It is difficult to achieve intimacy in a relationship unless we have the ability to trust. We tend to focus on other people when we think about trust – that is, we might ask, who out there can be trusted and who cannot?
But it may be more helpful to look inside and to think about trust also as something that we do well, or not. Some people grow up with a good ability to trust appropriately, and others, because of their needs and life experiences, have more difficulty with this issue.
Having a good eye for trust involves having a healthy sense of our own identities – and this means having a positive self-image, the ability to value ourselves and our decisions, and a good sense for protecting our own boundaries. We need to know what we stand for and what is best for us. Trust also involves acquiring a knack for making good judgments. When we have the self-confidence that comes with knowing and liking ourselves, as well as the ability to make life-enhancing decisions, we should be able to decide fairly easily about whom to trust.
Trust between two people emerges from a process of mutual self-disclosure – we gradually reveal more and more about ourselves to the other person until the relationship achieves a sense of intimacy. The first person self-discloses only to the degree that the other person has, in a series of steps. A good balance is maintained between both people. If this balance is disrupted, it is difficult to maintain trust.
For example, if one person reveals everything all at once and the other person reveals nothing at all, the balance is broken – and neither party will be able to trust the other. The building of trust is a mutual process that takes time. We feel comfortable revealing things about ourselves when the other person has shown that he or she is willing to take the same risk.
Some people trust blindly. They reveal everything all at once, expecting that the other person will be able to reciprocate immediately. What is more likely is that the other person will feel overwhelmed and may back off from closeness. People who trust blindly may want to look into issues like boundaries, self image, and why they need to be so close so quickly.
Other people find it difficult to trust at all. They may feel protected, but the walls are so high that they may never find an intimate relationship – and what a price to pay for protection! People who have difficulty with opening themselves to trust may want to look into the pain that may have closed them off– and they may want to look into ways of improving their communication skills. The rewards of intimacy are well worth it.
Individual Therapy, family therapy or couples therapy can allow you to explore your own deepest and most intimate feelings in a safe and accepting setting with a professional trained to understand these inner processes. The psychotherapeutic relationship allows you to learn to stay true to your uniqueness and feel comfortable in sharing your authenticity with another person. You can explore who can be trusted, and who can’t, as well as the features of your life that may have led you to hide yourself from others. Individual therapy, family therapy or couples therapy all have the potential to teach you how to break out of isolation and loneliness into a world of love and acceptance. It prepares you to explore an intimate relationship outside of the therapy setting.
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT