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Regaining trust after a traumatic experience By Soteldo Therapy

Updated: Mar 28

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Regaining trust after a traumatic experience

Trusting yourself and other people is a central tenet of life that guides our day-to-day life. A traumatic experience can destroy not only the trust that you behold in yourself but also the trust that you have in institutions, people, or even a belief system that you had deemed infallible before the devastating incident.

When trust is breached, you will be in a state of shock and dilemma as you try to evaluate the situation, wondering if you would have done things differently. Shame, guilt, and anger may follow where you can lose faith in your decision-making skills. Consequently, you will lose trust in other people out of fear that they are out to take advantage of you.

Since you don’t trust yourself to be your own agent, you will delegate your sense of responsibility and ownership of thoughts, actions, and feelings to others. Since you are skeptical about their ability to meet your expectations, you will be disappointed. The resentment that follows will damage your relationships, and you could end up spiralling out of control and becoming a social pariah or a loner.

Lack of trust following abuse in a trauma-bonded relationship is a major concern. This is because, a person usually, allows someone to take ownership of thoughts, feelings, and actions which they need to be accountable for. Therefore, any breach of trust is devastating especially if the person willingly and knowingly allowed the other person to exert their influence on them.

The aspect of one losing themselves and the other aspect of being defined by someone complicates the post-traumatic healing process as the entanglement is too deep to reverse.

From another perspective, rebuilding trust is also challenging since most abusers get attached to their victims, and they may not be able to let go. Despite the no-contact policy that is often advocated to end the relationship and treat the addiction, the tormentor could go out of their way in undermining all the healing efforts. Hence, extra commitment is needed to overcome the allure of rekindling the relationship.

Furthermore, the element of conditioning also plays a major role in inhibiting the rebuilding of trust after a traumatic experience. When a person is exposed to a certain type of behaviour such as physical abuse, they may rationalize the vice and have excuses for it. The person may go as far as blaming themselves for whatever befell them and trying to reverse that perception also impedes regaining trust in oneself. That’s why it is very difficult to instil a sense of agency in a person who has been abused to enable them to stop being angry at themselves and to also stop attributing their predicament to someone else besides themselves.

We are going to undertake an exercise to help you to regain trust in yourself and others. The 20 minutes activity requires you to exercise self-empathy. Assuming that you are your old-self, detail your feelings and indicate your accountabilities.

Use the guidelines below to write the letter to your former self.

  • How are you feeling?

  • What is your situation?

  • What motivates your decisions?

  • Do you deserve any compassion?

Empathy begets trust. When you understand your situation, decisions, and feelings, you can be able to trust yourself and other people regardless of the circumstances. Remember to take your time, ruminate and process how your former self perceived themselves and others. Once you recall all the details, write a comprehensive letter. If you cannot finish it in 20 minutes, you have the liberty to finish it later at your own pace.

In most cases, people who have been in an abusive relationship had the choice to trust themselves. However, their lack of belief in their abilities or competencies made them forfeit their power to others. On the other hand, they could have been aware of their abilities and competencies but for some reason, they could not bring themselves to act with a sense of personal agency.

Deep introspection enables you to understand your former self and have a clearer image of the internal conflict, wounds, and dilemma that prevents you from being proactive and responding to situations that affect your life.

This standpoint brings us to the aspect of an action. Trust in itself is inconsequential without actions. When you believe in yourself and others, you will demonstrate your belief, this will influence the outcomes of decisions that affect you. For a better understanding, think of the following situations:

Standing up and advocating for yourself.

Trusting your intuition and adjusting your actions.

Setting strict boundaries.

Making promises to yourself and keeping them.

Giving yourself a time-off.

Being honest, candid, and frank in all issues.

Knowing when to walk away when you’re your boundaries are crossed.

Adopting a sense of agency where you own your actions and not being an agent of other people.

Establishing strong values and abiding by them.

When you trust yourself, you will regain the confidence to trust in others. This is because you will be optimistic that they can be able to meet act in your best interest and be accommodative of failures on their part. When you are let down, you will still be gracious and prepared to pick yourself up and soldier on.

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