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Healing Trust Damage
Written By: Mark Smith


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One very important ingredient in healing individually or martially is being able to trust your therapist, your therapy group and the universe in general. It is an act of faith to pick up your phone to set up your initial therapy appointment. In effect you are saying to yourself that you believe that the therapist has the power and the positive intentions help you. We understand that this new faith is usually somewhat shaky at best. We try to instill faith and trust from the very first session on.

Many people are naturally trust damaged due to harmful, negative experiences in their childhoods. Their parents were too unhealthy to consistently be there for them or to meet their needs. One of the early developmental tasks is called ‘Basic Trust verse Basic Mistrust’. If parents provide a consistently safe and nurturing environment then a child naturally trusts the world. For many of us that trustworthy environment just wasn’t there. Fortunately I believe that you can heal your trust damage through therapy and Recovery. Let me describe some interesting characters that I have worked with through the years who have overcome their trust damaged childhood experiences to make progress in therapy and in life.

Beth’s childhood was dominated by her controlling, raging and intimidating mother – we are talking ‘Mommy Dearest’ here. It is very much like Beth was brought up in a cult group where Mom brainwashed she and her siblings. As an adult Beth is filled with abandonment fears. She can’t sleep if her husband isn’t home. She hates being the center of attention and she cuts off from friends if they manage to get close to her. Therapy was very difficult because when I named what I heard in her mom’s story Beth felt as if she was being disloyal to her mother and she felt extremely guilty afterwards. It was difficult for her to trust therapy because it brought up a great deal of very deep and very dark pain as well. How could something good for you make you feel so bad? Beth dropped out of therapy several times in the first six months of her work. Finally she was convinced that she had an obligation to her children to get healthier for them. She is very sweet and very courageous. She trusts me because in her heart of hearts she knows what I have told her about her mother is the truth. She has even been able to join a therapy group. I feel sure that she is going to make good progress. But there is always a good possibility that she won't be able to do the work due to her massive trust issues.

I have an extremely interesting fellow named Don who has made great strides in his ability to have trust in therapy. He is still working on trusting the universe. He comes from an Appalachian background. He calls his Kentucky family ‘a bunch of hillbillies from the holler’. In his culture growing up he was taught that nobody should or could be trusted, that everyone had a hidden agenda to take advantage of you. It was taught him every day that he could only trust only in himself. This young man is extremely bright. I have to be on my toes every time he walks into the room. Doing therapy with him is like playing chess with a grand master. He is so trust damaged that he doesn’t know how to love or be loved. He doesn’t even trust his extremely adoring wife. He comes to therapy every other week and I think that he enjoys it once he gets there. Because I have made strong, logical, respectful and well organized appeals to his gifted mind he has learned to trust me. It is such an honor to be given trust and respect by this young man because he reserves those things for very few people. He and his wife are primed to make great progress because he has built a foundation of trust that he can build his work on himself on.

Chris is a rebel. He is 35 but he dressed sort of like a 16 year old punk or skater. He is one of the most trust damaged clients I have ever worked with. His father abandoned him when he was little and his mother was controlling, victimy, workaholic and spoiling. Chris’s recovery from an addiction has been slowed because he finds it very difficult to walk into 12 Step Meetings and fully throw his soul into it. He goes but not often enough and without much enthusiasm. It is difficult for him to make calls to other members when he needs support. Chris really doesn’t have many friends. However, he is starting to make some headway with his recovery because he has learned to trust in something - his routine of frequent exercise, good nutrition; time with his family and attending meetings has given him some much needed positive momentum in battling his addiction.

With all three of these wonderful characters they needed to heal their trust damage in order to make use of therapy and ironically healing their trust damage was the first and perhaps most important fruit of the work that they did. The journey was more important than the destination. It was a joy to see all three of them take their first trusting steps into a world that generally good and could be trusted.

Are you able to trust the universe? Do you view people as being basically good or not so much? Do you have trust that your future will be rich and wonderful? Do you view the world as being full of abundance and good things for you or as a place with very limited resources that have to be aggressively competed for? There are three ways that I try to present and enrich faith to my doubting Thomas’s…

#1 Offer a caring, consistent, helpful therapeutic relationship. So much of effective therapy is about the relationship itself. People know if you truly care and if you are wise and powerful enough to help them. In a sense good therapy with trust damaged people is sort of like a form of re-parenting. The right match with a talented and caring therapist can make all the difference in the world in a life that otherwise might have been extremely limited.

#2 Encourage the reading of great faith building books. While I am not a big reader I listen to a lot of books on my IPod. My mentor, Dr. Patrick Carnes turned me on to being well read, or in my case being ‘well listened’. Read or listen to books like ‘The Secret’, ‘Codependent No More’, ‘The Artist Way’, ‘Healing the Shame that Binds You’, ‘His Needs, Her Needs’, ‘Getting the Love you Want’ or ‘The Dance of Anger’. Or read anything by Dr. Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, poet David Whyte, sociologist Malcolm Gladwell or Patrick Carnes. If you own a small business or you aspire to do so I encourage you to read ‘The New Rules of Marketing’, ‘Inbound Marketing’ and anything by Michael Gerber. The world is a huge wonderful place with limitless possibilities. With faith and hard work anyone can achieve anything they really want badly enough. The Internet is a magical equalizer that presents limitless opportunities. Your relationship issues can get better. You marriage can get a lot better as long as both of you are ready and able to do the work. Have faith. Make that call to a therapist. Walk into that 12 Step Meeting. Ask God to help and guide you. You aren’t alone. We are all in this together. Reach out and try to trust someone or something new today.

#3 A major tool that we use to help build trust is group therapy. Of course a great deal of trust has to be bestowed on us in order for a client to take the leap into committing to group therapy. Group therapy is really awesome. I think that it is one of the most secret and underestimated healing forces in the world today. Almost every client that I have seen significantly rebuild their lives has done a great deal of their work in group therapy. I teaches you that you aren’t along. It offers a sense of support, friendship and emotional warmth. I have seen clients grow like weeds in a group setting. It is empowering, nurturing and fun. Honestly I liken a group therapy session to a trip to the spa. As the Recovery movement grows in our culture I foresee a day when group therapy involvement becomes as common place and normal as church attendance.

I wish that I could magically instill in you all the hope that I have. The world is a wonderful place filled with endless possibilities. You can do anything that you want to do if you believe that you can. You can heal your issues and your relationships. It takes time and it is hard work but it works. You can make your world as safe and as predictable and you want and need for it to be. Make that call to a therapist today. Open that faith building book. Look to the heavens and ask for God’s help. Walk into that 12 Step Meeting and look to make a whole room of new friends. Reach out to a friend. Trust in something or someone new today. You will be glad that you did. Don’t let old, negative, victimy thinking rotted in your childhood wounds run your life. Stick your toe in the waters of new and positive things. If you do it won’t be long until you are diving in.




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This article was authored by Family Tree Counseling Associates, a marriage, individual and family counseling center serving the Indianapolis, Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville communities in Indiana. If you would like to contact us, please fill out a contact us form or call us at 317-844-2442.
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