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Building Trust

Chapter 5: Building Trust

Tools for Personal Growth

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What is trust?

Trust is:

  • Letting others know your feelings, emotions and reactions, and having the confidence in them to respect you and to not take advantage of you.
  • Sharing your inner feelings and thoughts with others with the belief that they will not spread them indiscriminately.
  • Placing confidence in others so that they will be supportive and reinforcing of you, even if you let down your "strong" mask and show your weaknesses.
  • Assuming that others will not intentionally hurt or abuse you if you should make an error or a mistake.
  • The inner sense of acceptance you have of others with whom you are able to share secrets, knowing they are safe.
  • The sense that things are fine; that nothing can disrupt the bond between you and the other.
  • The ability to let others into your life so that you and they can create a relationship built on an understanding of mutual respect, caring, and concern to assist one another in growing and maturing independently.
  • The glue or cement of relationships that allows you to need others to fulfill yourself.
  • Opening yourself up to let others in on your background, problems, concerns, and mistakes with the assurance that they will not ostracize you because of these things.
  • The act of placing yourself in the vulnerable position of relying on others to treat you in a fair, open, and honest way.

Why do people have trouble developing trust in others?

People have trouble developing trust if they have:

  • Experienced a great deal of emotional and/or physical abuse and/or neglect.
  • Been chronically put down for the way they feel or for what they believe.
  • Been emotionally hurt in the past and are not willing to risk getting hurt in the future.
  • Had problem relationships in the past where they were belittled, misunderstood, or ignored.
  • Experienced the loss of a loved one through death. They can get so caught up in unresolved grief that they are unable to open themselves up to others, fearing they will be left alone again due to death, or, abandonment.
  • Experienced a hostile or bitter divorce, separation, or end of a relationship. They may be unable to believe anyone who opens up to them in a new, committed relationship.
  • Been reared in or have lived in an environment emotionally and/or physically unpredictable and volatile.
  • Experienced a great deal of pain at the hands of another. Even if the other finally recognizes and accepts the responsibility to change such behavior, the person fears that if they let their guard down, the pain and hurt will begin again.
  • Low self-esteem and cannot believe that they are deserving of the attention, care, and concern of anyone. They have problems even trusting the positive, healthy, and reinforcing behavior of another who is sincere.
  • Experienced a great deal of nonprovoked victimization in their lives. They are unwilling to trust people, situations, or institutions for fear of being victimized again.

What are some beliefs of people who have problems trusting?

  • I have been hurt too much in the past, and I refuse to be hurt again now or in the future!
  • People are out to get all they can from you, so avoid them to survive!
  • As soon as you let your guard down, you will be stepped on again!
  • No one is to be trusted!
  • You always get hurt by the ones you love!
  • I get no respect from anyone!
  • All men (or women) are dishonest and are never to be trusted!
  • Everyone is out to get me!
  • I am never successful in picking partners, so why try again!
  • As soon as you care and open up to someone, they will always leave you!
  • Marriage is the pits!
  • There is no such thing as a healthy relationship!
  • You can never let your guard down because all hell will break loose!
  • All reformations are short-lived!
  • If I give in and believe you have truly changed, relaxing my defenses, I am most certainly going to be hurt again once you backslide!
  • There is no such thing as change in behavior. It is only manipulation by others to get their way with you!
  • Everyone is out to get as much as they can out of you!
  • There is no such thing as a fair employer, generous company, or supportive work place!
  • It is better to live alone for the rest of my life than to risk being hurt as I was!
  • I will never let you know my true feelings again since, if I do open up, I'm afraid you will use them against me to hurt me!

What behavior traits do people need in order to develop trust?

People need to develop the following behavior traits, attitudes, and beliefs in order to develop trust:


Hope in the goodness of mankind: Without such hope people can become emotionally stuck, reclusive, and isolated. Hope in goodness is a change based on the willingness to take a risk that all people are not evil, bad, or ill-willed.


Faith in the fairness of life:  This faith in fairness is similar to the “boomerang belief” that what you throw out to others will come back to you eventually in life. So if people are fair, honest, or nurturing they will eventually receive similar behavior aimed back at them. Having faith in fairness is an attitude that helps people be open to others and risk being vulnerable. They believe that the person who treats them negatively will eventually “get it in the end!” and be punished in someway later in this life or in the next.

Belief in a power greater than yourself: This is the acceptance of a spiritual power with greater strength, wisdom, and knowledge than you; one with a divine plan to include your experience, whatever you will encounter in life. Rather than believing that you are 100% in control of your destiny, belief in this spiritual power enables you to let go of over responsibility, guilt, and anger. This lets you accept God's will in your life and enables you to let go of your distrust and isolation from others. If God is in control of the universe, you can lighten your load and let God do some of the leading in your life. “Let go and let God” can be your motto.


A healing environment: This is the creating of a trust bond with the significant others in your personal life where blaming, accusing, and acrimony do not exist. In the healing mode the participants actively use forgiveness, understanding, and healthy communication to resolve problems and issues. The participants are then willing to forget, to let go, and to release themselves of the past hurts, wounds, and pain, opening themselves to trust one another.


Reduction of a sense of competition: This reducing of competition, jealousy, and defensiveness with significant others in your life is a way to reduce the barriers between you and them. The lowering of these psychological barriers is essential to the movement toward development of mutual trust.


Self-disclosure of negative self-scripts: Your disclosing of your inability to feel good about yourself and your perceived lack of healthy self-esteem are essential in reducing miscommunication or misunderstanding between you and the significant others in your life. This self-disclosure reveals to the others your perspective on obstacles you believe you bring to relationships. This sheds the mask of self-defensiveness and allows the other to know you as you know yourself. It is easier to trust that which is real than that which is unreal or hidden.


Taking a risk to be open to others:  This enables you to become a real person to others. It is an essential behavior in trust-building between two people because it is the establishing of the parameters of strengths and weaknesses on which you have to draw as the relationship develops.


Becoming vulnerable: This enables you to be hurt by others who know your weaknesses and strengths. This is an essential step in trust-building between people. It lays the cards on the table in a gamble that in such total self-revelation the others will accept you for who you really are rather than for who they want you to be. In order to get to full self-disclosure you must take the risk to be vulnerable to others. This is an important building block in trust development.


Letting go of fear:  Fear restricts your actions with others. Letting go frees you of behavioral constraints that can immobilize your emotional development. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of caring, fear of success, fear of being hurt, fear of the unknown, and fear of intimacy are blocks to the development of trust relationships and can impede relationship growth if not given appropriate attention and remedial action.


Self-acceptance:  Accepting who you are and what your potential is an important step in letting down your guard enough to develop a trusting relationship with others. If you are so insecure in your identity that you are unable to accept yourself first, how can you achieve the self-revelation necessary to develop trust? Self-acceptance through an active program of self-affirmation and self-love is a key to the development of trust.

What steps can be taken to improve trust building?


Step 1:  Read the material in this chapter and answer the following questions in your journal:

  1. Am I lacking trust in persons, groups, or institutions? If yes, in which persons, groups, or institutions do I lack trust? How does this lack of trust manifest itself? This lack of trust looks like:
  2. Why do I lack trust in the persons, groups, or institutions listed above in my answer to the first question?''
  3. What beliefs do I hold that are behind my lack of trust in the persons, groups, or institutions listed in my response to the first question?'
  4. What new behavior trait(s) do I need to acquire or develop in order to develop trust in the person, group, or institution listed in my response to the first question?'


Step 2:  Now you should have a good idea of where your lack of trust lies. Why is this so? To change some beliefs and to remediate this situation:

  • Take the beliefs identified in Step 1 #3 and use the Tools for Personal Growth Handling Irrational Beliefs and use the refuting irrational beliefs model to get replacement beliefs. Let go of the old beliefs.
  • Take the new behavior listed in Step 1 #4 and use the self-affirmation process in Tools for Personal Growth Self-Affirmations to make the new beliefs real for you.
Step 3:  Once you have let go of your irrational beliefs and have begun affirming new personal beliefs, try one or both of the following exercises to assist your development of trust:

Letter writing

To a person you have problems trusting, write a letter listing your reasons for the lack of trust, list the feelings and beliefs that block your trust, and ask the person to understand and assist you in this problem. Tell the person what you are willing to do and to commit to in order to change this situation. Also, tell the person what you are unwilling to do because of your personal integrity. Once you have written the letter you have three choices: (1) send it, (2) save it, or (3) rip it up and throw it away. No matter what your choice is, you have spent the time to think out this problem and have identified your feelings, beliefs, and the behaviors involved. You have cleared your own “air waves” even if you never send the letter.

Trust walk

Ask the individual you have been having problems trusting to share at least ninety minutes together. During this time you and the person will each take thirty minute turns being “blinded” with a cloth and led by the ”sighted” person on a walk in a park, mall, neighborhood, or building. The sighted person must give clear, precise verbal instructions and must not hold on to or grab the blinded person. The blinded person is allowed only to hold on to the left upper or lower arm or elbow of the sighted' person. The blinded person can ask as many questions as needed. The blinded person does not determine the route of the walk. The sighted guide determines the route and destination of this walk. At the end of the first thirty minute walk, the two people exchange roles and blindfold and proceed with the second part of the walk for another thirty minutes.
When both parties have played both roles, they should spend at least another thirty minutes discussing:
  1. How comfortable was I in trusting you?
  2. How comfortable was I in the “sighted” role?
  3. How comfortable was I in the “blinded” role?
  4. How important was mutual trust in making the trust walk successful?
  5. What were my feelings as I was being blindfolded?
  6. What were my feelings as the sighted guide?
  7. How clear were my verbal instructions for you?
  8. How could I have improved my guidance?
  9. How willing were you to accept my guidance?
  10. What does this experience tell us about our trust of one another?
  11. What does this experience tell me about my fear of loss of personal control?
  12. What does this experience tell us about changes we need to make to develop mutual trust?
  13. How willing are we to take a trust walk once a month or until we have established a healthy level of trust in one another?
  14. What are the remaining blocks to developing a sense of trust between us?
  15. What are we willing to do to continue developing our sense of trust?

Step 4: If after completing Steps 1, 2, and 3 you still have problems developing trust in a person, group, or institution, return to Step 1 and begin again.