Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Q 1: A Question of Trust

‘Someone I trust has questioned whether they trust me…’

A Reader asks about trust. Read below for our full reply, and add your own thoughts. 

Highlights in brief:
  • Trust is based on an experience, or on a belief, that another person is keeping our interests at heart, and that they won’t act in a way that would harm us. This understanding grows out  of the sort of connection we have with them
  • If someone then doubts that we can be trusted, it means that something has happened to change their experience or their view of us. They no longer trust our intentions (or even our ability) to speak and act in a way which takes them into account
  • If our intentions have not changed towards that person, we are may feel very disturbed by this – that we’re not seen in our true light, for who we really are. Being understood for what we intend is a key human need
  • Anger (as in your case) usually tells us about our own unmet needs, and is worth listening to
  • Consider how to move forward (which of the Three Choices would most help – see below)
  • Once we find the best approach for us, our feelings and perspectives shift, and we are more resourceful in dealing with the situation
Read on for more…

‘Someone I trust has questioned whether they trust me…’

Shiwayo writes: ‘Someone I trusted and I thought trusted me has acted in a way which I think illustrates a lack of trust in me. It’s left me feeling angry because I believe my integrity has been questioned...'

Dear Shiwayo,

Trust is a big area, as you know – so I'm not surprised you've been feeling this keenly. Trust emerges from our natural sense of connection with others. And as we are always connected (interconnected on many levels), trust is based on reality – on how things really are. So if trust is damaged, broken or questioned, it's no small thing. We're likely to feel it deeply, on the level of who we actually are – on a level of identify and meaning. This is why it can be so painful if our trust is questioned, or if trust is broken.
Trust grows from our connection with another person because it's based on our sense that this person will think and act in a way that does not harm us, indeed, that they keep our best interests at heart. When we know this, we trust them.
In the situation you describe, you have trusted in the person you mention – so your own connection with them has been strong and safe. Now they have acted in a way that seems to suggest that they do not trust you in return. This means they may doubt you have their best interests at heart. They may believe that you think judgemental thoughts about them, or even that you could act in a way which could harm them. So don’t be surprised if your responses are strong ones: this may feel like a shock, or leave you angry, hurt or lessened in some way. 

Knowing our intentions are seen and understood
There’s almost nothing more painful than having our intentions misunderstood or misread. This is because our intentions are at the heart of our identity – who we aim to be, essentially, in ourselves. In your case, you know that you would never want to cause harm for this person. So when they lose trust in you in this way, I am sure you have a strong sense of ‘No!’ Everything in you probably wants to jump up and tell them that is not the case. Especially given the good connection you have felt with them in the past, this is not how you would ever act. This is not the sort of person you are!

Anger is a strong ‘No’!
So your anger is a healthy expression of your ‘No!’ At root, your anger is probably saying something like, ‘This is NOT true!‘ It’s worth listening to your anger to hear its underlying message, because anger always holds the stirrings of new life. It’s a gateway (albeit sometimes a thorny one) into being a new sort of person. When the anger is fully felt in you, then it can integrate and change into a different sort of energy – such as resilience and understanding. As you pay it mindful attention, you can see how it transforms in you, in your own case.


Your unmet needs in the situation
It’s likely your anger is telling you about your own unmet needs:
  • Your needs-for-you: Your need to be understood and appreciated – in this case, for your intentions. You want the other person to know that you have never wished them any harm, and that you would not consciously do anything to cause that (for them or for others, come to that). In addition, you may want to be valued as someone who can be trusted, because (human error aside) you believe your actions will be congruent with your intentions.
  • Your needs-for-others: We cannot feel a good connection with another person without also wanting that person to be okay. So your ‘No!’ anger is linked to a ‘Yes!’ – to that part of you which really does want positive connection with others. It says ‘Yes!’ to other people being well and okay. The wisdom of this lies in knowing that the wellbeing of others is integral to your own wellbeing.

How to move forward?
It may be worth revisiting the three choices before you:
1. To focus within
2. To express your feelings
3. To receive the other person with understanding and empathy
I suggest you take a while to find out which of these choices feels right for you in this moment.

Focusing within
If you are still angry, my guess is that you have background thoughts which are telling you, ‘This person is wrong!’ ... Wrong to think like this, or to do that. In this case, I recommend focusing within in order to settle your own needs for understanding and appreciation. As you say yourself, it is about your own sense of integrity – who you are as a person.

We’ll look in more detail at focusing within in another tip.


  1. What I find helpful from what you wrote was the ability to see the options available and also your thoughts about the whole trust issue – which illustrates quite clearly what an important issue trust is to us all. 

Thank you for your reply and I will certainly be thinking on this for a while.

  2. The ‘trust’ issue is interesting. If I were perfect - if I were firmly in the best condition possible, I’d be able to act in another’s best interests. But I’m not, and the other might act in a way I find difficult to accept. E.g. someone might light a cigarette. I’d have negative feelings, which would probably show somehow, whether I liked or not. Isn’t that the reality?

  3. Interesting what John says here, in that I have found trust more complex than that. Usually what we mean by trust is that we believe the trusted other is going to be able to act in the way we believe is in our own best interest. It is not that we believe that others are deliberately and willfully going to harm us but that they might not have the ability to properly effect what we believe to be of benefit to us, and for the other person who may not be able to see this, this is painful, as it snuggest that we do not trust them which at one level at least, is true!

  4. Elizabeth - from Life at Work18 May 2011 at 06:58

    Hi Padmadipa,

Yes, I agree with you. If we don’t trust somebody, it may be more complex. We may trust their intentions, but doubt that they will be able to carry those out. So we lose the sense of safety and care that comes with a sure feeling of trust. No doubt if the other person finds out this is how we are feeling, they will be hurt, because their intentions are to treat us well. 

The gap between what people intend and how they act is the gap in which most communication difficulties take place. Here, we need to communicate with care. 

My tip in this case is: If you are giving feedback about how somebody has behaved, then don’t just point out the consequences of their actions: remember to empathise with how they intended things to turn out. They will feel more open, safe and willing to listen to you if you can give acknowledgement to their intention too.

  5. Elizabeth – from Life at Work18 May 2011 at 06:59

    Dear John:

Two things come to mind when I read your question, John. The first is that when there is a good level of connection with another person (which implies also a good level of trust), then having the odd ‘grumpy moment’ is not going to dent our connection too badly. With a good connection, we trust that the other person will know we have their best interests at heart in a general way. They may even read us well enough to know why we are grumpy or cross, and so accept it more easily.

If our connection is more tenuous or fragile, then it’s true that having ‘negative feelings’ may be disconcerting or upsetting for them. So what we practice in this approach is how to stay true and authentic to our own feelings AND find a way to stay connected with others. 

I do this by exploring what is ‘negative’ in my feelings. I always find there’s a helpful message in there somewhere. Feelings are vocal messengers–they give us very clear messages about what we like and don’t like. But rather than leaving it here, let’s look further at the information we are getting. If there’s something I’m not wanting (such a cigarette smoke in the room), I may experience it as frustration or anger. There may even be an underlying sense of ‘no!’ to that experience. Then, just as I suggested to Shiwayo above: “It’s worth listening to your anger to hear its underlying message. … It’s likely your anger is telling you about your own unmet needs.”

In this situation, I would guess your unmet needs are related to deeply-held values and views within you. These may include a wish for people to be healthy, to make informed and considerate choices about their health, and to be aware of how they affect others. 

Once we are able to own our own needs and values, our feelings tend to shift from anger or ‘negativity’ into something more calm and resourceful. When they do this, we feel more connected with the other person. And more able to enter into a conversation with them, if that is what we choose.