Trusting Wisely By Karyn Hall, PhD

As you know from the last post, trustworthiness is not constant. People are not consistently trustworthy or consistently untrustworthy but vary according to situations they are in. Whether you behave in a more trusting way or not may vary in ways that you are not aware.

First, if you are feeling grateful you are more likely to behave in trusting ways to others. In fact, your level of trust is likely to vary exactly according to the level of gratitude you are experiencing at the moment. Notice this has nothing to do with the other person or the specific situation but is only based on the feelings you are experiencing. So maybe feeling good makes you trust others or be less judgmental and cautious? Yes, but it’s not only feeling grateful that increase your trust in others. If you are socially stressed, then you are also more likely to trust others. In fact, researchers found that social anxiety increased the rate of cooperation (trust) by about 50 per cent. Again, those feelings have nothing to do with trust.It’s not only feelings that increase trust. It could be the power of suggestion. If you believe you are wearing knock-off designer sunglasses, then you will act in less trustworthy ways than if you believe the sunglasses you are wearing are authentic.

A person’s trustworthiness can’t be determined from his past actions or reputation of being trustworthy. Asking if someone is trustworthy isn’t the right question. To increase your odds of trusting when it is appropriate to trust, then focus on whether the person is trustworthy right now in the current situation.

Survival of the fittest means that your mind is focused on how best for you to survive. So wouldn’t that mean that getting the best outcome for yourself in each interaction is the best strategy? In other words, trust no one and look out for yourself? Such an approach seems to work to the person’s advantage in the beginning but not in the long term. When you have that approach, as time goes on people do not want to cooperate with you and the approach no longer works. Those who behave in more trusting ways do better in the long term. Acting in trustworthy ways is often not easy. Behaving in trustworthy ways, both with yourself and with others, seems to count on your being able to resist immediate desires in favor of long-term benefit or self-regulation.

So one aspect of being trustworthy is being able to self-regulate. When you are wondering whether to trust yourself or to trust someone else, ask yourself if they are able to self-regulate in the situation you are in. How tired are they? How overwhelmed?

Another aspect of trust is to ask yourself if the person has the right skills to be trustworthy in the particular situation. You may trust your best friend more than anyone else in your life. But you wouldn’t trust your friend to tell you where to invest your money unless she is a financial expert.

So in considering whether to trust someone or yourself, remember that trust is not a set characteristic. Your feelings, the situation, and the power of suggestion can all influence trust. Are you emotionally regulated? Is the other person emotionally regulated? In addition, consider whether you or the other person has the competence needed to be trustworthy in the particular circumstances. So when deciding to trust someone, consider the context. Is your goal to get expert advice on a medical condition or to trust someone to babysit your new puppy?

Trust is one of the keys to building resilience. Being able to trust someone else is part of recovery and the ability to bounce back. Trust is necessary. So pay attention to your intuition, look for motives for your own or others behavior, and be wise in your decisions in each situation rather than having a set pattern.


DeSteno, D. (2014). The Truth About Trust. New York: Penguin Group.

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