Don’t ever ask me to trust you, it will set off my radar. It’s been my experience that when someone says, “Trust me!”, they are too often not very trustworthy. Even if they happen to be, though, the request is poorly worded. It’s impossible to trust someone instantly. What IS possible, however, is an instant risk, and knowing the difference between the two is a measure of our emotional intelligence.

In my personal relationships, I take small risks with a new person, and if they prove to be risk-worthy, I increase the amount of risks and the types of risks I take, and if they are reliable with them then I eventually trust them with multiple aspects of my life and my needs. I think of these as arenas of trust—places where I have needs. With this process, I develop various types of trust within different areas of need. When people are trustworthy in multiple ways, they often become close friends because I feel so comfortable around them.

Trust is a complex concept, though. I trust some people to be on time, but I can’t trust them with a movie recommendation. I may trust someone to take care of my cat, but can’t trust them to keep a secret. So I take small risks in multiple areas, and I don’t expect everyone in my life to be trustworthy in every way. No one is. 

I’ve been contemplating these concepts for a long time, and right now I see two major arenas where these two concepts are consistently being confused for each other—health (particularly COVID-19) and politics. Both can have amazing or devastating results, if we aren’t carefully calculated in our behavior.

A brief example is with the COVID-19 virus. It’s disheartening, and frankly frightening, how many people I have heard who believe that the pandemic is either overhyped, or even outright fraudulent. These people generally don’t trust scientific sources, and they are willing to risk their lives and the lives of those around them by default as a result.

How does this happen? It initially happens from the most powerful natural human defense against disaster—denial. This is always present when we hear something devastating. The issue is that not everyone moves through the denial into a more functional, healthy, and safer space.

It also happens because sometimes people naively expect to be able to trust in an all-or-nothing way. If one piece of information is suspect, we may throw out all ideas of further risks, or possible arenas of trust. We don’t look at the possibility that a person, organization or institution might be more trustworthy in some arenas and not others. I see this particularly in politics. 

We also forget that we sometimes have to take some risks in order to investigate trustworthiness.

We can fail to take the time to truly investigate in as unbiased a way as possible, to gather information. We simply go to our most reliable sources without ever even considering looking at opposing points of view. It is impossible to learn that way. Learning happens when we are willing to look at changing information and multiple viewpoints from multiple sources.

A mature trust process looks something like this:

  • Acknowledge multiple areas of need
  • Understand the difference between risk and trust
  • Understand we have multiple arenas of risk and trust, and that no one person, organization or institution will be able to fulfill them all
  • Investigate the person, organization or institution by looking at their track record, their goals, and their motivations in a general way over time.
  • Take a risk when I feel it’s warranted, and in the arena I wish to risk in (family, learning, health, romance, money, etc.)
  • Notice as my trust develops in some arenas and not others
  • Notice as my trust develops with some people/organizations/institutions and not others
  • Never assume someone or something will always be trustworthy in every way, or at all times.

The nice thing about this process is that we can actually see amazing things. We can see where we rely on others, and we can see that while we may not be able to trust any one person for everything, we can generally trust a carefully built, gradually curated community for almost all of our needs.

We can also see how we, ourselves, are needed. There is no arena in which you are not needed by someone: love, finance, physical help, affection, new or diverse ideas, a shoulder to cry on. We can relieve ourselves of the burden of being all things to all people, or all things to one person. At the same time, we can see how we need never feel unnecessary in the world.

Dr. Rosalyn Dischiavo

Dr Rosalyn Dischiavo

Dr. Rosalyn Dischiavo EdD, MA, CSES, is a sexologist, professor, former family therapist, and a professional sexuality educator. She is the Founder & Director of Institute for Sexuality Education & Enlightenment, and the author of “The Deep Yes, the Lost Art of True Receiving.” Dr. Dischiavo is also currently President of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) as well as past Professional Education Steering Committee Chair on the Board of AASECT. She is a Certified Sexuality Educator and a Certified Sexuality Educator Supervisor.

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