Given the stress of the moment, it’s not surprising that childhood issues are being triggered. At the same time, with so many of us sequestered at home, it is a good time to think about those feelings and begin to deal with them. This post has been adapted from The Daughter Detox Question & Answer Book: A GPS for Navigating Out of a Toxic Childhood.
Not trusting others: the why of it
Trust issues are central to many unloved daughters in almost every intimate relationship, including friendship; it may spread out from there to embrace just about everyone. It’s not altogether surprising, especially in light of attachment theory, that if the one person whom the culture deems always trustworthy—your mother—isn’t, your mental models of relationship will come up short in the area of trust. Research shows that those with an anxious-preoccupied style of attachment have the most issues with trusting and are, moreover, likely to respond to feelings of mistrust in the most maladaptive ways. For example, in a study of college participants, 85 percent of whom were female, conducted by Lindsey M. Rodriguez, Angela M. DiBello, and others, the researchers found a rather distressing pattern: that anxiously attached individuals are more likely to be distrustful and jealous, act on their feelings of mistrust, engage in acts of snooping on or monitoring partners they suspect of betrayal, and actually engage in psychological abuse. If your response to this research is Yikes!, that’s appropriate. Like rejection sensitivity, mistrust often ends up being a self-fulfilling prophesy; monitoring and “testing” a partner’s loyalty (checking text messages, emails, going through receipts, and other spying tactics worthy of a Lifetime movie) usually doesn’t yield the desired reassurance but something else entirely. While securely attached people trust and prioritize their relationships, the anxiously attached woman responds in a knee-jerk way supposedly to protect herself.
Recognizing that your trust issues may be energized by your past experiences is an important moment in recovery, as is understanding the degree of your own overreactivity. The fearfulness caused by these uncertain times may also trigger old behaviors so it’s especially important to use this downtime to promote your overall healing. A number of readers have written me to say that their trust issues are triggered by the current reliance we have on others to tell us what’s safe and what isn’t.
Self-calming through conscious awareness
Learning to self-calm in these moments of automatic panic is the way to disarm these old behaviors; when you are settled, sit down and ask yourself some important questions, among them these:
- Has my partner or friend given me reason to distrust him or her?
- What would happen if I asked him or her outright about my fears or doubts?
- Am I able to stop the escalation of my thoughts and feelings by pinpointing the trigger?
- Can I specifically name the fear that fuels my distrust?
- How much of my reaction is moored in the present? How much in the past?
- How many people in my adult life have actually been untrustworthy?
- How many have proved to be trustworthy? Is there an underlying thread I can discern?
- Does not trusting others make me feel empowered or helpless?
- How does the current crisis feed into my specific lack of trust in others?
Using this enforced downtime to work on healing is a good idea. Life has been put on hold for most of us but we can continue to make progress.
Copyright ©2019, 2020 by Peg Streep
Photograph by Johannes Plenio. Copyright free. Unsplash.com
Rodriguez, Linda, Angelo M. DiBello, et al. “The Price of Distrust: Trust, Anxious Attachment, Jealousy, and Partner Abuse,” Partner Abuse, 2015, vol. 6(3), pp. 298-319.