Distrust of Others and Learning to Discriminate
Those who have been severely hurt or traumatized by others often have problems with trust. They may distrust everyone or trust someone too much. This audio discusses the concept of trust and to learn to discriminate. In other words, learning how much you can trust someone and to what degree you can trust them. In this way, you can examine others motives and behaviors more realistically and decide whether they are someone who you want in your life.
This audio, in combination with other audios and resources on this site can help you with problems of distrust. However, as with all the resources, it is best to review the transcript with a mental health professional to determine if it is appropriate for your situation.
Transcript: Distrust of Others and Learning to Discriminate
The following is for adults who have suffered trauma as a child particularly abuse by the responsible adults in their lives. Abuse includes physical, emotional and sexual. However, what this audio This audio is about distrust and being suspicious of others' motives. As with the other assistance and self-talk audios, if this speaks to your situation, it is important to listen to it repeatedly until the thinking is more automatic.
People who have been hurt or traumatized are often suspicious or distrusting of others and their motives. Having been seriously hurt, they are fearful of being hurt again. Unfortunately, though, when you are overly suspicious or distrustful, you may be less able to protect yourself from others rather than being safer from maliciousness. You might feel safer keeping an emotional, or even physical, distance from others. But that safety is an illusion because when you are suspicious of others you are unable to discern other people's true intentions and when you may actually be in danger.
Instead, you are more likely to protect yourself to a greater degree by learning how to discriminate, meaning how to tell the difference between those you can trust and those you can't. And to what degree you can trust someone.
I will discuss that further in a moment, but first I will clarify some terms. Sometimes people who are distrusting or suspicious might refer to these feelings that others will hurt them as “paranoia.” However, mental health professionals make a distinction between suspiciousness and paranoia because paranoia is delusional beliefs that are not based in reality. However, suspicious beliefs have some basis in reality but tend to be out of proportion to the situation. For example, thinking that a co-worker is talking about you just because the person lowered his voice when you entered the room could be overly suspicious, but not paranoid, if you recognize that you are being sensitive and other possibilities exist: “I know he could have lowered his voice for other reasons such as talking about something personal he didn't want me to hear.” However, if you believe that he is not only talking about you but plotting with someone else to hurt you, then it may be paranoia as there is no evidence for such a conclusion.
Therefore, a person who is paranoid is 100% convinced of their perception of reality whereas someone who is suspicious and distrustful is likely to recognize they are over-reacting and their perspective may be inaccurate. Which brings us to the nature of trust.
The problem with the concept of trust is believing that it is an all-or-nothing proposition. That you need to trust someone 100% or not at all. But that is far from the reality of the nature of trust. If it were the case, then we probably couldn't trust anyone because if we all are flawed human beings, how can anyone be 100% trustworthy in every situation?
Instead, trust varies in degrees from person to person and even within the same person depending upon the situation. For instance, you could have a close friend you can trust to always be there when you need someone emotionally but the same person may not be financially responsible so you can't trust that friend to pay you back if you loan money. Or, you can trust one friend to cheer you up by doing fun activities with you whereas another one will listen to you and let you cry on her shoulder when you feel down. Knowing the different ways you can trust different people and not expecting one person to meet all your needs can allow you to get your needs met more effectively.
Also, another problem with the idea of trustworthiness is that each person defines trust and violations of trust in different ways. One person might believe that if someone doesn't respond quickly to a text message they can't be trusted to be responsive in a time of crisis, whereas another person might just shrug it off. Your definition of trust and how people need to behave to be considered trustworthy is based upon your personal experiences. Sometimes it can even be the exact opposite for different people depending upon individual needs based upon past experiences: “I can trust that she will stay out of my personal business” one person might say whereas another might believe “I can't trust her because she doesn't take an interest in my personal business.”
Learning to discriminate allows you to distinguish in what ways a person can be trusted or not trusted and how much you can trust that person. When you think of trust in this way, it becomes easier because you don't have to figure everything out before you can interact with or befriend someone. Instead, you can little by little discover how a person can be trusted.
In fact, this is a part of the normal process of self-disclosure when we meet new people. Rather than divulging ourselves completely all at once and being vulnerable, we share a little at a time and see how the other person responds. And the other person does the same. The relationship either continues to develop bit by bit or at some point we might decide it is not the right fit for us.
When you have been hurt, however, your distrust may prevent this gradual self-disclosure process and keep you from developing truly healthy relationships. Instead, you may be overly sensitive to others' reactions and responses. Rather than viewing the other person in distinct parts with varying degrees of trustworthiness, you may see any not fully positive reaction as rejection or as a reason not to trust the person. For instance, a new acquaintance cancels lunch and you might view it as disinterested rejection because you don't know the person well enough to understand how other demands on their time interfered with their lunch plans.
This sensitivity often develops because we try to predict what might happen in the future in an effort to prepare and control the outcome. One way we predict is to make an assumption based on past experience. This is called generalization and often it can be an accurate and efficient way to prepare for future situations. However, if your past experiences have been unusual in some way, such as trauma or abuse, you may be generalizing from a rare or specific circumstance to other situations. In which case, your assumption or prediction can be inaccurate.
You can't assume just because one person treated you a certain way that other people will be the same. For instance, if a woman was abused in a relationship, she might develop distrust of all men even though all men are not abusive. The problem with this is that it can also prevent her from clearly evaluating men who might be abusive. She meets someone who is very attentive, for instance, and doesn't see how controlling he is. Instead, she believes “He's different because my last husband who was abusive didn't pay any attention to my needs at all.”
Another way that over sensitivity is experienced is to mind-read what you believe someone is thinking and then distrust the person based on what you are mind-reading. For example: “She thinks I'm dorky. She's just stuck up” when you may not have a clue what the person is thinking. Again, this can be related to past experiences but with other people. In other words, because a previous person thought negatively about you, you believe that another person will think in the same way. However, you don't evidence about the new person which makes the assumption more likely to be inaccurate.
Another way of thinking that affects trust of others is catastrophic thinking in which you assume the worst case scenario will occur. Again, if you have been hurt in the past it becomes easier for you to believe that bad things will happen in the future. However, most of the time, the worst outcome does not occur. Even if it is not your preferred outcome, it does not mean it will be horrible.
Finally, those who are distrustful of others tend to personalize others' comments or non-verbal behavior. When you notice someone looking at you, do you believe they are noticing you and thinking about you? If so, do you think their thoughts are positive, neutral, or negative? Most likely, if you are distrustful, you believe that others are noticing you in a negative way. Again, this is an assumption. Much of the time people are wrapped up in their own lives and aren't paying attention to you. Even if they do notice you, it doesn't mean they are having negative thoughts about you. When you distrust others, you assume the worst about them.
So, what can you do about this problem? As I mentioned earlier, you need to learn how to discriminate, to distinguish qualities of trust and degrees of trust more effectively. This means several things:
First, recognize that you don't need to trust someone completely. Instead, you want to determine how and how much a person can be trusted. This also requires that you examine how you define trust and whether it is a reasonable definition. For example, believing that your partner should know you want him or her to stay home with you when you said “I don't care if you go out with your friends” may not be a reasonable way of evaluating whether you can trust your partner's love or concern for you.
Second, you need to get outside of your own head and focus on the other person. What I mean by this is that when you are fearful of being hurt you are focused on looking for signs that you will be hurt. You are examining everything from an internal perspective of how it affects you. For example, if someone looks angry, you try to determine how it relates to you. Instead, you need to look at other people objectively to determine what drives them and influences their behavior. To do this you need to recognize that the vast majority of responses and reactions are related to the other person and not you. In this way, you can begin to ask yourself “What are some reasons this person might look angry?” If you aren't thinking it is a reaction to you, then you might even be able to ask them “You look angry. Is there something wrong?” When you start to look for other reasons and inquire about people's responses, you are likely to find out there are many reasons for other peoples' behavior that has nothing to do with you. This allows you to see other people more clearly.
Finally, as you are able to see others' more clearly, then you are able to determine their motivations more accurately. This allows you to evaluate them more in a way that can allow you to discriminate. For instance, you might date someone who wanders away from you at a party and if you understand the person, instead of thinking “He doesn't like me that much and wants to meet someone else” you might think “He's an extrovert and tends to get caught up in the moment and is excited about meeting new people. He doesn't realize that's not my style.” By recognizing his personality style and how it influences his behavior, you can then determine whether it is acceptable to you or modifiable. For instance, “I need to let him know I am shy and to be sure to introduce me as he greets other people” is more likely to resolve the issue than stewing about him rejecting you.
By keeping these things in mind and approaching trust in a different way, you may find yourself able to be less suspicious of others. In addition, you may be more capable of determining who you want in your life if you can discern in what ways they are trustworthy and what ways they are not. You might decide that a partner does not have to be perfect in order to be worthy of trust. You can determine what qualities are important and which ones are not. By examining your own definitions of trust you can decide if you are being unreasonable in your expectations and what would be more reasonable.
In other words, don't accept that the feeling of distrust is always accurate. Instead, evaluate it and determine what is realistic for each person and each situation.
Copyright © 2015
by Excel At Life, LLC
Permission to reprint this article for non-commercial use is granted if it includes this entire copyright
and an active link.