Trust: A Complicated Relationship

My relationship with trust is... well, complicated, chaotic, and ever-changing! It is also affirming, inspiring, and reassuring! I suppose that takes us back to complicated.

I've spent my life vacillating between being too trusting and not trusting at all. Errors in judgment and taking the blame for other people's actions led me to having less than zero trust in my own judgment. I walked around terrified that if I trusted someone that by definition made them untrustworthy, but if I couldn't trust them then maybe I should trust them but if I trusted them.... Oh, what a tangled circle we twirl in when we practice illogical logic. Dizzy yet?

Anyway, at some point I convinced myself I trusted no one, not my friends, not my husband, not my family, not myself. I spiraled deep into that dizzying circle of mistrust, distrust, total lack of trust. Oh, I could put on the proper face at the proper time for the proper reason, but underneath every expression of trust was a loathing for the very concept of trust. I hated it. I wished someone would erase the word from existence, so I didn't have to feel this intense pressure to trust people the world said I should trust whether or not they had earned my trust.

Eventually, I started to break out of the spiral. It was both harder and easier than I expected. I was exhausted with the effort it took to always be on the lookout, to always keep my protective barriers up, to question every move, word, motive... I didn't want that life anymore.

I quit caring if people made a fool of me for caring about them or sharing with them or just being in their life. I really stopped caring. I stopped caring if someone else's actions or reactions would reflect badly on me. I freed myself from the baggage of having to trust others. I admitted, at least to myself, that I really didn't trust anyone, and then I told myself that was perfectly okay. A weight lifted off my shoulders, and I started looking for ways to re-engage. I stopped seeing every single slight, intentional or unintentional, as a sign of something greater than it was. I started accepting people as they came and just being myself instead of trying to appear perfect.

Perfection is nothing but an illusion.

As time went by and I realized trust wasn't this make it or break it thing, it was simply the guideline for how we treat one another, I found myself not weighing trust down with artificial conditions and tests. I started to let life unfold, to engage people where I found them from where I found myself, and to just be.

Life got easier. Relationships ran more smoothly and felt more fulfilling, even the superficial ones. Small betrayals often found easy resolution, and big betrayals felt more like lessons than life-destroying missiles aimed at my psyche.

Trust became just a part of any relationship, sometimes it was more important than others. Sometimes it didn't really matter at all.

I stopped believing trust was everything. I took the pressure off trust and brought it into the moment at hand.

Then I got hit by a truth that in earlier times in my life would have totally destroyed me, a disclosed betrayal that broke the bastion on which I'd rebuilt my ability to trust. Yet, as I listened, I didn't feel betrayed, I felt compassion.

Later, the fact of the betrayal hit me and so did the pain. I was honest about the effect the situation had on my ability to trust the person involved, but I didn't blame myself. I took my time to process. I wanted to be brave... but could I?

I set some boundaries. I got in touch with my values. I held myself with compassion. I looked for solutions rather than blame.

I waited for my old standbys to emerge. I waited for the rage. I waited for the self-destruction. I waited for the need to lash out. They never came. 

Instead, I felt heartache and uncertainty and vulnerability, the things that are usually behind anger for me. And, I allowed myself to feel them. I cried when I felt like crying. I asked for space when I needed it. I took my time and processed all my complicated reactions to trust.

When I couldn't trust, I said so without guilt or self-recrimination. When I was honest about the lost trust, it felt like a relief, especially when my honesty was met with understanding instead of a demand for trust. Trust is built on the small moments, and can only be rebuilt on small moments even though a big moment can crush it to dust in seconds.

One thing I knew for sure, I couldn't retreat into my fortress of mistrust, distrust, and total lack of trust. I didn't want to waste my energy on that kind of life. Not again. Not ever again.

So I made a choice. I stood in both my strength and my vulnerability, and I chose to stay in the moment whatever happened.

This brings me to the inspiration for this post... In December I signed up for Brené Brown's free class, The Anatomy of Trust, on COURAGEworks. I wasn't sure why I signed up. I'd already dealt with all my trust issues. I felt no need whatsoever to delve back into that place.


I watched the videos. I nodded. I printed out the worksheets. Her ideas made sense. They looked at trust in many of the same ways I'd come to see them, but they also looked at it in some different ways, ways that provoked thought. I promptly lost the worksheets among the piles of papers scattered around my office. I wasn't sure I needed to do this work anyway.

A few months later, I found the worksheets... And, I thought, oh, what the hell, I'll do them just so I can say I finished the class. I hate to leave things unfinished. Receiving an "incomplete" in college terrified me even more than failing... So, I looked at the sheets, and promptly realized I didn't even remember enough of the videos to do the exercises, so I watched the videos again and did the worksheets that applied to me, not all did because being a writer is quite the solitary occupation, so I skipped the ones related to workplace and co-workers.

As Brené talked about the elements of trust as she sees them, something she calls BRAVING, I couldn't help but think BRAVING was what I'd decided to do years ago when my lack of trust had finally exhausted me. I just never had a name for it. BRAVING is:
Trust is built in the little moments...


I know my boundaries and don't fear them. I work to be reliable and to surround myself with people who are also reliable. I hold myself accountable and try to let others know when their actions hurt me. I guard what people tell me and share my stories with only those who need to hear them or can help me. I live my values based on living from a place of love, and I allow others their values as long as they don't try to force them on others. I try to listen to others with an open mind and heart because everyone's story is theirs to live. I've discovered that most people don't intentionally set out to hurt others, so I try to give people the benefit of the doubt; however, I will enforce my boundaries when necessary.

I am no longer scared of my strength nor my vulnerability nor what someone else might choose to do. I fully accept that trying to control someone else's behavior to protect myself not only hurts me more but makes me complicit in the pain.

My responsibility is to live my life as best I can. Sometimes that will lead to joy and sometimes to sorrow. If I can see the moment for what it is, I can find a way to be at peace in my heart and mind. I can't control what anyone else does, ever, and it's not my responsibility to. Once, I released that need to be responsible for every single thing others did in our relationship, my life improved exponentially.
Standing in front of Monkey Face at Smith Rock
October 2015

I finally trust myself to stand on top of the mountain or on the creek bank whether the sun is shining or the rain is pouring and do what is right for me. As I said before, I am not broken and neither are you. We are all just doing the best we can with our perfectly imperfect selves in an imperfect world.

Be honest with yourself. Understand if you cannot trust right now, don't force it. Let it grow over time as the people around you do the small things that are worthy of trust and you do those things for yourself. Live your life in a way that lets others know they can trust you, do those little things every chance you get. This is what I remind myself every day.

As I progressed through the process of understanding the role trust plays in my life, I wrote numerous poems. Some of those poems appear in my books, Strength in Silhouette: Poems and Vulnerability in Silhouette: Poems

I finally found the courage to embrace one of the most important lessons I've ever learned.

Trust cannot be forced. Trust grows moment by moment. Trust requires both strength and vulnerability. Trust happens while we're busy getting to know one another. Trust is an ongoing process not an end goal. Trust is something we wake up and realize has been there for awhile but can't quite pinpoint when we moved into that place where trust feels natural.


  1. A beautiful exploration of your experience of trust Tammy. I've had more people talking about how difficult it is for them to learn to trust once they've experienced loss, betrayal, or disappointments of some kind. This was so deeply meaningful. Perfect. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much, Catherine! To know my words touched you means so much!


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