Ways to Repair Your Confidence
How to overcome betrayal and rebuild trust
LARA HARRISON* HAS ALWAYS had a complicated relationship with her father. “He was a hard man,” says the small-business owner. His moods were unpredictable and he would often lash out with criticism. Being with him felt very volatile.
Over the years, Harrison tried to keep their relationship functional by calling out his behaviour and getting angry, but that just led him to shut down. Several times, Harrison felt
she’d reached her breaking point and avoided her dad for months. Still, she couldn’t abandon him completely. While he remained difficult to get close to, small actions showed he cared: he went out of his way to help out with tasks such as renovating her office. Harrison wanted the relationship to improve.
As her father reached his 70s, she realised that if they were going to re‑establish trust, they could
not waste time. “I made a conscious decision to change my responses to him,” she says. If he was being moody during their time together, she’d nonetheless end their interaction by thanking him for the visit and giving him a hug – something that wasn’t typical for them. The small interventions worked; he became kinder each visit, and his moods stabilised. Eventually he began reaching out to her, texting to ask, “How are you?” or saying he was proud of her, something she’d always longed to hear. Harrison, in turn, felt more trusting: “My heart softened. I was more loving and willing to receive love from my dad.”
TRUST IS ONE OF the most important elements of a safe, fulfilling and well-functioning relationship. Still, it often isn’t until something hurtful happens – a spouse cheats on you, a boss ridicules you in front of colleagues – that we think about trust; we don’t notice it until it’s broken.
Trust factors into every one of our relationships, from preserving our most important connections to helping us build new ones. Although it can sometimes seem impossible, understanding how to renew confidence in one another is a crucial life skill. If you’re struggling to repair a relationship after a breach of trust, there are strategies that can help.
One of the biggest barriers to moving past a betrayal is a lack of genuine desire to do so. “People need to have a willingness to even try to rebuild trust,” says psychologist Kathy Offet- Gartner. That goes for both parties.
“Some believe that we motivate others by offering incentives, making threats or giving ultimatums,” she explains, but any promises a person agrees to under duress are unlikely to stick.
Instead, those seeking to rebuild trust should focus on maintaining an open dialogue. “Words matter, and the intent behind the words matter,” says Offet-Gartner. Because trust is defined differently by different people, we need to be able to answer the question, “What does trust mean to me?” If we can’t, it will likely be difficult to convey to others how we want them to demonstrate their trustworthiness.
Effective communication also includes sincere gestures – big or small – that can demonstrate our
THOSE SEEKING TO REBUILD TRUST
SHOULD FOCUS ON MAINTAINING AN HONEST AND OPEN DIALOGUE
dependability, such as keeping our promises or making a loved one’s life simpler by volunteering to help with tasks. To re-establish yourself as a trustworthy presence, think ahead about what you can do to help the other “feel safe, heard, loved and respected,” Offet-Gartner says.
When possible, letting go of mistakes is also important, says psychotherapist and counsellor Vicki-Anne Rodrigue. If two people have decided to move past a betrayal, and one of them says something like, “I’ll give you a second chance, but if you mess up, it’s over,” that can hinder progress – it doesn’t instill confidence in the offending party. The inverse
ANGER IN ITSELF IS A HEALTHY EMOTION BUT CONSTANT, ALL-CONSUMING
FRUSTRATION CAN BECOME TOXIC
is also true. If the offended party is told, “You’re so sensitive; why can’t you just control your emotions?” it shows the willingness to rebuild with respect isn’t there. Anger in itself is a healthy emotion, Rodrigue explains. “It signals to a person that something is not right in their environment.” But constant frustration can be toxic.
FOCUS ON THE SELF
It’s tempting to frame breaches of trust in an oversimplified manner: an offending party harming an offended party. Sometimes, that clear placement of blame is warranted – for instance, in the case of sexual assault or violent attack. In exceptional situations such as these, interacting with your perpetrator isn’t always required – nor is it guaranteed to be healing.
In less traumatic instances, however, fault lines aren’t necessarily 100 per cent clear. Listen to your inner barometer. “Learn from the experience and ask yourself, ‘What could I do differently if something like this happens again?’” says Rodrigue. You might not come to the conclusion that you’ve done anything wrong, or you may be able to pinpoint how some of your behaviours contributed to the erosion of trust. Familiarising ourselves with our own impressions is also what helps us decide whom to have confidence in down the road. Offet-Gartner suggests an analogy: when you turn on the stove and put your hand near it, you feel the heat and instinctively pull away. “Internally, you get messages about people. Start practising. Start paying attention.”
Self-care is also crucial, particularly for individuals whose trust has been breached. Exercise can foster good mental health – mood-boosting endorphins are released into the
brain which create a sense of calm, while stress hormones such as cortisol diminish. This allows you to “reflect on betrayal with clarity,” says Rodrigue. Finally, joining a support group can help those feeling wary of others. Look for people who share your experience, such as a group whose spouses have also cheated on them. “If there’s a take-away message when a betrayal has happened, it’s ‘Don’t isolate yourself. You need community’,” she says.
STAYING THE COURSE
It’s important to keep in mind that reconciliation won’t happen immediately. “Don’t feel pressured or worried if you’re not healing fast enough,” says Rodrigue. When we feel betrayed, our brains move into fight-or-flight mode, and it becomes difficult to examine our circumstances rationally. Taking time to calm ourselves – and move away from feeling defensive – can allow us to arrive in a space of collaboration.
If you’re the one who has broken trust, consider approaching the betrayed party, but remain patient and aware of their boundaries. Assure them that you can see you’ve caused pain and deliver a sincere apology. Make it clear that you hope to reconnect, but are willing to give space.
Despite our best efforts, trust can’t always be rebuilt. If all attempts fail, says Rodrigue, it may be time to move on – even temporarily. She points out that healing can take decades, and that sometimes people find their way back to each other over time. “So there is reason to hope.”
FOR HER PART, Harrison is happy she remained optimistic. Rebuilding trust with her father ultimately helped her to engage in self-reflection. She realised she could also be stubborn when she felt threatened, and that her negative connection to her father made her less trusting of other people in her life. “I never allowed myself to dive deeply into relationships. At the first sight of a challenge, I would blame others, get angry or leave.
“The effort it takes to be constantly on guard is exhausting,” she says. “It robs you of life’s happy moments.” Today, she’s thankful to be able to approach others more lovingly and with an open heart.