Tuesday, 3 June 2008


Friendship and trust are so closely linked. If you find it hard to trust people, it's going to be hard to make friends.

You have to believe the other person's basically good-natured and caring, that they'll treat you decently and won't hurt you or betray you. If you've had a lot of bad experiences with people and that confidence has been undermined, making friends becomes harder.

My trust in people was badly damaged as a child. I had a belligerent, cantankerous father who constantly criticised me and seldom encouraged me. Later I was sent to a boarding school where I was regularly bullied and made to feel I didn't fit in and was somehow odd.

By my late teens I had lost much of my trust in people and I no longer assumed they would treat me well. They had to do a lot to convince me they were well-meaning and not going to belittle me or look down on me. The slightest sign of condescension and I would withdraw. Opening up and being myself no longer came naturally.

You might think such distrust would gradually disappear, that I would meet people who would restore my trust and I could start to make normal friendships like anyone else. But that never really happened and my distrust stubbornly lingered. Occasionally I meet people so transparently warm-hearted my suspicions melt for a while, but sooner or later they return.

The fact is I've never fully revealed myself to anyone except Jenny. Large parts of me are forever hidden, like the dark side of the moon. And it's too late now to expect any radical change.

Unfortunately there are plenty of parents and schools out there still damaging children's sense of trust without realising the long-term consequences - possibly an entire lifetime of struggling to make the sort of relationships that luckier people just take for granted. We need to take the emotional well-being of children a lot more seriously.


Grannymar said...

I give everyone a chance until they prove I shouldn't. As I get older I am more tolerant of the way people behave. I am sure some people find me difficult to get along with.

bodhránbanger said...

I was bullied in school as a kid but was lucky in that I made two life long friends at the same time, that offset some of the hurt. But a string of bad relationships and a couple of bad friendships left me extremely wary and quite hardened these last few years. If I hadn't been bullied as a kid I wonder if I would have made better choices later in life and not been so desperate for friendship and love?
Meeting my husband changed me for the better though and made me much more trusting!

Fate's Granddaughter said...

Trust is such a fragile thing to begin with - and if you think about the messages we're given from an early age, we are actually discouraged from trusting people outside our own circles as a safety measure. People who blindly trust others are often written off as naive, dim or fool-hearted...someone to pity or protect.

I too struggle to not immediately look for ulterior motives to people's kindness, but sometimes fighting your initial instincts is possible and worthwhile. The thing with trusting people is that it is a huge gamble. When it lets you down, it can devestate and destroy. But when it pays out, it pays out big!

Nick said...

Grannymar - That's a healthy attitude, giving everyone a chance. I try to do that, but something deep down often gets in the way.

Bodhránbanger - That's something I hadn't thought of, that bullying can lead to bad choices because you're so eager for friendship. And that just compounds the problem. Glad your present relationship is going so well!

Nick said...

FG - Thanks for that. You're right that over-trusting (or even just trusting) people are often seen as foolish and credulous. And yes, trust is a big gamble and I'm always nervous the gamble isn't justified. I've got far too cautious.

Wisewebwoman said...

Thanks for sharing there, Nick. It's definitely something about the signal receptors you have. I also was severely affected by an abusive father and intimidated mother who conducted her friendships outside our home or during the daytime when Dad wasn't around. As if friendship was something to be feared. I was bullied as a child and had a traumatizing experience with a best friend who turned on me publicly.
In spite of all that I've been blessed with good friends and let down most terribly by others.
I'm optimistic and usually give people a couple of chances before honouring myself and bailing.
On the whole I always remember that most are very good at heart and have the best of intentions for me. Which helps.
I ain't perfect tho, and I remember that too!

Nick said...

WWW - Signal receptors? Ooh, what are they? Yes, I'm generally optimistic but that optimism often fails me with other people. I'm never sure they do have the best of intentions. I can't believe what I see is what I'm going to get.

Baino said...

Well as you know Nick, I take the issue of trust and friendship very seriously although my childhood was blessed. I've never been bullied or experienced mistrust. I guess I'm one of the gullible ones. I've been disappointed when people don't turn out quite the way I thought they would but have a capacity to move on. Like Grannymar, I'm more tolerant as I get older and trust more willingly. It helps being pretty intuitive too although I've made a few mistakes, most people I have come to know, I trust implicitly.

Nick said...

Baino - You've obviously always been able to trust people and assume their good-heartedness, and the odd disappointment doesn't put you off. It all sounds so easy!

Nick said...

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments and advice. I'm particularly struck by the idea that trust is a gamble and you just have to take a gamble - nothing venture, nothing win. I must let that idea sink in and work its way into my actions!

Anonymous said...

Trust is a gamble but the cost of walling yourself off from others to prevent harm is much harder to count.

Much of my previous armour has disappeared along my own therapeutic journey. I feel my feelings intensely, acutely, I love deeply and passionately and I trust based on a gut feeling backed up on solid reality checks.

I am sorry to hear you had such an unhelpful childhood, Nick. You come across as warm, open and accepting despite everything you have been through. It's never too late to change how you think about things.



Anonymous said...

I'm lucky to have some life long friends but it gets more difficult for me as I get older to develop trust / friendships as I'm more set in my ways and maybe don't try as hard. I wish I could try a little harder to open up but rarely do unless a few beers oils the trustometer!

Wisewebwoman said...

hey Nick:
As you know, in childhood we develop the social skills (along with everything else!) necessary to carry us through life by observing, yeah, Mum & Dad.
In my journey through therapy, etc. I learned that the powerful patriarch in my family of origin was a rage-aholic who consistently gave out false messages on who to trust, why to trust, etc., thus damaging my intuition. I had to break the patterns that had been instilled and develop my own instincts. Easier said than done.
In later years my father and I spent a huge whack of time together (my kids were grown and gone) travelling everywhere and the first time I said, "You're wrong,Da!" I thought the universe would implode. ;^)

Gayé said...

I am not sure if I fall in the category of "can forgive but can't forget" because once my trust is broken, although I would remain friends with the person I would always keep a door open, for another slap in the face. I think if somebody deliberately and knowingly breaks my trust, they would have no problem doing it again. I am not sure if this is the same thing as holding grudges, I don't go around hating people but I surely wouldn't trust enough to turn my back to them without being on guard. I guess I am not that lucky as my trust has been broken before a few times. Nothing too traumatic but hurtful enough. I make friends easy, I trust people from the beginning and I leave it upto them to keep that trust or break it forever.

Nick said...

Hulla - That's what I keep telling myself, walling myself up is no good either. I do envy you your obviously strong, passionate feelings. And glad I still come across as warm despite everything! You're right, even at my ripe old age, I can reinvent myself if I really want to! {{{{Hulla}}}}

Quicky - My tolerance of alcohol is strictly limited, so I need other ways of fuelling my trustometer!

WWW - My father was a rage-aholic too. I used to argue with him a lot, but instead of being friendly sparring it got very bitter because he always insisted on being in the right. Interesting point about him damaging your intuition and your having to rebuild it.

Gayé - No, I don't think being wary is the same as holding grudges (something my father did in spades). Being wary is just being prepared for another let-down, while grudges are sour, hateful vendettas. You make friends easy - you're so lucky!

Nick said...

I'm really touched by all your lovely comments. In fact I feel quite teary. Thank you, what wonderful blogmates you all are!

Xbox4NappyRash said...


I'm a cynical sod, I can rarely find much good to say about people.
What I cannot fathom, or stomach is how parents or teachers or others in charge of kids care can do so much, so often, to beat them down.

Even purely in a mental sense, kids are being damaged by cynical carers worn from the world.

I'm sure they think they are doing weel, preparing the children for life in the adult world, but I just wish we could do it the other way around.
Learn how to be optimistic about people, the way kids are.

Nick said...

Xbox - Indeed, unthinking parents, teachers and carers can do so much casual damage to children. And I can't see how 'toughening them up' is a suitable preparation for adulthood. It only means those kids will brutalise others in their turn. There's nothing soft about inspiring sensitivity, compassion and altruism, if that actually leads to a more civilised society.

Medbh said...

I always went for the quality of friends over quantity like many people we know. Folks who have a million friends don't know anyone well nor can they count on them in times of need. Good friendships are rare and hard to come by.

Nick said...

Very true, Medbh. How many friends are really valuable friends? I take it you mean that it's easy to have the sort of casual trust that makes casual friends, but the deeper trust that makes a really important friendship can be more elusive.

Anonymous said...

if someone proves themselves unworthy of your trust, then i say they aren't deserving of it. trust is a tough one, though. once it's violated, it's damn near impossible to get back.

Nicole said...

I'm the opposite of grannymar...I give everyone the squinted eye until some time has passed. Every once in a while, I slip up and trust too quickly - and always get burned. I don't think that can be helped. People are fallible and will always let you down in some way - sometimes big, sometimes small. It's the big ones that stay with us. I put total trust in certain family members and one or two life-long friends, but keep a part of me guarded with all others. I think it's a part of learning good judgment.

Nick said...

Cami - Absolutely. My problem though is that I'm now wary of showing that trust in the first place. Someone has to be exceptionally warm and honest for me to believe in them. Which is asking an awful lot of the other person.

Nicole - That's happened to me too, on occasion I've been very trusting and been burnt. But as you say, people are human and that's the risk you have to take. I should follow my intuitions more and not be over-cautious.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Amen. I was bullied, abused and undermined at home, but other children liked me. This caused confusion and yes, distrust. I was so convinced that I was worthless that I thought those who seemed to think highly of me must be acting out of pity.

I don't think that one can ever fully recover from such mistreatment. It is only possible to hide ones insecurities so that others won't guess our nasty secret.

Nick said...

Heart, I'm glad you've had similar experiences. Sometimes I think I'm exaggerating and creating a problem that doesn't really exist!