environment with avoidant, anxious or disorganized attachment — where abuse, betrayal, neglect, or uncertainty was present — they learned early on that people are unreliable or unpredictable and that they can’t be trusted. This makes sense. Since this was their experience, why would they trust?! It was survival to not trust!
Here’s the good news: Even if secure attachment wasn’t learned or felt in childhood, it can be felt and learned NOW. This is the work of trauma-informed therapy!
“For many people, just getting up and facing the day requires more courage than anyone around them will ever know.”
-Dr. Glenn Patrick Doyle
Starting to consider trusting someone IS a victory.
If you are a complex trauma survivor who struggles with lack-of-trust, you are not alone! And you are right to question whether or not you can trust people. Your past showed you that you could not! And it doesn’t mean that nobody can be trusted — ever.
As a wise adult who is currently living with safety, you can have a different life experience than you did as a child. You can have safe, secure relationships where people truly care about you and have your best interest at heart. I hope you’ve seen glimpses of this already!
If you have even considered, “Maybe I can trust someone, someday” — then the healing has already begun. There is likely some reason that you believe that you might want to trust others — that there is value in doing that. Healing is the desire to trust others — the desire to believe that life can be different than it was growing up. You’re already healing if:
- You want to trust that loved ones won’t ever hurt you intentionally.
- You want to trust that something like a compliment is genuine, and not being used to manipulate you.
- You want to trust that it’s okay to be vulnerable.
- You want to be in a healthy relationship.
You want to trust, and of course all of these things feel so foreign to you!
Trust likely won’t come easy, and that’s okay.
While lack of trust may be ‘getting in the way’, it also IS the way forward. Once you understand why trust is hard, you can start to notice those opportunities where giving trust in small ways might be possible to start, then moving towards that increased trust!
Building even a tiny bit of trust is a huge victory, as it’s common for trauma survivors to always be waiting for the other shoe to drop. However, those bits of trust can grow and grow!
It’s not to say you won’t experience bumps in the road. When you find someone where there is enough safety to start to build trust, you may experience lots of new feelings. There may be sadness or grief, in realizing that you never had this kind of safety or trust before. There may be fear and panic, as this feels so unusual to you. There may even be defense mechanisms (protective parts) that arise, and you begin to allow this trust into your heart. This is all part of the process. And it will get easier over time.
Even if lack of trust is ‘getting in the way’, what is the alternative?
To blindly trust people is impossible.
To override your once-necessary mechanism of protection wouldn’t be true to yourself, and it wouldn’t be honoring those protective parts that kept you safe for all this time.
Building trust is a process.
Please take this one step or day at a time.
Please be gentle with yourself. That is part of the healing. And healing doesn’t happen all at once. It happens gradually. My belief is that if you’re reading this, you’re already on the way. Maybe you’re:
- looking for the helpers
- being curious for yourself — looking at the possibilities available, and holding hope
- working on expanding your window of tolerance
- taking steps toward vulnerability
- being more compassionate with yourself — and others
- noticing your needs
- setting boundaries and taking care of yourself
- feeling ALL the feelings
- acknowledging past trauma — and applauding how far you’ve come
- building a strategy for coping with the hard parts of life
If you’re a complex trauma survivor, you may never blindly or instantly trust someone. And that’s OKAY.
You can still learn to trust yourself and others.
You can still have authentic relationships and find healing in them.
Trust can be earned … and the healthy relationships that grow as a result are worth it!
Whether it’s in a therapeutic relationship, with a friend, with a sponsor, or even in polite exchanges with someone at the local grocery store, I know trust can be built — and I wish trusting relationships for you, wherever you’re comfortable starting.
- 10 Ways Trauma-Informed Therapy Can Help You Navigate Change
- How to Heal Trauma By Understanding Your Attachment Style
- Feelings: The Other F-Word for Trauma Survivors