Why So Many People Are Hard to Trust

‘I can’t trust people.’ I hear this from a lot of people, and have come to conclude it’s a widespread problem.

What makes it possible to trust someone?

The most common answer is, ‘Honesty.’ Or integrity. True enough. But a lot of people are, for the most part, honest; yet they still don’t prove to be trustworthy friends, spouses or relatives. So what’s the missing ingredient?

The answer is: A sense of inner security.

The simple truth is, you cannot trust someone who isn’t secure with him- or herself.

People who are insecure are emotionally dependent on other people. To be emotionally dependent on someone means to rely on others to tell you what’s true. A totally secure person trusts his own judgment, most of all. He’s open to changing his mind if facts or logic persuade him to do so; but he won’t change his mind just because other people in his life pressure him to do so.

A lot of people, in my experience, rely on the approval of others in order to form decisions and opinions about all kinds of things. They’re just as concerned, if not more concerned, with how they appear in the eyes of others as with how they actually are. As a result, they tend to sway like a tree branch in the wind. If the wind of opinion runs one way, then that’s how they’ll go. If it goes another way, they’ll turn. Their primary goal seems to be not to offend, which removes the possibility of being one’s genuine self from everyday affairs.

Insecure people lack an internal anchor. An anchor is trust and reliance on your own objective, reasoned judgment. It’s harder to trust people without one. Why? Because they’re not predictable. They’re not making up their own minds about things, and as a result they don’t follow through on what they claim to think—because what they think is often changing, and always subject to what they think others want them to think, or do.

A lot of this starts in school. Most of us are taught in groups. The group model for education teaches students in a class, and encourages affirmation of truth through the general consensus of the majority. Sure, schools are still teaching that one plus one equals two, and the capital of New York state is Albany. But when it comes to a lot of other matters—including judgment about events in one’s school, one’s family or the world—children are encouraged to conform to what the group as a whole thinks, to go along to get along. The whole reason most schools exist is to teach children to socialize, adapt and conform. Rarely do you encounter a school where the central, overriding principle is to teach a child to think for oneself.

As a result, we end up a society of people who lack the self-esteem and self-confidence we otherwise might have, had we been better trained to utilize our own thinking minds to arrive at conclusions. It’s ironic, because schools today stress self-esteem probably more than at any time in history. But they’re turning out fewer and fewer people with authentic self-esteem. This is because they define self-esteem as feeling comfortable in one’s group conformity, rather than comfortable with the capacity to think for yourself.

In order to trust someone, you have to know the person has high self-esteem. You have to know the person utilizes his or her own judgment as the final means of figuring out what’s true, what makes sense and what’s right. When dealing with such a person, you know where you stand. You don’t have to worry about him saying one thing and doing another, and while you might not always like what you hear, you’ll know you can always count on hearing authentic honesty.

Authenticity in friendships is a rare thing. How many people really say what they think? In my observation, almost nobody does. This is why it’s so hard to trust so many people. No, most of them don’t mean any harm, and most of them don’t mean to swindle anyone. The problem is, they don’t trust themselves enough to be who they authentically are. And if they don’t trust themselves, you won’t be able to trust them, either.


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