Ways to Re­pair Your Con­fi­dence

How to over­come be­trayal and re­build trust

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Front Page - BY DILIA NAR­DUZZI

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



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



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.


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.


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.

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