When Being Trusted Feels Scary

What to do when you feel burdened by other people's expectations

Nobody wants to be distrusted.  But nor do we always enjoy trust – other people’s trustful expectations can give us sleepless nights.  Why do we feel this way, and how can we learn to relish the trust that others give us?

Trust involves hope – or even belief – about someone’s future actions.  When you trust your hairstylist to give you a fresh look, you hope and believe she’ll do a great job.  More than that, you think she has a responsibility to do the best job she can.  Our trust in other people differs from our attitudes to the natural world – you may hope for a wonderful display of woodland flowers when spring comes, but the bluebells are not personally responsible for making this happen (outside of magical storybooks at least!)

So being trusted is a responsibility, and responsibility can weigh heavy upon us.  When you feel this way, it’s worth reflecting as to why.  Trust can be unwanted for many different reasons, and the remedies are varied too.

  • Maybe you simply don’t want to do what you’ve been trusted to do: it conflicts with your other values, commitments, and plans.  Then trust creates an unwelcome dilemma: either conform to what’s wanted, or else leave an impression of untrustworthiness.  There is no easy escape from the immediate situation, unless you can find a way of reconciling your needs with the demands of others.  For the future, communication is key – painting a clear picture of your values and interests will help others understand when to trust you, and when to look elsewhere.
  • Maybe you’d love to do what you’ve been trusted to do, but worry that you don’t have the skills, energy or willpower to follow through, to fulfil the responsibility you’ve been given.  Trust is pushing you in the direction you’d like to travel, but uncomfortably raising the stakes: your reputation is on the line, and you have a responsibility to others to succeed.  In response, why not try a little trust in return?  Other people often have a better idea of our own capacities than we do ourselves: trust their trust in you.  And if you really can’t manage alone, then asking for help can build a virtuous circle of mutual support and mutual trust.
  • Maybe you’re confident you can do what’s needed, but want the freedom to do it for its own sake, or for your own satisfaction, rather than feeling it owed as a responsibility to other people.  Duty and obligation are important elements of a well-lived life, but so too are spontaneity, self-fulfilment, and even frivolity.  Faced with unwanted trust of this kind, you can think about gentle communication, about how to make your boundaries clearer.  Or you can cheerfully reconcile yourself to others’ trust: after all, it’s a stroke of luck to find your own inclinations and talents lined up with what others expect from you.

Being over-trusted can cause anxiety, but understanding the sources of this anxiety and learning to manage each others’ expectations is good for all of us.


Copyright Katherine Hawley, Ph.D

Originally published at Psychology Today

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