Learning to trust ourselves and others

The past few days have been spent deep in south-west WA around Albany and now Bremer Bay. If you want to walk along completely empty beaches on brilliant white sand and washed by a turquoise sea, then let me recommend this part of the world. Mind you, not much else to do here, other than fishing, walking and reading. And only one commercial TV channel and local ABC radio, which means limited reality nonsense and no Alan Jones: bliss!


The speed limit on country highways here is 110 km per hour. Pretty empty roads too apart from the odd road train, grey nomads with caravan in tow and kangaroos. Every now and then there is a railway crossing with a sign warning that one is coming up and to prepare to stop. As we hurtled over a crossing the other day it occurred to me that there was a fair bit of trust involved in what I was doing. I was trusting that if a train was coming that the warning lights would indeed warn and I'd be able to pull up and let the big beast and its tons of cargo pass through.


It struck me that our lives are full of unthinking trust. We trust that we won't: be crushed by a piano pushed out of a fifth floor window, be smashed in the head by a ball from an errant golf club, have all our bones crushed as an elevator hits the basement at warp speed 10, or be poisoned by fish and chips bought from the deli on the corner.


We trust others with our hearts, our peace of mind, our thoughts and beliefs.

A lot of the time our trust pays off. Meteorites whistle by all the time and burn out before hitting the spot on which we are standing and we usually find friends and lovers to nurture us. But sometimes our trust is betrayed. Bad things happen to good people, when we have not earned them and often completely unexpectedly. The lights on the railway crossing do not come on when they should.

One of the interesting things about trust, apart from our trust in it, is that once we've been let down it is very hard to trust in the person, persons or circumstance again. The result is anger, fear, loss, resentment, or a mixture of all of these. People who have had a car accident might find it difficult to get in a car again, go up and fix the roof tiles after a fall, swim in the ocean after being chased by something with very sharp teeth. Someone who has been bullied or abused will shy away from others and turn inwards, doubting themselves and others around them. And of course, how can we ever trust a parent who left us, for whatever reason, or a partner who let us down by having an affair?

What we do, of course, with trust is that we tend to generalise it. I had one bad experience so it will happen again in all similar circumstances. Don't trust all other car drivers, all heights, all oceans, all people and make sure we don't love again. This makes us feel sad, bad or mad. Sometimes one bad experience leads to total avoidance, and then we feel nothing at all.

It's a matter of being prepared to trust ourselves again, to risk and to trust our ability to manage whatever may happen, to build our resilience, to learn to deal with our feelings. Tricky, but doable with a little help from our friends.

Dr Stewart is an Adjunct Fellow with Southern Corss University and a consultant psychologist. You can visit his blog at stewarthase.blogspot.com.

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