Overcome Trust Issues to Have Healthier Relationships
Our trust issues—in ourselves and in others—can be traced back to childhood when our beliefs about the world and relationships were forming. In this interview he explains what is responsible for an inability to trust, and how our trust issues can be overcome. Dr. Richo, who combines Jungian, transpersonal and mythic perspectives in his work, has written several other personal enrichment books, including Being True to Life, When the Past is Present, and Everyday Commitments.
BOYT: What was your inspiration to write on the topics of trust and relationships?
Dr. David Richo: I noticed all the trust issues among couples that I’ve worked with. It’s not just the trust of the partner. It’s the capacity to trust, which may have been limited or disturbed in our early life, because that’s where we’ve first learned to trust. Trust is basically a feeling of safety and security. When that didn’t happen in our early life with our parents, our capacity to trust became limited. So we come into a relationship with that limited capacity unless we have worked on ourselves, looked into what happened in the past, and tried to make sense of it and work through it.
BOYT: What most commonly happens to people as children that establishes a feeling that they can’t trust themselves, partnerships, or friendships? Have you found a particular situation or family dynamic that creates unhealthy relationships?
Dr. David Richo: Our childhood is meant to be a holding environment, an atmosphere in which it is totally okay to be ourselves. This atmosphere happens when our parents or caretakers show us the 5 A’s: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affections shown physically, and allowing. When those are present, we learn to trust ourselves and others because it feels safe and secure to be in that kind of atmosphere. When the opposite is happening and we’re not getting the 5 A’s, that’s when we find our capacity to trust is diminished and damaged.
Attention should be a kind of engagement, putting focus on us rather than scrutiny and judgment. When we are scrutinized and judged as children, this contradicts our growth in trust. Our growth in trust happens more easily when we are looked upon with a healthy attention. The second A is that we are accepted as we are, rather than judged, which would be the negative.
Also, we need to be shown affection in healthy, nonsexual ways; the negative would be that we were either not touched affectionately or we were abused in some sexual way. Being appreciated is another A. In order words, we were cherished as having value, as opposed to disregarded or thought of as just a burden on our parents—which would be the negative that contradicts the feelings of trust in ourselves and others.
Finally, we need to be in an atmosphere that allows us to always know that it is okay to be ourselves and make choices that reflect our own deepest needs and wishes, rather than the wishes and demands that our parents might make upon us. The opposite of allowing is controlling, so the negative feature, as far as our growth in trust, happens when our parents control us rather than give us the freedom that we deserve. It’s not freedom without limits. Its freedom within limits; healthy limits help us learn how to police ourselves, rather than feel that we’re always being watched, judged and punished.
BOYT: What are daily practices that parents can use with their children to emphasize the 5 A’s?
Dr. David Richo: You can post these 5 A’s on the refrigerator as a reminder that these affect our children’s lives and trust in relationships. You would say to your children, “I’m making a commitment to show you these 5 A’s and I’m open to your feedback. Let me know if it’s not happening; if you see me being controlling, judgmental, and so forth, I want to be called on that. I want to be sure to provide you an atmosphere around here where you feel safe and secure. There will be limits on behavior, household chores, and so forth, but I always want to be present for you in these 5 ways.” Of course, this a rare experience from our own pasts, but now we have the self-help movement that shows us how to be kinder to each other.
A second approach is to follow the Buddhist’s way of practicing love and kindness, in which you’re always aspiring with happiness and well-being for yourself, for those you love and for everyone. As you become more conscious of spiritual motivation, it helps you with your children. This works for everything. It doesn’t have to be of Buddhist; it can be any religious practice, such as “Love thy neighbor.”
BOYT: What spiritual practices enhance the opportunity for someone to develop self-trust?
Dr. David Richo: So much of our self-trust is based on what happened in the past and our present commitment to being assertive in the world. The main way you learn to trust yourself is when you notice that you stand up for yourself. You protect yourself from abuse by others. You don’t let others bring you down, humiliate you, downgrade you. You don’t stay in relationships that are painful and abusive. You try to work something out and if not, you move on. When you show those kinds of assertive reactions—if you want, call them spiritual practices—you start building self-trust.
The second way is through the “unconditional yes”—the fact that you’re here with a purpose and that the purpose is to be the wisest, most loving, strongest person that you can be, given your capacity, so that you can make your contribution to the world. When you notice that you’re acting with integrity, compassion, love and kindness more and more because of this spiritual consciousness, then you trust yourself. It fits with the statement by St. Augustine, “Love and do what you will.” So when you know that you are a loving person and you really are committed to integrity, you can just do what you want, because you can trust what you do will come from that positive place. You don’t have to check in with authority. You become your own authority.
BOYT: Is it possible to maintain a relationship with an abusive person and not be impacted by their negativity? Is it necessary to develop self-trust to completely eliminate abusive relationships? Or is there a way to compartmentalize them so that they will have a limited impact on your life?
Dr. David Richo: You want to eliminate abusive relationships altogether, because you will have zero tolerance for abuse and that means, as soon as it happens, you’re going to call someone on it and say “No more of that.” Instead of retaliating and getting into a big drama with somebody, you’re going to seek help in therapy, or in a 12-step program if you must deal with alcohol or drug use. If the other person can’t agree to stop the abusive behavior, you need to move on.
BOYT: For many, there are some subconscious blocks that prevent trust, vulnerability, connection and openness. How can one release these feelings on a subconscious level to experience and develop trust in relationships?
Dr. David Richo: There are elements that work in our psyche that are beyond our control or even beyond our awareness. We need to bring these up from the unconscious; the fears that we carry around for instance, such as the fear of people getting to close to us—that’s the fear of intimacy. We also have a fear of people going away; the fear of abandonment. When you can connect those fears back to events that happened when you were a child and see the origin, you start to realize that they’re really phantom fears. You can use the technique of letting someone move an inch closer and note that you can endure it. Little by little, you allow more closeness than you did before.
Regarding the vulnerability, which is of course what makes it scary, there are two kinds. One is the victim who is going to let himself be battered from coast to coast. Or there is healthy vulnerability, which is openness to the “givens” of relationships, one of which is that sometimes it is painful; sometimes you do have disappointments, but not abuse. It is normal to have hurts, disappointments, and unmet expectations. You just learn to accept that happens in any relationship. We’re guilty of hurting or disappointing others and sometimes they’re guilty of hurting or disappointing us. All that matters is that we don’t retaliate. We open the dialog and try to work things out. That is how you build trust in the other person, when you notice that person is just as willing as you are to work things out rather than continue in negative behaviors.
Commitment means that you are in for the long haul. You are going to try to work things out when obstacles come up. You’re going to face them directly and work with them with your partner to try to handle them. You’re going to make agreements and keep them. That’s the definition of commitment.
BOYT: What part does the fear of surrender, and our need to control, play in a relationship?
Dr. David Richo: We don’t want to surrender to someone and we don’t want to surrender to the way life is. We get in control and make it fit our styles. We’re trying to mold things so that they will fit the way we want things to be. That’s the opposite of trusting that the universe is presenting just the right opportunities to help us grow, love, and have wisdom. Instead, we’re trying to organize things in our own way to satisfy our whims or desires. We notice over and over again that it doesn’t really work.
In any case, the fear of surrender is the fear of facing reality just as it is, without sugar coating it and without the promise that there will be a godfather that will step in and take care of it for us. This is radical trust in yourself as one who is capable of facing the predicament of life, and even finding in these predicaments opportunities for growth. Of course, at the same time you can trust in a higher power to help you get there. So it’s not just about yourself.
BOYT: If there is one thing a person can do today that will have a powerful impact on their life, what would you suggest?
Dr. David Richo: Practice the “unconditional yes” to everything that happens today; accept the things we cannot change. That’s what gives us the serenity to create an atmosphere internally where we can begin to trust ourselves and trust the universe. Many of these things are described in my book, Daring to Trust. For more information, please visit davericho.com.
About Dr. David Richo
David Richo, Ph.D., M.F.T., is a psychotherapist, teacher, workshop leader, and writer who works in Santa Barbara and San Francisco California. He combines Jungian, transpersonal, and mythic perspectives in his work.