Trust holds relationships together, but sometimes the bonds unravel. That can happen after any breach in trust; a romantic partner having an affair, a business partner stealing the company funds, your siblings turning their back on you in your darkest hours…you get the idea.
Even if you avoid what you’d consider a major betrayal, you’re still likely to run into a coworker who talks behind your back, a friend who shares your secret, or a colleague who breaks a promise.
Trust can be rebuilt, but it takes work. Consider these strategies for what to do when you let others down or feel like you’ve been deceived.
What to Do When You Damage the Trust
- Apologize sincerely. Express your regret for what you did and acknowledge the impact that your actions had on others’ lives. Resist the urge to make excuses, and listen to what the other person has to say even if it’s uncomfortable to hear. Imagine someone else doing or saying the things that you did to cause the pain and use deep empathy to understand what they’re feeling as best as you can.
- Own it. Take 100% complete and total responsibility for your words or actions. First, it’s how you take your power back so that you can prevent those actions from happening again. Second, by taking responsibility, you’re preventing the issue from escalating even further by sparing the person you hurt from having to explain why what you did hurt them.
- Make amends. Back up your words with concrete actions. A good start may include breaking total contact with an affair partner, offering financial compensation if you took money that wasn’t yours, or making a public statement about your part in the situation. While that’s a good start, if you’ve been given an opportunity to make amends, use the opportunity to be sure to let your actions speak louder than your words.
- Change your behavior. Avoiding a repeat performance is usually the most effective way to demonstrate your remorse. You’ll need to understand what you did and create new habits that keep you from going down that path again. While betrayal is traumatic enough to the person who believed in and trusted in you, doing it again is mind-blowingly painful to the person who is desperately trying to regain their footing. It’s an incredibly fragile time and there’s no room in the betrayed person’s mind and heart for another assault as they do the work to heal physically, mentally and emotionally.
- Resolve underlying issues. While you’re examining yourself, you may notice disturbing patterns concerning yourself or your relationship. Reach out for additional resources that can help you make more constructive decisions. Talk with someone who truly gets it and can help.
- Be patient. Healing takes time. Give others the opportunity to see that you’re determined to make real changes.
What to Do When Someone Damages Your Trust
- Accept responsibility. Even when you’re the one who has been injured, you may have played some part in the situation. Knowing your contribution gives you the power to create different outcomes. Maybe you’ll want to work on your assertiveness or build up your self-esteem. Please know, that doesn’t mean that someone else’s actions are your fault, just a good opportunity to see what may need a closer look.
- Suspend judgment. If you’re willing to give someone a second chance, it’s important to withhold judgment. Focus on your healing instead of spending your time, effort and energy on why someone made the choices they did. We never really know why people do what they do but what’s often true is that “hurt people, hurt people.”
- Revise your boundaries. You’ll feel more confident and empowered if you decide what you want to do going forward, rather than letting your actions depend on someone who let you down. After a breach in trust, it’s a great time to make a list of non-negotiables and revise your boundaries. Were you tolerating disrespect? Were you accepting behavior that made you feel rejected or mistreated in some way? Take the time to do some exploration to decide what you will and won’t tolerate going forward.
- Honor your strengths. Think of the challenges you’ve already survived. While it’s uncomfortable, unsettling and even heartbreaking to have trust violated, you can heal from all of it. That’s not just a hopeful thought, it’s predictable when you move through the 5 Stages from Betrayal to Breakthrough.
- Manage your expectations. It’s healthy to set reasonable boundaries in a relationship, but remember that humans are fallible. Distinguish between minor slights and serious patterns. Practicing forgiveness releases the power the pain has over you and is healthy for your body, mind and heart.
- Move on. Many relationships can be restored and emerge even stronger after trust has been tested. On the other hand, if your differences are irreconcilable, it’s time to wish the other person well and distance yourself.
When trust is violated, you may wonder if romance, friendship or any relationship for that matter are worth the heartache. The answer is a resounding yes. After trust has been shattered, it’s a great time to heal. It’s also time to give yourself an upgrade of new thoughts, actions, habits and behaviors that resonate with the 2.0 version of you that’s ready to emerge on the other side of your healing. When you take the time to turn your setbacks into newfound strength and insights, that’s trauma well served.
Founder and CEO, The PBT (Post Betrayal Transformation) Institute