What Happens When the Trust Has Gone?

Whether it's trust of other people, or an existential trust of life, how does this impact you?

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Trust touches upon almost every aspect of life.

It is crucial in our relationships and in our lives in general. We say that trust defines our friendships and our love. It infuses families with strength. We trust strangers to deliver something to us after we have paid for it, to drive our trains, to look after and advise us about our health, and even our death arrangements.

Trust operates in the background of our interactions, understandings, and relationships. In her book Lying, the moral philosopher Sissela Bok writes, “Whatever matters to human beings, trust is the atmosphere in which it thrives” (1978, p.31).

However it is also true that, for all the examples of trust that you can think of, a counter-example of the betrayal could be offered. Our trust in the banks to look after our money has been called into question over the last decade, and our trust in industries such as pharmaceuticals can also be misplaced.

Perhaps trust is more untrustworthy than we like to consider, as it can sometimes lack reason and certainty.

We seem not to notice or pay much attention to trust until it is betrayed or called into question. Right at this very moment, with the atrocities of May 22nd in Manchester, and the latest events in London, trust has certainly been called into question. We have been forced to confront an awareness of existential trust through the very real act, and continued threat, of terrorism.

What Does Existential Trust Mean?

Existential trust is a deep assumption about the collective society that we live in, and the people who reside in it. It is a sense and acceptance that the members of that society act according to, and are secure in, their expected futures. It includes both emotional and cognitive dimensions.

The Impact of Manchester

It has been reported that a 7/7 survivor took his own life hours after the Manchester arena bombing, with a friend claiming he 'didn't want to live in a world where these terror attacks continue'. This is such a tragic loss, and shows the impact of losing faith and trust in the world.

How did this event, or the latest attack in London over the weekend, impact you? For some of you, it may mean you are struggling to trust people in general, while for others you may feel the intelligence and police services have let us down, and thus can’t be trusted, even when another part of you knows logically that the incredible work they do prevents many more of these horrific attacks taking place.

You may wonder if you can trust that we are safe going about our daily business anymore, and thus experience a daily general level of anxiety. Events like these really impact our thinking about trust, and thus our emotions and behaviours. 

Some of you may have already decided not to travel to large events or shopping malls for a while, while others may stand resolute, determined to carry on and not ‘let them win’. The Athletics events and the tribute concert held in Manchester yesterday both look to unite people in their grief, and their defiance in the face of terrorism. 

But maybe what is most important is that in collectively coming together, whether attending the events or watching it on TV, you can re-connect to existential trust in life, and that it can and will continue as it has before. 

If you are struggling with how these attacks have impacted you, then firstly … don’t judge yourself. Allow yourself to feel and think however you are really feeling or thinking, rather than denying your experience.

Keep Trusting?

There is for many right now a diminishing sense of trust in what we can rely on, and what is true about life, and about people in general. Trust involves a level of openness and vulnerability, and a feeling of being supported and upheld. It allows us to experience life and living in a meaningful way.

Think for a moment about the level of trust in your relationships. For this to happen you are opening yourself up to being vulnerable, but also to feeling supported in your life. They work together.

So, where do you sit with trust in general, and how has the recent terrorist attacks impacted your sense of existential trust? Trust is important, crucial even, and if it is lacking, your relationship with yourself, with others, and with life will slowly begin to become distant. 

If you would like to explore difficulties with trust, or trauma, then you may like to learn how you can re-connect with this vital aspect of relationships and living, at the Treating Trauma Workshop in London.

Trust is a vital aspect of living. In the words of the late Stephen Covey, "Trust is the glue of life."


Dr Sandra Westland

Sandra is a UKCP registered Existential Psychotherapist and Counsellor. She has nearing 20 years of experience as a therapist helping people through various difficulties. Her research interests include weight issues, body image, eating disorders and trauma. As an advanced practitioner of Inner Child Therapy, she works with trauma of various kinds experienced from childhood. Sandra teaches, lectures and runs workshops across Europe.