Is Trust Cut and Dry?

By Donna Fishter
June 28, 2013

Think of a really strong relationship you have with someone. What are key characteristics of this person? What are the expectations you have in this relationship?

Trust is usually a characteristic of high importance in relationship. When talking with people who have experienced a great deal of hurt I usually hear, “he/she did this or that and I can’t trust them anymore”.  It is definitely important to evaluate these relationships and potentially make the tough decision to walk away from those that are toxic. But how many relationships have we lost because we considered trust to be an “all or nothing” deal.

Now some of you are probably thinking I’m a little crazy at this point. Just hear me out. For a very long time in my life I viewed trust as extremes. I either trusted you totally or I did not trust you at all and there was no in betweens.

As humans we make mistakes. Some relationships have been invested in over months and years. To lose these over a “bump in the road” seems to be the actual extreme.

Here are 3 things to consider about the concept of trust.

  1. Trust is multi-dimensional, not one-dimensional.  One-dimensional means there is one line and on one extreme is complete trust and the other extreme is not trusting at all.  I have learned to consider trust in stair steps.  Investing in a relationship over time builds quite a few stair steps. Depending on the severity of the action….one, two, or maybe a few stair steps get knocked off the top. Trust still exists in this relationship but on a different level now.  Over time the stair steps of trust can be built back up.  If I loan a friend $100 and she hasn’t paid me back…maybe next time I only loan her $50.  Let’s consider a different environment. Take this concept onto an athletic team or work place situation.  I may trust you to make that pass to me or get that project done but I don’t trust you to clean up the break area when you make a mess eating your lunch. Trust has levels and is different depending on the context of the situation.  I might loan you money but I may not trust you to take care of my dog.  Here is Psychologist Bridget Ross’ take on the multidimensional concept of trust: “Do you know anyone that you would lend your car to, but you would not trust to keep a secret? Or maybe you know someone you would trust with your life, but you would not depend on them to get you to the airport on time?” [i]
  2. Mistrust should not be projected onto someone else. Someone might say, “Well Sally did this to me….so I can’t trust Susie either in this situation”.  Sally and Susie are different people and it’s not fair to Susie to project the mistrust of someone else onto her.
  3. Beliefs about trust need to be monitored.  For example, thinking you can’t trust someone because of race, heritage, or job description is stereotyping. Or trusting someone because of the area they live or the amount of money they make is stereotyping.  We need to always be monitoring our beliefs.

Several times in life I have had to look into the eyes of a person and say “I forgive you” and remind them that our relationship is deeper than the current circumstance. Although a few of the stair steps have been knocked down I am willing to still trust and work to build the levels up to where they previously were.  I have salvaged some very important relationships in life because of the stair steps.

What relationship can you immediately apply these concepts to?

[i] Dr. Bridgett Ross. “Learning To Trust.” Ross Psychology. (February 3, 2013).


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