Trust issues: how to identify them and stop them ruining your relationships

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Trust issues - everything you need to know

You’ve probably heard the old adage: Trust is built in drops and lost in buckets

Building trust is a difficult and time-consuming process. But trust is also extremely fragile. In an instant, all your efforts can go up in smoke, like a beautiful sandcastle crushed by a large wave breaking on the shore. 

Although trust has been studied for decades, scientists have struggled to come up with a comprehensive definition. The truth is we still don’t know as much as we’d like about the cognitive structure of trust. However, from a psychological perspective, we know that relationships can never truly flourish without a degree of trust.

Maybe you’ve been hurt and betrayed more times than you can count. Perhaps you’ve seen too many of your beautiful sandcastles turn to dust over the years. If you have trust issues, chances are that you quickly jump to conclusions as you anticipate the worst outcome for each possibility.

What are trust issues?

When we talk about trust issues, we usually refer to feelings, actions, and general behavior deeply rooted in negative thoughts, suspicion, and jealousy. 

You can think of trust issues as a coping mechanism. The one thing people with low trust levels have in common is that they’ve all been let down before. With that in mind, we can confidently posit that irrational fear is what causes trust issues.

If you don’t trust your partner, chances are that you’re afraid they might cheat on you with someone else. If you don’t trust your closest friend, you may fear they’ll use your weaknesses to humiliate or hurt you. If you don’t trust your boss, it might be because you’re afraid of their ulterior motives. 

For individuals with trust issues, something valuable to them is always on the line. Their fear and insecurities take over, making them feel like they need to constantly test others. In their mind, everyone is unreliable, deceptive, and untrustworthy by default—a dangerous perspective that can easily tear relationships apart. 

Put yourself in your partner’s/friend’s shoes, though: your suspicious feelings assume that they are actually likely to do what you fear the most, even if that’s not close to the truth. The worst is already assumed, and that’s what can hurt the most.

How do I fix my trust issues?

The key to alleviating problems of trust is patience.

By learning how to work through trust issues over time, you, too, can build—and rebuild—trust. Once you’ve mastered the art of turning the “trust switch” on, you’ll immediately experience new intimate connections with the people closest to you. You’ll liberate yourself from your own negative thinking, and your relationships will feel so much more real and genuine as a result. 

Learning how to deal with trust issues is really just a matter of doing away with fear and fully embracing all your emotions. This may not make too much sense right now, but we’ll explain how it all works in a few moments. First, we need to take a deep dive into the heart of the problem, as we learn to spot the signs that point toward underlying trust issues.

To fix your trust issues, the first step is to identify them. 

What are the signs of trust issues?

It’s not always easy to tell whether your trust issues come from rational observations or irrational fear. If you suspect that you suspect others a bit too much, look out for these 7 signs of lack of trust:

  • You feel like you know exactly how people will hurt you. It’s perfectly normal not to trust those who’ve been dishonest in the past. However, If you question people who’ve done nothing to earn your distrust and allow past experiences to cloud your judgment, your depressing visions of the future are just unfounded prophecies. In that case, you might be the one sabotaging your present relationships.
  • You dread commitment. How can you emotionally commit to a relationship when you’re constantly anticipating loss and failure? You dread commitment because deep inside, you’re convinced that betrayal is inevitable. For you, it’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.
  • You’re overprotective. Caring about the people you love is healthy, but being overprotective is a whole different story. It’s a sign of fear and insecurity that can quickly wear out any partner.
  • You isolate yourself from the world. With trust issues come cynicism and self-isolation. You tend to withdraw from stressful environments and situations, and you don’t really seek new relationships or nurture existing ones.
  • You have a hard time opening up. If you believe that everyone’s out to hurt you, it’d make sense to keep your deepest worries and emotions hidden. You’re afraid that people won’t understand you or that they may judge you for who you are. Research shows that by hiding your true emotions, you’re likely compromising your emotional well-being. And that can have serious consequences in the long run.
  • You start fights. Do you often pick fights with your partner over petty things? Your lack of trust and unwillingness to face the underlying issues can make you moody and irritable. 
  • You feel lonely, even when surrounded by people who love you. Trust issues come with large doses of fear, insecurity, and desperation. If you’re good at sweeping your negative emotions under the rug and putting on a happy face, people won’t ever have a chance to know your true self. That can make you feel incredibly lonely, even in a room full of people that really care about you.

We live in a ruthless world dominated by betrayal and dishonesty. But there’s also plenty of love and understanding for those who give and seek trust. Your suspicions aren’t always unfounded, but learning how to deal with trust issues can be profoundly rewarding. It won’t be easy, but with less fear and an open perspective, you can find the strength to trust without fear.

Is having trust issues a disorder?

No, having trust issues is certainly not a disorder. Although people with underlying conditions (e.g., anxiety, depression, PTSD) are more likely to have trust issues, anyone can show signs of suspicious and jealous behavior. 

After all, jealousy and suspicion are built into our DNA. Joshua Coleman explains how we take advantage of hypervigilance to learn from our past experiences and survive despite repeated betrayal. You can’t—and shouldn’t—blindly trust everyone.

But if you spend hours playing imaginary movies in your head and going over terrible scenarios of how people are about to betray you, the problem probably lies with you—not them. The signs are there; you just need to open your eyes and see them.

That being said, if you suffer from a persistent fear of getting hurt by a romantic partner, you may have philophobia. Philophobia has Greek origins and comprises two words: “phileo,” which means to love, and the common root “phobia,” which means fear (literally, fear of love). People with philophobia can get nauseous or lightheaded just by talking—or even hearing—about love and relationships.

If you find it hard to make emotional connections with people in general, you could describe your condition as pistanthrophobia. From the Greek words human (anthropos), faith (piste), and fear (phobos), pistanthrophobia roughly translates to “fear of trusting people.” 

As with most irrational phobias, both philophobia and pistanthrophobia are not classified as disorders since their symptoms are only triggered in specific situations. A mental health professional can easily help with the diagnosis but bear in mind that both of these phobias are still heavily under-researched.

How do you deal with trust issues in a relationship?

Lack of trust can ruin relationships. Putting confidence in your partner is probably the single most important prerequisite for a lasting, loving relationship. Of course, you can’t learn how to get over trust issues overnight. But if you want to be truly happy with someone, you need to let go of your prejudiced, subconscious worries. 

Dating someone with trust issues is never easy. Here’s what you can do to overcome common trust issues in your relationship:

  • Stop monitoring their actions. This can be extremely difficult, especially if you’re used to knowing what your partner is doing at all times. Give them some space and show that you choose trust over suspicion. Stop calling them every five minutes, and resist the urge to sneak a peek at their phone when they’re away.
  • Speak up. If you have a reason to feel jealous or suspicious, make sure you communicate it early with your partner. Problems won’t magically disappear; you have to open your communication and be honest about everything—especially the things that aren’t working out as well as you’d like.
  • Recognize that you’ve been hurt in the past. There are some things we like to keep to ourselves. You don’t have to share details about your past relationships with your current partner if you don’t feel comfortable. However, remember: While you may have experienced pain before, your current partner isn’t to blame for that pain—they weren’t the ones that hurt you. Identify these negative emotions, and assure yourself that the people that caused you pain are no longer around.
  • Don’t keep too many secrets. Your partner deserves to know the real you, genuine and unfiltered. Instead of keeping secrets from your significant other, try to share secrets with them. Honesty brings honesty, and you’ll find that opening up more often will bring you closer together, even if it feels a little daunting at the time. 
  • Try to see your relationship through their eyes. Empathy is a sign of high emotional intelligence. Next time you feel like letting your insecurities take control, put yourself in your partner’s shoes. How would you feel if you were constantly monitored and accused of things you’ve never done?

Trust issues in relationships should be addressed as soon as possible. If all else fails, therapy is always an option. A professional couples’ counselor can help explain exactly how distrust affects your relationship and help you come up with solutions to your problems. If you’ve never thought of trying it, give it a go - it might be more powerful than you think. 

How do you deal with trust issues in the workplace?

Building trust at work isn’t that different from building trust in a romantic relationship. If you want to be seen as a reliable colleague that others can depend on, you need to:

  • Appreciate your team and be honest with them. Honesty is key to any healthy relationship, but so is appreciation. Remember to acknowledge your team’s hard work and give praise when it’s due.
  • Avoid gossip like the plague. Gossip is a sign of a toxic work environment. Building trust at the expense of others is a recipe for disaster. Even then, those who gossip don’t really trust each other—mainly due to fear of having the same people also talk behind their back.
  • Be consistent. It’s hard to trust someone when their mood is changing all the time. Just as you’re expected to consistently deliver and perform, you’re also expected to remain calm and keep a cool head even when under a lot of pressure.
  • Pay attention to your body language. Not everyone’s made for stressful work environments, but you can use body language to make people feel more comfortable around you. Make yourself more approachable by maintaining eye contact and turning to face the person you’re interacting with. Don’t cross your arms, hide your face, or put objects between you and your interlocutor.
  • Share information. If you learned something useful that could make your coworker’s lives easier, don’t keep it to yourself—share it with them! If colleagues know that you’re not keeping things secret to gain a competitive advantage, they’re likely to reciprocate when the time comes for them. Everybody wins. 

Trust doesn’t come easy

Learning how to overcome trust issues and facing your fear of loss, failure, and disappointment is nothing short of challenging. But is it really worth it, and how can you trust the right people?

The short answer is: there’s no way to know. You can either:

  • Trust people for as long as your trust in them is justified.
  • Never trust anyone in fear of betrayal.

The first choice is the better one, of course. It’s risky, but it gives people around you the benefit of the doubt. Pain and betrayal are inevitable in some parts of life, but if you instead decide never to trust again, you won’t get a chance to form strong and meaningful bonds with anyone.

When it comes to relationships, fear is never a good counselor. With little to no evidence, it’s always better to assume people are honest and reliable rather than evil and deceitful. Work on your trust issues as often as you can, and don’t give in to cynicism. 

The few trustworthy people you’ll end up with will most likely make up for the pain you endured by trusting those who ultimately let you down.

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