Rabbi Azriel Hauptman
Trust is the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something”. Trust can be found in almost every aspect of our lives. We trust that the sun will rise in the morning, that our house won’t collapse, and that a meteor is not about to crash into Earth. We also put our trust in people. We trust that the other drivers on the road will not veer out of their lane, that the pilots of commercial airplanes know how to fly the plane, and that the pharmacist will give us the right medication. Without trust, life as we know it would be impossible.
Personal relationships are also built on a bedrock of trust. This is true with parent-child relationships, husband-wife relationships, and relationships with friends and relatives. We trust that they care about us, are interested in our safety and happiness, and would never deliberately do anything that is not in our best interest. We trust that they will keep their commitments and will not betray us. We also trust them with secrets that we would not tell anybody else.
Our sense of trust initially develops in childhood. When our primary caregivers are sensitive to our needs and consistently display signs of love and affection, we develop a sense of trust that can be applied throughout life to other relationships.
What happens if you were abused, betrayed, or neglected by a loved one? You might develop a fear of close relationships and you might find it harder to put your trust into somebody else. Like all fears, this can severely affect our wellbeing and happiness. If you cannot be vulnerable and trusting of another person, your relationships will be shallow and unfulfilling.
Difficulty in trusting also manifests itself in a counterintuitive way that Sigmund Freud famously called the repetition compulsion. In the context of trust, this means that sometimes people are drawn to people who clearly cannot be trusted in order to reexperience and repeat the lack of trust that was experienced in childhood. This is a well-documented phenomenon that deserves clarification. Many explanations have been offered, and in this article we will briefly present two of them.
Fear of the Unknown – When one has grown up in an environment where one was not able to have trust in those people who were meant to take care of us, then that becomes their comfort zone. If one has never before trusted someone and had been genuinely vulnerable, then doing so now is terrifying. However, someone who cannot be trusted feels familiar and comfortable, and we are naturally drawn to that sense of familiarity. These relationships tend to be abusive and short-lived, but that might not prevent someone from committing the same mistake in a subsequent relationship. This is because this preference is not a conscious decision, but rather emanates from our subconscious mind, and can therefore be very difficult to overcome.
Correcting the Past – Another cause of repetition compulsion is the subconscious desire to repair the past. If one had an abusive or neglectful experience in childhood, the subconscious mind feels that if it can somehow recreate that same situation in adulthood, one will be able to fix it, control it, and no longer be the victim. Hence, one may be drawn to people who resemble an abusive parent or caregiver in an attempt to rewrite history and create a new ending for the original story. This is almost always counterproductive, but that does not prevent the individual from trying again and again to relive and repair the shortcomings of their youth and childhood.
Therapy can be transformative for people who have trust issues. As you can probably figure out on your own, a component of therapy would be to take these subconscious forces and move them into the realm of consciousness. Whenever we have subconscious forces that are influencing our behavior, we need to understand those forces if we want to be able to control them.
Embarking on this journey of recovery might be frightening. However, although it is true that only those you trust can betray you, but without getting yourself wet you will never learn how to swim.