Nearly everyone I’ve ever served as a therapist or as a coach has said to me, “You’ll have to be patient. I have trust issues.” My response to that statement depends on how good I think their sense of humor is. What I’m most likely to say is, “Relax. We all do.”

I then go on to explain that I don’t really need a person to trust me to do my job. What I need is for them to progressively trust themselves.

People in recovery – whether from addiction, trauma, or both, are highly intuitive people. The more we trust ourselves, the easier it is to sense who we can safely connect with, who to believe, and who we can experience as genuine/real.

If we don’t make the choice intuitively, it will be a very long process. Trust is something most of us develop at the pace of a glacier, based on observations that are designed to determine whether the person’s words and deeds are consistent with who we perceive them to be. We test people. We do it so automatically that we often fail to notice that they passed the test. We’re suspicious – our past experiences dictate our present expectations – even when everything’s different, we still anticipate betrayal, deceit, and rejection.

The same folks who explain their “trust issues” to me will go on to describe their defenses and guardedness. The most used metaphor is their “wall.” Because we tend to think in black and white ways, most of us reason that we either have to keep our walls up or tear them down.

I never encourage folks to tear them down – there are too many people we aren’t safe to be vulnerable with. Instead I’ll offer a few suggestions:

  • Build a window into that wall so you have more clarity (on both sides).
  • Build a door and decide who to let in.
  • Notice how you treat yourself behind that wall.
  • Our “self-destruct” button is easily accessed behind it.
  • It’s lonely behind the wall.
  • We often have our walls up even with people we know we can trust because there’s no real on/off switch for letting them down.
  • We have to be willing to step outside of our walls, just as we need to move out of our comfort zone in order to heal and grow.
  • The walls will always be there. You can run back to them whenever we like.
  • As we heal, we make choices more consciously and less out of shame or fear.
  • We see the walls as less of a defense and more of a choice to be private or protected when needed.


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