Facing Distrust and Choosing to Trust Again

Distrust, the feeling of betrayal, can be an incredibly painful feeling with lasting impacts. However, there are ways of working through the emotions that come with betrayal to decide whether or not that trust can be rebuilt. Self-development app LIFE Intelligence can help you rebuild that trust with therapeutic exercises that help build and restore a healthy mindset. By creating a strong sense of self and choosing to trust again, you can reconnect and strengthen your personal relationships.

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Trust v. Distrust

Distrust and trust are often viewed as opposites of each other, but recent research has started to consider each of these as their own construct (Lewicki, 2006; Kang & Park, 2017). Trust is a positive expectation from someone while distrust is a separate expectation of harmful action (Kang & Park, 2017). Despite being two separate things, two components are central to the definitions of both trust and distrust: uncertainty and vulnerability (Kang & Park, 2017).

Trust reduces uncertainty about future outcomes, simplifies decision making, and gives us peace of mind (Lewicki, 2006). When this trust is broken, uncertainty now becomes increased and we become more vulnerable because that trust has been broken. We often do not consciously think about trust until that trust is broken (Rider, 2007) and this is likely because distrust makes us feel emotionally exposed. Distrust prompts us to reduce our vulnerability to protect ourselves and our own interests (Lewicki, 2006); we start to put our guard up against other people. This can be damaging because people are interdependent on one another but trust is needed for that interdependence (Lewicki, 2006). Speaking from experience, this can turn into a scary cycle of loneliness which is why it is so important to rebuild that trust.

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Causes of Distrust

There are many reasons people feel distrustful: past broken promises, betrayals, knowledge of someone’s bad reputation, or conflict of interests are all common and understandable reasons for distrust (Lewicki, 2006; Schul & Burnstein, 2008). Some of these reasons may even link back to adverse childhood experiences, events so far in the past that we do not think, but do, have an effect on our relationships. What can make distrust so difficult to work through is focused distrust, a distrust toward one particular target, that can be reawakened by unfocused distrust, cues of deception recognized from past events (Schul et al., 2008). For example, a person believes they are in a healthy, loving relationship and then suddenly discovers their partner has been cheating for several weeks. The distrust toward this partner (focused) might later turn into a more traumatic distrust when a future partner tells this partner they love them (unfocused).

Here’s another important cause, or lack thereof, to consider when we feel distrust. Distrust is not genetic (Reimann et al., 2017). Reimann et al. (2017) conducted a study with monozygotic and dizygotic twins to determine that there is no disposition or heritable quality of distrust. Since it is outside forces that cause us to be distrustful, we have the ability to change this damaging emotion and choose to be trustworthy again.

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Can Broken Trust be Healed?

The short answer is yes, in most cases, but this healing takes a lot of time and depends on the severity of the action that caused the feeling of distrust (Lewicki, 2006). Unfortunately, there is no how-to guide for trust, you simply have to trust yourself to be vulnerable. This may sound very circular but really think about this: What does it mean to trust yourself? It is the choice to be vulnerable and trust that you have a strong enough mindset to know when a relationship or situation should be untrusted.

Sometimes, it is the right decision to have distrust. This is not to say that other people can not be trusted, rather, we should not let ourselves be afraid because of that chance for untrustworthiness. Being in tune with your feelings and trusting your reactions to a person and/or situation is the best way to advance relationships with a healthy level of suspicion to avoid feeling betrayed (Reiman et al., 2017. This healthy level of suspicion is one of the positives that is often difficult to think of because of the mainly negative impacts of distrust. It is important to keep some valuable information to ourselves and gradually build up trust until we disclose this information (Reiman et al., 2017). This gradual buildup of trust, slowly sharing more intimate details about one’s life, is one of the best ways to practice vulnerability.

Rebuilding trust also takes work from both sides: the person hurt and the one who has caused them to be distrustful. The deceiver can no longer lie about anything, even something small like saying they are going to the grocery store when really they are going to the gas station. Even though this small difference in location might not make a big difference, the small deception will bring the person harmed back to the large root cause of their distrust. The job for the person who was hurt is to continue reminding themselves to be trusting, especially when they feel doubtful (Rider, 2011).

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LIFE Intelligence

When other people have broken your trust, it is your choice to look at the situation fully and decide whether that relationship is a beneficial one. Distrust can be extremely damaging, but it can also empower us as we move forward to strengthen damaged relationships or create new ones. LIFE Intelligence is a self-development app that can teach you the skills to build a healthy mindset and strengthen your relationships. Use the mood wheel to track emotions/feelings like distrust and reflect on the event that caused this feeling. When you’re feeling anxious, distrustful, or lonely, the app also provides exercises from therapy and coaching to work through those feelings real-time. Finally, LIFE provides bite-sized readings and journaling reflections that teach relationship counseling and self-confidence topics. In all instances, remember to be compassionate to yourself and know that healing takes time but is definitely possible. Use LIFE to help you along that journey.

Chiara Nicholas
July 12, 2021

Kang, M., & Park, Y. E. (2017). Exploring trust and distrust as conceptually and empirically distinct

constructs: Association with symmetrical communication and public engagement across four pairings of trust and distrust. Journal of Public Relations Research, 29(2/3), 114–135. https://doi.org/10.1080/1062726X.2017.1337579

Lewicki R.J. (2006). Trust and Distrust. In Schneider, A. K. & Honeyman C. (Eds.) The Negotiator’s

Handbook (pp. 91-203)

Reimann M., Schilke O., & Cook K. S. (2017). Trust is heritable, whereas distrust is not.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(27), 7007–7012. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1617132114

Rider, K. (2011). Using a Metaphor to Help Couples Rebuild Trust After an Affair. Journal of

Family Psychotherapy, 22(4), 344–348. https://doi.org/10.1080/08975353.2011.627804

Schul, Y., Mayo, R., & Burnstein, E. (2008). The value of distrust. Journal of Experimental Social

Psychology, 44(5), 1293–1302. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2008.05.003

Shirdel, M., Hosseinian, S., Kimiaei, S. A., & Safarian, M. R. (2019). Estimating the Validity and

Reliability of Gottman Questionnaires of “Couple Trust Measurement.” Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 41(1), 37–46. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-018-9470-1

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