Acceptance and Commitment Therapy SIG

Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Rebuilding Trust

In Community, Trainer on March 27, 2010 at 9:01 am

by Russ Harris      image

Clients that have been hurt, threatened or abused by others often ask questions like, ‘How can I ever trust anyone again?’ There are several ways we can approach this from the ACT model.

Firstly, we can distinguish between ‘blind trust’ and ‘mindful trust’. ‘Blind trust’ means trusting someone completely without bothering to assess whether they are deserving of your trust (i.e. going in with your eyes closed). ‘Mindful trust’ means seeing this person with your eyes open: assessing what sort of person they are. Are they generally honest, open, and truthful, or do they tend to lie, hide and deceive. Are they sincere (i.e. do they mean what they say)? Are they reliable (i.e. do they follow through on the things they say they will do)? Are they responsible (i.e. do they consider the consequences of their actions)? Are they competent (i.e. are they capable of doing the things they say they’re going to do)? As we get to know someone, and we assess that they are sincere, reliable, responsible, and competent, based on our direct observation of their actions, then we can establish a mindful trust rather than a blind trust.

Secondly, a general principle in ACT is to distinguish feelings from actions. While we have a lot of control over the actions of trust, we have very little control over the feelings of trust. So what does trust feel like? Well, usually it is a feeling of security, comfort, confidence, safety, calmness, relief – or some mixture thereof. So how likely is it that if you’ve been hurt or abused in a significant relationship, you are going to have such positive feelings when you start developing your next significant relationship? Highly unlikely, obviously. The feelings you are likely to have are those of anxiety, doubt, insecurity and vulnerability. So, the ACT question is, if developing meaningful relationships truly matters to you, are you willing to make room for these feelings, and take them with you into the new relationship?

Thirdly, remember that while you can’t control the feelings of trust, you can control the actions. So rather than leaping head first into a new relationship, you can do little actions of trust – just baby steps initially – and mindfully assess the consequences. As this other person starts to prove ‘trustworthy’, you can then take larger actions of trust (and continue mindfully assessing the consequences). And you keep on doing this – step by step – all the while making room for those perfectly normal feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and vulnerability (which will probably intensify as the size of your trusting action increases). And if the other person keeps on responding appropriately – then maybe, after a while, you will start to develop the feelings of trust. But this is not in your control. Only the actions are in your control.

Fourthly, it’s important to acknowledge that one thing you can never have is absolute certainty. If you want absolute certainty that you will never get hurt again in a significant relationship, the only way you can achieve that is to avoid ever getting into one. And is that the life you would really choose to have? If meaningful relationships are part of a rich and full life for you, then are you willing to make room for uncertainty; to thank your mind for the ‘I’ll get hurt story’, and breathe into that knot in your stomach, and make some space for that tightness in your chest?

Fifthly, it can be helpful to have the client notice all the ways in which they already do acts of trust on a daily basis. Taking a bus, train or taxi is an act of trust (we trust them to drive competently and responsibly). Eating cafe food, or take-away food is an act of trust (we trust them to cook competently and responsibly). Even eating supermarket food is an act of trust – (we trust it has been prepared safely and hygienically). Going to a doctor or dentist or physio are more obvious and dramatic examples. And of course, let’s not forget the therapeutic relationship. I like to say to clients, ‘Coming here to see me is a huge act of trust. What thoughts and feelings did you have to make room for in order to get here in the first place – and then, to open up to me like this?’

Sixthly, find a healthy balance between trust and self-protection. If you’ve met someone new, it may be wise to ask others what they know about this person. In some situations, it may be wise to check up on them – to see if they were telling the truth, or if they followed through on their promises. In some situations, it may be wise to wait a long time before you are ever alone together. Obviously as a genuine trusting relationship is established, these self-protective actions will become less necessary. The key is to find a HEALTHY balance. If it’s all about self-protection, you’ll destroy the relationship or prevent it form getting established; but if it’s all about trust and you neglect the self-protection, then you’re taking unnecessary risks. It’s about finding a balance that works, and expecting that balance to shift over time, assuming the relationship goes well.

Finally, these same principles apply in long-established relationships where trust has been abused. If one partner has cheated or lied or deceived or manipulated or harmed the other, then the wronged partner has to make a choice about whether or not to continue with that relationship. If the wronged partner chooses to stay, they can expect to have plenty of thoughts and feelings of suspicion, insecurity, jealousy, anxiety, anger etc – all of which they will need to defuse and make room for, if they want their relationship to survive, recover, and thrive. Neither partner should expect feelings of trust to return for a long time. And again, the aggrieved partner will have to find a healthy balance between actions of self-protection and actions of trust. In other words, if your husband has cheated on you, it’s reasonable to call him at the office when he says he’s working late. If your wife has frittered the mortgage away on gambling, it’s reasonable to keep an eye on all her bank accounts. As genuine trust is gradually re-established, these self-protective actions will become less necessary.

Copyright: Russ Harris 2007

Russ Harris is an Australian ACT trainer, and author of The Happiness Trap, ACT With Love, and ACT Made Simple. For more information about his books, or free resources to use with them, or to subscribe to his quarterly newsletter, please visit


May Event: A 2 day Experiential Introduction to Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Sheffield

In Community, Training Events on March 12, 2010 at 10:07 am

This introductory event is being held on 20th and 21st May 2010 at Sheffield Hallam University (City Campus); Furnival Building.

This training workshop will be an opportunity to meet and understand the six core processes of ACT by applying them to your own clinical and personal experience.

Participants will learn:
•  The psychopathological impact of experiential avoidance, and how to relate that process to modern research in human language;
•  How to formulate cases in terms of experiential avoidance and cognitive fusion, with direct treatment implications for these formulations;
•  How to use the major steps in ACT; and
•  How to use supportive materials and homework to support change

The workshop presenters are: Giselle Brook & Joe Curran (Cognitive Behavioural Therapists, Sheffield Health & Social Care NHS Trust) Lisa Newton, Declan Walsh & Nic Wilkinson (Clinical Psychologists, Sheffield Health & Social Care NHS Trust).

Workshop rates are:

BABCP members £85

Non-members £105

Details and registration forms are here, and on the BABCP website under Training & Events: Branch CPD events and on the ACT SIG page.

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