How to Trust People Again: 8 Easy Steps

Tired of feeling lonely because you can’t trust anyone? Rebuilding your faith in humanity is a long road, but it can be done. Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers 8 ways to rebuild your trust in people.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
7-minute read
Episode #172

4. Make plans for the future.

Living through a trauma doesn’t just shake your trust in people, it also shakes your trust in the future. Trauma plays a trick on the brain: it creates a hopelessness—a sense that your future will be devoid of meaning or happiness—which in turn feels like there is no future at all, which in turn makes you feel like time is short. You might assume you’ll die young, or be unable to picture ever finding a relationship, building a career, or having children. Trauma experts call this a sense of a foreshortened future. This particularly happens when terrible events are deliberately inflicted by other humans, like bullying, stalking, or abuse.

Therefore, as you build your trust in people, also try to build your trust in a meaningful future. Make plans for weeks, months, years, and decades from now. Save for retirement. Make a bucket list. Set a goal to go back to school. Go through the motions of planning a future, even if it doesn’t feel quite right just yet. Why? Putting behavior before a feeling is the way to make the feeling catch up.

Putting behavior before a feeling is the way to make the feeling catch up.

5. Trust an animal.

In a study from the Journal of Research in Personality, researchers asked 165 pet owners to generate a list of life goals and rate how confident they felt in achieving those goals. One-third of the pet owners had their pets with them during the task, another third of the pet owners were asked to write a brief description of their pet and their relationship with it in order to bring their pet to mind before the task, and the last third did the task while their pet was in another room.

The study found that the pet owners who had their pets with them or brought their pets to mind generated significantly more life goals and had significantly higher confidence in achieving them.

The researchers concluded what millions of pet owners know—an animal can provide a safe haven and a secure base from which to reach out and engage with the world, which sounds remarkably like...trust.

6. Be trustworthy. 

Seeing trustworthy behavior in yourself can help you spot it in others. So mentor or help someone else. Follow through on your obligations. Keep your word. Comfort someone in need. When another human places trust in you, it reminds you that maybe you can trust, too.

7. Actively look for trustworthy behavior.

People with an intact sense of trust can more easily spot caring, trustworthy behavior than those whose trust has been broken. So if trusting doesn’t come naturally to you, you may have to look for it consciously. Trustworthy behavior probably happens more often than you think, but just like birdwatching or celebrity-spotting, you have to train yourself to see it.

Therefore, write down all the trustworthy behavior you see. Keep a “trust list” in your phone or dedicate a few pages of your journal to catching people at keeping their word or helping out when help is needed.

Whenever you rely on someone and they come through for you, or you need comfort and you receive it, jot it down. Your entries may be little, like getting directions from a stranger when you’re lost, or they may be big, like getting a hug and a listening ear when you feel overwhelmed by life.

8. Grow the belief that you deserve to be around trustworthy people.

Mistrust often comes as a package deal. In addition to believing bad things about the world: “No one can be trusted,” “The world is a dangerous place,” people who can’t trust often believe bad things about themselves: “I am broken,” “I deserve bad things that happen to me.”

So in order to grow trust in others, grow the belief that you are worthy of having your trust honored. Challenge the belief that you’re a bad person who deserves to be betrayed or hurt.

How? It’s really hard to change your mind without evidence or experience, so change your behavior first and your mind will follow. It’s the old “fake it till you make it,” and it works.

Ask yourself, “What would someone who believed that they were a good person do?” “What would someone who deserved good things in life do?” Then do that. And like I’ve said before, when you see yourself doing it, you start to believe you can, so when you see yourself acting like someone who trusts that the world is mostly good and people are mostly trustworthy, you start to believe it. And that’s the crucial leap of faith to learning to trust again.

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Medical Disclaimer
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. 

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