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How We Learn to Trust Others


Do you trust people in general or are you wary that others won’t have your best interest at heart? Do you believe the world is a caring place or do you see it as fraught with dangers so that you need to remain on guard? Simplified, is the world safe or scary?

A more relevant question may be whether you recognize that your view isn’t a matter of fact or fiction but simply what you learned from experience growing up. How else can we explain that Holocaust survivors still believe in the human capacity to be and do good or that some people will go to their graves believing that a dark cloud hangs over them although they’ve lived reasonably normal, uneventful lives? 

Whether you view people as trustworthy or not and the world as safe or scary depends on what your family of origin was like. Here are some questions to ask yourself: Were my physical and emotional needs usually met; Were people dependable, consistent and there for me most of the time; Was life predictable. And some more: Did my parents and close relatives seem to trust and rely on people outside the family; Did they mostly talk up or bad mouth people; Were they social and did they enjoy friends or were they like a closed society that relied mostly on each other (aka “family is everything”)?

If you were raised in an environment in which family members worked cooperatively and cared well for each other yet were able to maintain their own boundaries and individuality, you’re likely to think well of people. If, instead, there was a great deal of conflict and competition and everyone needed to watch their back, you’re going to view people as untrustworthy. Is it that simple? Pretty much. Of course, temperament and events play a part in your world view, but what you experience about others in your family microcosm can easily override them, for better or worse.

Additionally, if your parents and other family members talked openly about their emotions and you knew what they were thinking and feeling most of the time, that would increase your sense of safety. If people didn’t share feelings, you might have spent a lot of time wondering what was going on inside them and feared the worst. Moreover, you might have worried that they were hiding something for a reason. Open expression of emotion and communication foster feelings of safety, while not sharing them generates a belief that there is something bad to hide.

Consider the legacy of trust or mistrust that was passed down to you, then think about whether it’s serving you now. Although you can’t change how you were raised, you can change what you believe as an adult. It’s time to learn to trust, appropriately of course.