Friday, October 16, 2015

Reflections on Trust Post Betrayal

Under the best of circumstances, trust is hard but after a betrayal it is significantly more difficult to attain or to retain.  Recently, I set out for the park because my almost-three-year old granddaughter loves to go to the park and I love to make her happy.  I had never been to this particular park but her parents assured me that she was a great little navigator and could lead us right to it.  As we set out, I realized that I was placing the safety and security for both of us in her tiny hands--I hadn't a clue where we were going and the weight of that slowed my steps and caused me to cling to her just a bit more tightly.  But sure enough, she led us straight to the park where we had a lot of fun together.  While I was pushing her on the swing I contemplated yet again this thing called "trust."

Webster defines trust as the "belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest and effective."  Trust develops in infancy and is rooted in those first attachments with parents who consistently provide for the helpless child's survival and relational needs.  Childhood and adolescence offers multiple opportunities to learn that not all are trustworthy and to gain the tools to navigate the experience of broken trust.  However, if we have experienced "good-enough" parenting, we approach friendships and intimate relationships with a level of resiliency and an innate ability to trust.

But what happens when we have experienced a devastating betrayal of trust in a close relationship?  Is it possible to trust again?  These are critical questions because trust is essential in any relationship but particularly so in an intimate one.  Part of learning to trust again is learning how to hone in on indicators of deception.  Evasive "dodging" of poignant questions, "fuzziness" on key details and a tendency to fudge the truth on non-essential information are warning of potential deception.  My ex-husband and I once argued for hours on what constituted a lie.  It reminded me of Bill Clinton' famous "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is," during his impeachment hearing.  To me, deception involves intent to deceive; my ex preferred to focus on technicalities, insisting that if it was technically true, even if the intent was to deceive, it was not a lie.  Deception destroys trust and those who have been betrayed are profoundly impacted by even the slightest "white lie."

A recent article in the on-line edition of Psychology Today addressed the epidemic of deception that exists in our culture and the impact that it has on an individual and on their ability to trust again  The author points out that deception "contaminates your entire sense of self.  It throws you off-kilter, makes you question your perceptions . . . [you] lose faith in [your] ability to determine what is real and what isn't."  Source  And compounding the betrayal of trust that deception creates is our culture's penchant for embracing the sinner and blaming his victim for falling prey to his deception.

We love the "bad boy finds Jesus" scenario and are quite happy to give perpetrators a second and third chance.  A "repentant" offender or perpetrator, is often welcomed back into the embrace of a church or community.  Like the wayward prodigal, his "return" is celebrated, his sins forgiven and he is restored.  His victims, however those he deceived and defrauded find that they are often blamed for being gullible and naive--for falling for the offender's lies.  This societal attitude taps into the inherent shame, embarrassment and humiliation a victim feels, fuels self-doubt and pretty much guarantees that she will remain silent about her betrayal.

Daring to trust again after profound betrayal is essential to wholehearted living and loving but it
involves the fiercest of battles.  The process of trusting again can feel like what I experienced recently when trying to return a rental car in a strange city.  I drove through dense fog and darkness relying solely on the step-by-step instructions provided by my smart phone.  Trusting again is taking that giant leap of faith, believing that there is still good in the world, that small electronic gadgets or almost three-year olds may know something that we don't We step out in faith that may feel blind, keeping an eye on the horizon looking for familiar "landmarks" (aka indicators of deception), listen to our gut, and cautiously move forward--one step or one mile at a time.  And hopefully, the destination that we arrive at is a relationship that can restore our broken trust and help to heal our wounded hearts.


  1. Thank you for this. My ex's betrayal occurred 16 years ago, and I'm still trying to figure out how to trust again.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Brenda. I think the journey to trust again will be a life-long journey for me but most days I am making progress. There are set-backs and detours but it feels like the journey is in the right direction, for the most part.