It's a matter of trust

Ducks are interesting people. I was watching a mother duck the other day crossing a road. Not a busy road but there were enough cars zooming up and down, mostly breaking the speed limit (heaven knows what the rush is in Iluka), to make any pedestrian look twice before crossing. Behind mum was a string of ducklings, all in a row playing follow the leader. Mum’s occasional quack being a signal, presumably, to keep up and not get left behind and become roadkill duck l’orange. Phew! They made it, which was great although I was pretty sure I would have thrown my body in front of any 4WD that threatened the brood: well, maybe I’d have yelled a lot and waved my arms.

Interesting this thing we call trust. As a miniature human being we have total trust in adults who care for us; we have to because we are hopelessly dependent for a very long time compared to most animals that are ready for the open road much earlier than the offspring of homo sapiens. The depth of trust is truly amazing and I’m sure you’ve seen and experienced it.

So, it is not so surprising that when trust is betrayed, winning it back can be really difficult for the betrayer and being able to trust again may be impossible for the betrayed.

One common situation I used to encounter in clinical practice was when one partner had had an affair – now known as Tiger Syndrome. A major part of the conversation I used to have with the betrayed was that sooner or later (preferably sooner) the person was going to have to trust their partner again if they were to stay together (assuming all other things had been sorted out satisfactorily). This is no easy decision and takes a lot to risk being hurt again. But the alternative is not that great. What tends to happen without trust is that the betrayed is constantly suspicious and that affects behaviour, and the relationship is constantly strained. Lack of trust results in anxiety and misery because it is impossible to fully engage in the relationship.

An affair is only one situation in which trust can be a problem. It can also occur with children and parents where perhaps the child has transgressed with drugs or some other behaviour that has frightened the parents. It can be really difficult to get over that fear that the child will do it again but to do otherwise can strain the relationship so that returning to a normal relationship is difficult. Over concern can be very destructive.

Trusting again is tricky, especially when you’ve been hurt quite badly. It takes a lot to make a decision to push doubt aside, take a deep breath and throw yourself back into the fray. Perhaps it takes a lot of hope too, which some people seem to have and others find more difficult to find. As we know, fulfilling relationships are essential to human happiness. The opposite is also true, that when relationships are less than good we become unhappy, anxious and feel as if something is missing from our lives. Now, if I could just stop watching for the ducks to come back across the road I could get something done.

Dr Stewart Hase is an Adjunct Fellow with Southern Cross University and a consultant psychologist.


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