My Issue with “Trust Issues”

“I’m sorry, I have trust issues.”

Sorry for what? 

Sorry that somebody else hurt you?

This is the crux of my issues with the term, “trust issues.”

A short, opinionated piece if you may, but I find that it might quickly lead to important considerations.

Let me first point out that what we refer to when using that term is very real and prevalent; it refers to the insecurities inflicted upon us by others such that we no longer know who we can and who we cannot open up to…and might not even want to know.

No need for a dictionary definition here, we all have correct intuitions about this. And most probably, even experience.

My concern with this term is that it connotes the blame on the victim: the victim has trust issues and thus the victim is the problem.

What does this tell the person who is suffering? What does it tell them about themselves?

It tells them that they have something wrong within them, that maybe they have wronged too, and it risks locking them forever in a cycle of self-disdain.

A person does not have trust issues, they have rightful reasons for not trusting. They needed to erect those barriers to stay safe and once a wall is up, it stays up, even when the war has passed.

One might then exclaim to themselves, “well, it’s your fault for trusting too quickly or too blindly!”

But that, again, puts the blame on the person who has been hurt, and is just a trend instigated by the whole institution of self-blame.

This is what I think:

There should be no blame for trusting too quickly because if everybody were trustworthy, as I think they should be, then it wouldn’t matter whether we trust now or trust later, or trust more or trust less, in any of our relationships, romantic, familial, amicable, etc. for everybody would, like I said, be unconditionally trustworthy.

(Note: I mean trustworthy in the sense that they won’t intentionally break your trust with the purpose of slighting or subordinating you. What type of insecurities can arise in a relationship wherein the person is trustworthy and yet not perceived that way is a whole other “paio di maniche”, as we say in Italian)

Is it too much to ask that there be no purposeful lies? Is that naive of me? And what of naive, if not another way to blame and abhor people for their lack of consideration of the cruelty in this world instead of questioning the very foundations of that cruelty itself?

Thus, I would suggest that you instead exclaim to yourself “how honorable it is to trust, to open up, to be vulnerable, to communicate and love whole-heartedly with no barriers. How commendable? What a sign of pure spirit!”

If a person keeps telling themselves they have trust issues, focusing constantly on their own alleged downfalls, they will dismiss all these positive things about themselves that inadvertently led to their pains and insecurities. 

You don’t have “trust issues” because you were too ignorant or reckless. You have “trust issues” because you were so exceptionally loving and faithful, that’s why.

And now you are ‘wounded’, as an old friend of mine would say, because of somebody who made you have to question the concept of trust in the first place instead of taking it as a given,  but you keep up the fight, wielding those scars with strength, pride and eventually acceptance if you can muster it.

That’s it: we have ‘trust wounds’.

Because we fought so hard.

And with that said,

‘You should’ve seen the other guy.’ 


P.s. “Trust is mainly a cultural phenomenon – it no doubt gets a boost from our genes – and, like the air we breathe, is not very thinglike until we run out of it,” (Dennett, 2017).

Lying most likely gets evolutionary ‘brownie points’ as well but that’s beside the point. What I mean to convey with this quote, possibly beyond the message that Dennett is trying to express as he maps cultural evolution onto Darwinian spaces, is that for those who do have ‘trust wounds’ and whose supply of trust has dwindled for the time being, it also means that you now know what trust truly means, just like you really understand love once you have your heart broken.

Take a second to really savor that realization masked in the irony: there is something gained amidst the loss, and a rose eventually cracks through the concrete.

Is this an eternally pessimistic perspective? Can we not know love when our heart is instead whole and ‘heartily’ healthy?

Yes you can! For once you learn what trust or love or emotional responsiveness really is, the lesson sticks and you can apply it to the very next encounter you have with these concepts, without having to wait until you lose it again.

Does this mean you can’t get love right the first time?

Of that I am not sure – I think you can under certain conditions – although I definitely do believe that there is much to learn in falling in and out of trust, just like there is a lot to learn in falling in and out of love.  

As Dennett (2017) says in his book,

“life started and died, started and died, until eventually it didn’t die, because it got just enough things right to keep it from dying.”

(p. 285, fn. 87)

The same applies if you replace the word [life] with [love]. And what eventually keeps it alive is not mere chance. The puzzle pieces don’t just fall into place, at least not all of them. Only some that go together are fortuitously next to each other in the pile and these conditions change each time you scramble the pieces and try again. It’s a process akin to the research and development of evolution that Dennett speaks of, some of it comprehending, some of it only competent, some of it neither. YOU build the puzzle, and it’s a constantly expanding puzzle that you build outwards. That involves the whole shabam of sifting, assembling, adopting new perspectives, trying one orientation and then the next, discarding, looking under the couch, retrying what you discarded, calling others for help, starting different portions simultaneously, looking unsuccessfully for the corners (because there are none in the puzzle of love), and sometimes accepting that the final piece just never was in the box. 

But don’t discredit this learning experience. And if you are the one who’s been harmed, chances are you have less to learn than that somebody else… 

In the love and trust you gave, you are admirable. That is my personal secret. And if that doesn’t speak to you, then I leave it to Elio’s father in Call Me By Your Name:

“…if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!”

(p. 224)

Please don’t let yourself go bankrupt. Please don’t do that to the wonderful wealth that you harbor inside <3


 

References

Aciman, A. (2008). Ghost spots. Call me by your name (p. 224). Farrar, Straus

and Giroux.

Dennett, C. D. (2017). From bacteria to Bach and back: The evolution of

minds (p.147). W. W. Norton & Company.

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