#4 Trust issues: Absence of Trust or Presence of Mistrust?
I will be using my couples dynamics lens to start with and then glimpse the psycho-dynamic lens about how many other elements may also come into play involving trust issues.
When people say they have trust issues, what I have noticed is they are usually not talking about a single spontaneous absence of trust in their relationship with someone or some group. What has usually happened is the trust they used to have in a specific person, or group has somehow been broken. So what then appears is the presence of Mistrust which I see as a different thing than the simple absence of trust because it is a specific response to a betrayal which broke the previous trust.
All of this occurs within a relational space between individuals or groups and other individuals or groups. It has big implications in our work as counsellors because how we conceptualize the problem requires us to fully understand which issues are driving others issues so we can understand where to start to actually be of help.
If we start with the premise that this issue is just the simple absence of trust between those involved we will probably try to repair of rebuild the trust level right away. My experience has shown me that this is not an effective strategy at this stage in things, it is just premature, we have to do something else first in preparation. The problem in the room is now the on-going presence of the accumulated mistrust between the parties. That mistrust is alive in the room and actively undermining everything else before we can even start to be helpful. So what can we offer to begin working with this mistrust?
My first step is always to name the mistrust and make it possible to have both parties speak and feel their experiences of what it is like for each. These become very emotional sessions very quickly, sometimes very one sided at first, and it is very important to get both sets of experiences out on the table. The level of information provided at this early stage can vary considerably between people, some want all the details, others don't want any of the details at first. There is usually a lot of pain & humiliation on one side, regret & shame on the other side and lots of fear and anger pulsing in the room, some being expressed directly, some either just under the surface or starting to leak into the room. It can be a very uncomfortable space to be in for both of the clients and the counsellors too. It is, however, a very important element of getting started in the way I approach these trust/mistrust issues with couples.
The model that I use here is my own creation that I refer to as my Inspection Model. It requires the person who broke the trust to be willing to accept resonsibility for their choices that lead them to breaking the trust, and a willingness to be inspected by the other as and when needed by the other. The purpose of these early steps is to acknowledge the lack of safety, and the usual level of inter-personal dishonesty between the parties and then to deliberately install a process that requires full transparency between the parties and most specifically the areas of previous lying, concealing or not asking hard questions when something may have been suspected.
While it may appear at first glance as particularly hard on the person who breals the trust initially, it is not often easy for the person who was betrayed to ask for these inspections. What I have noticed is both parties do need to struggle with their own contributions to the relatioship dynamics that are playing out. The setting up of clear boundaries and inspection & response protocals needs to be negotiated at the very begining of this process. The initial building of honest exchanges of important information, typically withheld before, directly connected to the concrete fears of either party must be very specifally structured and aggreed to by both at the very start of this treatment process.
I have been using a couples example here to demonstrate the model I use, but it could also be a between groups situation and the same principles would still apply just delivered into a group format, which would be a much more challenging application for sure.
Confirming and confronting the mistrust first sets the stage to be able to do some repairing and rebuilding of lost trust eventually, as a second step, because this model creates a new foundation which is capable of supporting how to get clear and honest with one another first. This new Inspection Model platform, when utilized as described, as the second step can sustian the possibility to re-build trust through transparency when that is what both clients want.
To take a short peak through a psych-dynamic lens here, there can certainly also be lots of other 'people in the room' from each person's past relationships too. So this aspect would of course have to be considered and included in how to proceed. The fundamentals of this perhaps radical inspection transparency and finding your ways to 'clear the room' of the potentially many others from each person's past is still required. Once accomplished then it is possible to be able to get back to the actual people in the room and help them do some re-building that could last.
It is a demanding model to use, but I have found some success when people are willing to commit to this level of transparency. Perhaps it will work for you and your clients too. Let me know how it went if you do try it.
I hope you have found some part of this valuable, and I hope you will join me January 31st for some thoughts about the way people choose relationships, Ciao and Happy New Year, David