Mistrust, Hope, and Meaningful Connection, Part 3

In the past few weeks, I’ve written about the experience of mistrust and the work of identifying trustworthiness. Today I will talk about repairing broken trust and accessing the virtue of Hope. This is a topic much bigger than a simple blog post, however.

Repairing Trust 

As human beings, we will inevitably disappoint, fail, and hurt each other. We will have lapses in attention or ethics. We may cause harm without knowing we’ve done it until someone brings it to our attention. Rather than committing to the impossible goal of being or finding a perfect partner, we can explore the more workable and profound practice of repairing damaged trust in relationship.

Put simply, the process of restoring trust involves: addressing the upset or harm; re-validating trustworthiness; and then making amends or releasing the upset.

Address the upset or harm. Oops. Someone messed up, and now you feel hurt, angry, overwhelmed, abandoned, betrayed. Simply ignoring this doesn’t go very well. It may simmer in the background and erupt at the worst times. We may end up looking like the asshole because we’re expressing appropriate anger in an inappropriate context. Then we’re dealing with the other person’s justified anger with our own buried resentments.

You don’t have to address every single problem at the moment you have it. Indeed, it is okay and sometimes really helpful to take some time away to reflect and then bring up the issue to discuss later, when you’re all in a state to have a constructive conversation. What helps with all this is learning to be with your feelings, validate them, and then discuss them in non-blaming ways. For first offenses, I work on bringing up the issue while giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. “You did this, and this was my experience.” Not blaming the person for “causing” the feeling or accusing them of doing it on purpose, simply giving information so they know how they affected me.

A brown bear and her two cubs walk a rocky ridgeline. In the background is an expanse of forest and snow.
photo by Adam Willoughby-Knox

Re-validate trustworthiness. Now we observe how the person handles the confrontation. If they can take some measure of responsibility and apologize or make amends, that validates their trustworthiness. If they can explain where they’re coming from in a nondefensive way, that validates their trustworthiness.

If they ignore your confrontation; attack you for bringing it up; apologize but repeat the behavior; or offer a confusing rationalization that doesn’t take any responsibility, that erodes their trustworthiness. These aren’t necessarily deal-breakers but they’re not good indicators for a strong partnership long term unless you can address and improve them.

If they minimize your hurt, insult you, call you crazy, flagrantly repeat the behavior and taunt you while doing so, or reject your experience outright, those are RED FLAGS.

Release the upset. Based on how trustworthy the person has proven themselves, we need to check in with ourselves. Is there lingering resentment or hurt. You might ask this part of you: is this all related to the current situation? Is any of this from the past? If it’s related to the current situation, what needs to happen for this part of me to feel okay with re-committing to the relationship?

Is there mistrust? Ask this part of you what your next step needs to be. Perhaps the resolution is that you’re not okay with re-committing to the relationship, instead you need to distance yourself, change the terms of the relationship, or end it safely.

Either way, resentment is not a desirable long-term feeling. It is an indicator of unresolved issues.

Finding Hope

I have been using “relationship” in the most generous interpretation, because issues of trust and mistrust come up in all of our relationships.

Once we no longer depend on external caregivers to meet our needs, the most important relationship becomes the one with ourselves. We behave inconsistently, we doubt ourselves, we make promises we don’t keep, we engage in behaviors we know are harmful to other parts of ourselves.

Becoming trustworthy stewards of ourselves is a journey, and it supports everything. The work is to cultivate more qualities of trustworthiness in how we relate to our parts. How can I be more consistent in response to my needs? How can I be respectful of my feelings? What promises can I honor?

I believe this is the virtue of Hope: I trust myself to work through the upsets of living while creating the life I deeply desire. If it is your desire to cultivate this, I wish you strength.