Distrust: Building trust in relationships and with God

man standing alone at a window. how to build trust when you have trust issues
Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Distrust: it is an unpleasant feeling that we have all experienced in our lives. How many of us have said out loud in moments of betrayal or feeling disappointed by someone: “trust nobody” or “I will never trust anyone again”? Distrust is sometimes necessary in our lives. If someone betrays our trust, then we learn to not trust them with our deepest secrets. However, due to our upbringing or traumatic incidents, some of us have an incredibly difficult time placing trust in others, no matter how well-intentioned they may be. Severe distrust in others keeps us from having deep and meaningful relationships with others – something that we all need to thrive as human beings. How do we deal with this emotion when it becomes debilitating? How can we build trust in relationships?

What is trust?

First and foremost, let’s start off by defining what trust is. Trust is a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. Trust involves having confidence in oneself or another in being able to do something without fear or misgiving.

How do we first develop trust?

How children learn to trust was a fundamental question explored by several developmental psychologists of the 20th century, notably Erik Erikson, John Bowlby, and Donald Winnicott. Each wrote extensively about trust and the key role it plays in children’s’ ongoing growth and development.

Higher levels of trust in children are closely related to secure attachment patterns – meaning that a basic level of trust is absolutely necessary between the child and primary caregiver relationship for the healthy, psychological development of the child.

Childhood experiences that contribute to trust issues later in life can include:
– Dishonesty and broken promises by parents
– Outburst of rage by the promises
– Incidents of abuse
– Parental marital conflicts
– Communication inconsistencies such as mixed and doubled messages
– Obvious display of favoritism

Teenage experiences that contribute to trust issues later in life can include:
– Social rejection
– Bullying
– Outcasted by peers

Being betrayed and belittled by others will impact self-esteem. Self-esteem plays a large role in a person’s capacity to trust. If we were hurt by our parents or close friends, we may see other people from a skewed perspective and develop harsh, cynical attitudes towards them.

Dramatic life events such as being involved in an accident, any physical and violent attacks, theft or damage to personal property, illness, loss of a loved one, being cheated on, or abandoned for another person, military combat, wartime events –  all of these incidents can erode the feeling of trust that a person may have for others.

Trust issues can be associated with depression, adjustment disorders, anxiety, fear of abandonment, attachment issues, post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia, among others.

Shirley Glass, a relationship expert states that intimate relationships are contingent on honesty and openness. They are only built and maintained through our faith that we can believe what we are being told. A relationship is held together by trust which facilitates a positive, emotional connection between partners based on affection, love, and loyalty. By contrast, mistrust can obstruct even the most loving adult relationships.

What happens when we have trust issues:

Dr. John Townsend describes several common experiences of damaged trust. In his book Beyond Boundaries: Learning to Trust Again in Relationships, he reviews 4 ways a person can act when they have unresolved damage and trust issues:

– Withdrawal behavior: Instead of being vulnerable and carefree which is normal in a trusting relationship, you become more reserved in sharing personal information. You quit taking risks in the relationship because the safety net of indifference has been removed. Loneliness and feelings of dread are common.

– Movement to tasks: To compensate for the lack of trust in a relationship, you may over-invest in tasks related to hobbies, work, school, church, or other activities. Or you may stay active in other parts of your life outside of your relationship because you find it easier to “do” rather than to connect.

– Unbalanced giver relationships: Townsend points out that it is common for a person to be a “giver” in a relationship and avoid being a receiver if they don’t have trust in the other person. Being a giver allows the person to remain “safe” from being vulnerable to the other person. You may listen, help, guide others but withhold letting others to help you.

– Bad habits: Trust issues often lead to problematic behavior issues in your life. It is easy to suppress emotional problems by overeating, drinking too much, or other addictive behaviors.

4 principles for building trust in a relationship:

The best way to prevent distrust from ruining your relationships is to proactively focus on building trust. Trust must be continually developed and nurtured throughout the course of a relationship – not just when it has been damaged.

Let’s review the 4 general principles for enhancing and building trust in a relationship:

– Honesty and integrity: Honesty and integrity are the keys to any successful relationship. Being transparent takes risk and courage. It is sometimes tempting to hide what you don’t want to show others. Lacking honesty and integrity in your dealings with others pose an even greater risk in preventing deep and meaningful relationships – even altogether destroying them.

– Understanding: There must be a conscious acknowledgment regarding the inherent value of the other person no matter what speech and behavior are displeasing to you. Mature love involves an appreciation and respect of the uniqueness of the other person. The differences between two individuals with their own opinions and views need to be appreciated rather than irreconcilable which fosters more distrust.

– Direct communication: To enhance mutual trust, we must also learn how to communicate our wishes and desires directly. When people are straightforward in asking for what they want in a relationship, they feel more vulnerable and open to loving and being loved. We also need to become more aware of any discrepancies between our words and actions.

– Openness to feedback: The ability to be open to criticism and feedback from your partner is an incredibly difficult skill to have – but absolutely essential in relationships. Being open to constructive criticism and feedback creates an opportunity for positive change as well as reciprocity. The more open you are towards feedback, this will encourage your partner or friend to do the same, creating deeper trust in each other.

When distrust is helpful and protective:

Sometimes, distrust is actually healthy and protective. It is important to discern between unconditional trust that can lead to non-beneficial relationships or even dangerous ones. It keeps us from trusting in those who want to do harm to us like con artists and scammers. However, persistent and chronic trust issues, especially at unreasonably high levels, can lead one to become cynical and scornful towards other people. These negative attitudes are corrosive to the human spirit. They can hurt us and our loved ones.

Trust matters a great deal. It helps preserve love, affection, and tenderness that partners and loved ones feel towards each other. If you are aware that you are dealing with trust issues that may be affecting your relationships, that is the first step to being vulnerable enough to share about that either with the most trusted person in your life or with a professional counselor. Seek professional counseling if the trust issues are related to past trauma, or severe depression or anxiety.

Distrust in our spiritual lives towards God:

If God is perfect and His love for us is perfect, then why do many of us experience distrust in our spiritual lives? Why do many of us doubt God – either His existence or the plan He has for us? Doesn’t mistrust come from past experiences of being disappointed, betrayed, and hurt?

We must remember trust is not a feeling. It is a determined thought, an intentional decision to believe. Relying on emotions or feelings in order to trust can become unhealthy, especially when it comes to God’s word or His promises. We can interchange the word ‘trust’ for ‘faith.’

How can we have faith in God?

Romans 10:17: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

In other words: the more we hear the Word, the more faith we have in God. We must hold onto God’s truth and his promises, no matter what. What are some important promises that God has given us that we need to hold onto and have faith in?:

– God loves us: Remember the verse John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

– He sent Jesus to die for us, for you, and me, and destroy the work of Satan: 1 John 3:8: Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning. Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil.

– The promise of eternal life: If we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we have eternal life in Heaven as promised again by John 3:16.

– Trust that we are a child of God: We have the right to become the child of God if we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

– God has a plan for you: Just because you have problems in this world, it does not mean that God does not love you or does not have a plan for you.

– Jesus himself said in John 16:33: I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

– God works all things for our good: Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Mustard seed faith: faith can grow and blossom

The Bible says it is important to have faith like a mustard seed. It starts off small but it grows into a large tree. It does not mean to have little faith, but that if you have faith it can grow and blossom. One example of this mustard seed can be seen in Abraham. In Genesis, when God first called Abraham, He made promises to his servant.

However, Abraham did not have full faith in these promises. In the beginning, Abraham had a small mustard seed faith. For example, when he was in Egypt, he told the Pharaoh that Sarah was his sister because Sarah was beautiful and he was fearful that the Pharaoh would kill him to take Sarah away. Abraham was fearful for his life and did not trust in God for his safety. Abraham started with mustard seed faith but eventually, over time, it grew and blossomed.

Trust means that you believe in the truth that Jesus is the Christ who completely solved the fundamental root problem of mankind: the original sin, separation from God, and the captivity of Satan that led to all curses of life including mistrust and lack of faith. Trust means that you believe that God has the ability to save you from eternal bondage and that once you are saved, you are always a child of God. Trust means that you believe that God has the strength and wisdom to handle everything that comes your way in life. Trust means that you believe that God is good and that He has a plan for you even when you’re in the midst of undesirable life circumstances.

Three verses about trusting in the Lord:

Psalm 56:3-4
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Anxiety is a cue to remember that you are a child of God. If this God is our Father, what can mere mortals and mere earthly problems do to us? My health can deteriorate, my friends and family may betray me, my physical life can be threatened, but what would that do to my spirit? Nothing. Where Jesus reigns, nothing, not even Satan can touch. My spirit will be eternally by Jesus’ side.

Psalm 143:8
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.

Believe that God loves you. If He has unfailing love for you, this can lead to steadfast trust in Him. When your trust is in God, your eyes will open up to how the Holy Spirit is guiding you.

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

The number one and almost impossible challenge for human beings is to not lean on our own understanding. This means we must replace our understanding with God’s understanding. Genesis 3 tells us about the original sin of disbelieving God’s plan which forces us to lean on our understanding of what is bad and good. However this has never worked out for us humans. Let’s not be fooled by our own finite understanding.

Let’s entrust our lives to the one who gave His life for us. If he took care of the most important issue for me – salvation – why will he not be watching out for us on this journey we are on?


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