Do you have a hard time maintaining friendships or feel like you have no close or ‘real’ friends? Do you doubt the sincerity of your friends and if so, do you put your guard up or push them away? If so, you might be struggling with trust issues.
Because trust is central to healthy relationships, trust issues can get in the way of being able to relate, bond, and connect with people. Without trust, your friendships may not feel real, genuine, or close. With awareness, courage, and consistent practice, it is possible to overcome your trust issues.
This article will help you better recognize, understand and overcome your trust issues with friends and form friendships that are deep, real, and meaningful.
Knowing the signs of trust issues is an important first step in being able to know if you have them and, if so, how and where they tend to show up.
- Insecurity: worrying about being rejected, disliked, or abandoned
- Expectations: expecting everyone to leave, betray, lie, or hurt you
- Suspicion: feeling suspicious of people’s intentions, actions, or words
- Guarding: being overly private or hesitant to open up to others
- Testing: needing to constantly test a friend to see if they are loyal, honest, or sincere
- Jealousy: often feeling threatened or jealous of friends
- Independence: having trouble asking for or accepting help from others
- Dependence: being overly clingy, controlling, or needy in relationships
Once you know why, when, and how your trust issues show up, the next steps involve doing things differently when they do arise. Use the steps and strategies listed below to help you overcome your mistrust and insecurity and develop stronger bonds with friends.
Try starting with the assumption that a person is trustworthy until they prove they are not, rather than requiring people to prove themselves. People that have high trust expectations feel more secure in their relationships and also provide more opportunities for trust to develop. Not everyone will ‘pass the test,’ but this can also help you identify real friends vs fake friends more easily.
Trust can’t develop in a friendship without taking a ‘leap of faith’, or choosing to trust someone even if you aren’t sure you can. When you take this first leap of faith, it’s a good idea to start small with something that isn’t too personal, sensitive, or important to you. With new friends, try asking for a small favor or telling them something personal and ask them not to share it. As they prove themselves in small ways, gradually work towards bigger requests.
Be careful not to assume someone is untrustworthy without getting all the facts first. For instance, if a friend doesn’t text or call you back right away, consider what might be going on with them. It could be that they are in a meeting, doctor’s appointment, or don’t have cell service. By not assuming it’s personal, you can often see the situation more clearly and understand your friend’s true intentions.
It can be difficult to let down walls once they have been built and fortified, so the best way to get closer to people is to stop laying down bricks. Strong relationships require vulnerability, which means remaining open and honest about your thoughts, feelings and needs, even when it’s scary. By letting yourself be seen and heard, you can be more authentic with your friends, which can help to improve your friendships and build trust.
Communication can be a powerful way to keep your relationships strong and healthy. Address conflicts, disagreements, or hurt feelings when they arise instead of letting them build up. Being able to work through differences and clear up misunderstandings often results in a deeper, stronger bond.
You can do this in a number of ways, including:
- Saying ‘ouch’ or, ‘that was a little harsh’ when you feel hurt or offended
- Mentioning something that your friend did or didn’t do that bothered you
- Asking your friend if they can do something different next time
- Clearing up a misunderstanding by asking what your friend meant
If you find yourself carrying all the weight in a friendship, there may be more going on than trust issues. By investing time into the right people, you are more likely to end up with friends who are worthy of your trust. When you have trustworthy friends, it’s much easier to work through trust issues.
Good friends will consistently earn your trust by demonstrating these qualities:
Sometimes, a friend violates your trust in a way that is too hurtful, causing the relationship to be damaged in a way that can’t be repaired. Even good friends sometimes mess up, but it’s important that they acknowledge their mistake, apologize, and work to make it up to you. This is especially true with former friends or people who have betrayed your trust in the past. If they aren’t willing to put effort into making things right with you, it may be important to cut your losses and focus on friendships where the trust goes both ways.
When you know that you are strong enough to handle being hurt, let down, rejected, or even betrayed by other people, it’s much easier and less scary to open up and trust others. Because there is always a risk involved in letting people in and trusting them, it’s important to know your own strength. This way, you know you will be OK, even if someone breaks your trust.
You can work on becoming stronger and trusting your strength by:
- Feel your feelings instead of numbing, avoiding, or trying to stop the ones you dislike
- Practice self-care by making your own emotional and physical needs and wants a priority
- Find the ‘lesson’ or ways you grew/learned from difficult or painful experiences
- Use self-compassion exercises to be kinder in how you talk to/treat yourself
One of the best ways to build trust and strengthen a friendship is to be the kind of friend you would want to have. Ultimately, you can only control your own behaviors and reactions, but being trustworthy will attract people with this same quality. Honoring promises, keeping secrets, following through, and being loyal are all good ways to demonstrate you are trustworthy. Also, communicating in an open and honest way and sending clear signals are important to build trust, especially early on in a friendship.
Trust issues often stem from early childhood interactions with caregivers, parents, family members, and friends. The way your parents interacted with you as a child can have lasting effects on how you relate to others as an adult. These early interactions caused you to form a specific ‘attachment style,’ which becomes a model that you use to interact and connect with people throughout your life.[1, 2, 6]
When these childhood interactions are positive and loving, people develop a ‘secure’ attachment style that helps them easily bond and connect with others. When these interactions are negative, people tend to form ‘insecure’ attachment styles. Insecure attachment styles are believed to be the cause of many trust issues and are also linked to more relationship dissatisfaction and feelings of loneliness. [1, 2]
- Being hurt, neglected, or abused by a caregiver
- Feeling rejected, criticized, or only loved conditionally by a caregiver
- Not being able to say what you felt, thought, or needed
- Not feeling safe and secure with caregivers
- Not consistently having your physical/emotional needs met
- Having a caregiver say one thing but do another
Often, trust issues come from painful experiences that occurred in the past that continue to impact you now. By recognizing these old issues, it is often possible to choose to respond differently when they come up, instead of defaulting to old defense patterns you’ve outgrown. Unless you have friends you can’t trust, you can often overcome old trust issues and build close relationships with people by opening up, going slowly, and improving your communication.
Becoming aware of what trust issues you have, why you have them, and how they show up is a great first step. Seeing a therapist can help with this process. The next step is to learn new, healthier ways of responding when your trust issues show up.
Most trust issues develop from painful past experiences in relationships with people who let you down, betrayed you, or hurt you. These experiences can cause you to develop an insecure attachment style that shows up as trust issues.[1, 2, 6]
Compassion, empathy, and patience can help slowly build trust with someone that has trust issues, but ultimately, they have to do most of the work on their own to overcome their issues.