Finding Trust Without Guarantees

In village days a scoundrel couldn’t conceal his character for a month. But today every time I take my car to the garage or have a prescription filled, I have to trust people I don’t know about things I don’t understand.

Those comments were made over 60 years ago by Huston Smith, a transcendent philosopher of morality and religion. His statement remains valid today. Where does this leave the wisest and most secure of us, not to mention those for whom trust is a luxury of someone else’s unimaginable life?

Smith found reason to believe in many of his fellow-men. He sought those who wrote about virtue and, more crucial, those who lived it.

He knew iniquity exists, as did those he spoke with, but is not the whole of existence.

All of us suffer betrayal. An ex-patient I’ll call by the initials KF told me a tale of uncommon cruelty.

KF was a college student out West during the Vietnam War, before the volunteer army. He commuted to school from home. The husky, black-haired young man was free from military service so long as he remained in good academic standing and carried a full course load.

His father, who abused this fellow when he was small, now charged him rent for shelter and food. Though my client managed the tuition, the old man offered no consideration on living expenses.

Knowing he was at risk of eviction, KF dropped out of school. The military came for him.

During combat in Southeast Asia, KF escaped physical injury, but letters home went unanswered. Once home, he discovered his father had thrown away or sold everything he owned.

Nonetheless, he surmounted the challenge of finding love and making a family better than the one from which he came.

Not all of us are as afflicted as my former patient, but we share his hope of intimacy. James Baldwin recognized the desire and the risky necessity of letting down our guard to get it:

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.

Yet so many of us do go without – without companionship, absent a confidant, and lacking at mate. Some believe the world wouldn’t care if we disappeared from its face.

Anonymity seems the better choice if your pattern is to encounter bullies and the unfaithful. Thieves, narcissists, alcoholics, and abusers possess their own imperfect radar attuned to human vulnerabilities.

Some people hesitate to trust because they have no confidence in their capacity to distinguish the dangerous from the safe. This leaves them writing-off all of humanity or attempting to obtain information from every possible source, as if diligent detective work guaranteed discovery of unquestionable virtue.

Neither approach works. The former souls inhabit a cloud of ignorance and take a stance of perpetual defense. The latter never find “the truth” because they seek endless data, never realizing there will always be a sliver of doubt.

Both types of individuals remain isolated or disguised, little better than existing in a bunker far from anything but momentary ease. Both are exhausted by near-constant scanning for the self-interested and evil. They suffer preoccupation with misgivings over incidental events others forget.

Because they skate past those who might give them respect and kindness, the negative experiences of their life do not find a counterweight on the other side of the scale to persuade them intimacy is worth the risk.

Everything they believe confirms the danger of mankind. They also discount their own value to those few they acknowledge could merit knowing.

There are no perfect people, no purity even among those who give their lives for others or their country. We all hold to our self-interestedness in no small part of our behavior. Such quality enables us to survive.

In his 1788 essay Federalist No. 51, James Madison wrote:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary.

He and the men whose thoughts inform the U.S. Constitution knew they were not to be found either in government or out.

Nonetheless, our necessary concern for our well-being still permits the possibility of understanding and decency. Humans pull through because of the ability to join together, trust each other, and benefit from the comfort, love, and security they provide and receive from others.

Disappointment in relationships is inevitable. Those you fear may well also be disappointed by your words or conduct. Avoidance or rejection of available friends or lovers can inflict the equivalent injury on them you wish to avoid for yourself.

These challenging times present the opportunity to discover the best and worst of our brethren and the identical characteristics in ourselves.

No guarantees come with a new relationship. Remember this, however. The person who represents to you the potential for connection also looks for the same fulfillment himself.

Perhaps he even searches for it because of the qualities he recognizes in you.


The three photographs are the work of Laura Hedien, with her permission: The first is of Mountain Reflections Near Salt Lake City in January 2020. Next comes A Lightening Storm With Stars Above in Western New Mexico. Finally, Factory Butte, Utah, 2019.

27 thoughts on “Finding Trust Without Guarantees

  1. I’ve been wondering about this recently and so this was a very good read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • drgeraldstein

      I’m glad of that, LovingSummer. I suppose one might say the issue of trust is always a timely one. Be well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Timely?


      • drgeraldstein

        What I meant is that the issue of trust is so central to the human condition, we are forever dealing with whether or not to trust others. At this particular moment, the tribalism and racism and questions over the veracity of public statements by elected officials contribute to more of this concern than usual.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Thank you, that makes a lot of sense in a present-day context like that.

        Liked by 1 person

    • gb fragmented gumdrops

      Hi Loving Summer! Sorry I haven’t been visiting your blog lately. I’ve had so many transitions that I’ve had to limit how much I read and when. I do visit your blog from time to time though, to catch the headlines and see how you are doing. It sounds like you are doing well and making progress, from what I last skimmed over. I’ve been sort of incognito or persona non grata lately to some people. I hope I didn’t lose your trust as an online friend, but I’ve been rather dissociative and triggered by a lot lately. I want to engage in reading and responding the way I used to with some people online. Lately, however, I’ve been afraid and having a hard time trusting. Anyway, I thought I’d respond here, since this trust topic is quite interesting. I also am having a hard time remembering names, people, times, etc. Please forgive me. 🙂 I’ll eventually visit your blog again. Oh, and I don’t have a blog. I forgot if you or someone else asked me that. I’m not prepared to have a blog for a while. I do enjoy reading others’ blogs when I have the strength to do so. I hope all this makes sense.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi GB, really really really good to hear from you and it doesn’t ever matter how much time has lapsed. I occasionally see a peep of you from time to time on places like this blog (waves to Dr G!) and I haven’t asked you recently about your blog but I catch snippets of what’s going on with you through your comments on other peoples’ blogs.
        I’m sorry to hear you’ve been struggling and triggered. Please take extra special care of yourself at the moment to help with that and I hope therapy is going well for you.
        I can understand you having a hard time trusting; I think most of the wounded find themselves in that place at some time or another, you are certainly in good company on that score. But as always you’re doing what you can, both to survive and to combat the traumas you’ve encountered, and so please know I’m always pleased to see you and you’re always very welcome.

        Liked by 1 person

      • gb fragmented gumdrops

        Thank you! 🙂 I am having a hard time facing some of my traumas, which is part of the problem. I just can’t “decide” to accept my traumas. I’ve tried that, but it wasn’t genuine. I just want to find some hidden cottage somewhere and hide from everyone until it is safe to come out again. I haven’t left my apartment for over 2 months now. I feel less human. Even walking down the hall to my storage locker seems surreal. It’s like the outside world is a blur – a nightmare. I don’t even feel real anymore. This all seems like a psychotic nightmare that I have to wake from – like I’m in a coma and a nightmare the same time. I mean, are we really going through a pandemic and having all these other issues happening at the same time? It doesn’t seem real. I’m too afraid to find out that it is.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah I understand how surreal it all seems, I feel much the same in many ways. I keep telling myself that people in the past must’ve felt much the same in the great war or with the Spanish flu or Bubonic plague… any major crisis be it world wide or closer to home. Us humans are a resilient bunch and we do get over these things; it feels like it’s going to last forever but it never does. Sadly not even the good does, but that’s a good thing when it’s the bad stuff!
        Do you think you might be able to go out even for a stroll round the block to have w change of scene any time soon?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “Some believe the world wouldn’t care if we disappeared from its face.”

    The world wouldn’t even know, let alone care. There is a certain romanticism and innocence to the concept of trust. Life offers some very painful lessons about that subject, lessons hard to ignore or push beyond. When all evidence is to the contrary, one’s own personal truths, learned through experience are hard to disregard and often wise not to.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. drgeraldstein

    Your point of view, Brewdun, is shared by many. All of us have had these thoughts, though you’ve stated them more eloquently than most. Yes, there is romanticism and innocence in the concept, and necessity in the search. I fear for those who have lost every bit of there innocence since the openness that often accompanies it permits the possibility of experiencing beauty in human contact. I also think that if you look closely at your history, you will find some number of social interactions that might right the balance at least a little.

    Woody Allen captured our dilemma: “It reminds me of that old joke – you know, a guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, hey doc, my brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken. Then the doc says, why don’t you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs. I guess that’s how I feel about relationships. They’re totally crazy, irrational, and absurd, but we keep going through it because we need the eggs.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “Absent a confidant” is the hardest for me right now in this period of staying at home. Before becoming a widow 22 months ago, I had a husband who would listen endlessly, the last word being key. Other family and friends listen and listen well, but not endlessly. Even if they did, I wouldn’t feel as deeply understood as the relationships, of course, differ. I console myself that I had such a relationship once; many do not.

    Liked by 2 people

    • drgeraldstein

      Indeed, you have suffered a major loss and one still fresh. What you write speaks to why we are lucky to have it and many risk everything to achieve it and maintain it. I’ll be thinking of you today.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. gb fragmented gumdrops

    Thank you for another great post, Dr. S. I want to trust. There are few whom I do put some trust in. I am starting to really trust my therapist, and I’ve shared so much with her – as have my alters.

    And, there’s only one male veteran I would trust with my life – though I would still have some trust issues with him in certain areas. He’s been a friend of mine for almost 10 years now – no funny business, no intimacy. We’d talk about his time in med school and his then girlfriend. He was engaged at one point, but then they broke it off. He’s told me about his struggles with TBI and PTSD. It took a while for me to trust him, but after speaking with him every now and then when we both attended the same two colleges together, we just clicked as friends. He’s still out there in Chicago, while I’m in a completely different state. I lost touch with him for a while, do to my relocating and changing phone numbers, but he found me just a couple of days ago. I missed talking to him. He was in medical school, but then the pandemic activated his PTSD symptoms. He was able to change schools and is now studying to be a physician’s assistant instead. I’m so proud of my friend, and he offered me hope with the notion that we can always change our majors and adjust to our limitations, that there is no shame in dealing with PTSD as things in life come up – like this pandemic, or like the police brutality that a lot of us have seen. My friend is also Black, and he struggles with racism. This time is really tough for him, but he reached out to me – out of the blue – and I’m so glad he did. I trust speaking with him, and his friendship, though we are many states and miles away. I’ve never “liked” him romantically at all; he’s a true friend – an encouraging one.
    He’s super busy with his schooling, but when he gets the chance to call, he does.

    I trust some people to certain degrees, but I’m not fully trusting in all areas any one person. I keep my distance – now more than ever. I even have a hard time trusting myself, my parts, my alters. It’s hard to trust your own mind sometimes.

    I miss the idea of having a companion, a mate for life. But sex is ruined for me. I can never be physically intimate because of all the harms done to my body over the course of my life. Whenever I tried to be physically intimate in a romantic relationship, my mind almost always goes to some trauma or multiple traumas. Sometimes I’d dissociate altogether. My ex swears that he misses the sex we had when we were together, yet I cannot remember it. I do remember crying – or maybe I cried inside. Maybe I completely switched and lost time without even realizing it. But even sex is not the same as true love, true companionship, or trust. That said, for a certain kind of traditional romantic relationship to work, some trust in physical intimacy probably should be there.

    I’ve contemplated asexual relationships. What would it be like for two people to fall in love but not have sex? Could it work? Has it ever worked? I haven’t thought to read up on that. Would trust be involved in that kind of relationship? Could that kind of relationship bring about the companionship you speak of?

    The closest I felt to feeling “safe” in any kind of intimacy is “fantasy” – or thoughts – related to erotic transference (to any gender). I must admit that. It’s the kind of “love” that I feel when I consider what safety in a physically intimate relationship would be like. It’s hard for me to trust the therapist enough to share that with her (in most cases, it was a her), primarily because of the same-sex issue, but also because I’m afraid it would ruin our relationship. Eventually, I try to let the transference dissipate. I think I mostly left the therapist prematurely though. Maybe I should trust the therapist enough to disclose those thoughts and fantasies. That’s the closest I’d come to considering what “companionship” is. I really don’t know because I’ve never had it. I’ve only read about it in fairy tales, or seen it in romantic movies.

    I have a hard time trusting our leaders of today. I have a hard time trusting persons in positions of power. I fear being harmed by them – directly or indirectly. In many cases today, I am harmed by them indirectly. The things being said by certain leaders hurts me to my core. And all of that trickles down from leadership to our current relationships. There are so many divisions today that it is hard to trust anyone. Does someone want to harm me, give me COVID-19, attack me for being part-Asian or even just any minority? Will I be discriminated against while I seek treatment in a hospital, from paramedics, or from any facility? Will I be discriminated against now on my applications?

    My worsened PTSD and dissociation makes the trust factor that much harder. Trauma kills trust. And these times are traumatic! And for me with past traumas, it brings up all my traumas.

    It’s hard for me to trust, but I want to. I want to feel close. I want to take that risk. I want to say that for a moment I trusted and loved, and it was reciprocated back – even for just a moment.

    I want to be a romantic. I want to live life and enjoy it. I want to feel whole and connected and co-conscious. I don’t want to feel afraid all the time.

    But I am afraid. I am fragmented. And I don’t trust myself enough to trust others. Maybe trust begins with the self?

    What do you think, Dr. S?


  6. To walk and live among other humans requires trust in varying degrees. As you so wisely note: “No guarantees come with a new relationship.” That goes for all the parties involved, including me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. True, true, true; one cannot ever trust fully in human beings. Only in God. And thank God for that!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have friends but we do not share the level of intimacy that I had with friends during my childhood and high school years. Since all these friendships were made on the job, I do not trust them to repeat anything confidential I may share with them, so I keep it light and therefore our our friendship will never deepen. My husband is the only one I trust completely, and I consider myself fortunate to have this trusting relationship in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. gb fragmented gumdrops

    If there’s anything I learned about trust in ALL OF MY LIFE, it’s this:
    1. Trust is EARNED.
    2. Trust needs MAINTENANCE. Trust needs to be earned, but it also needs to be reassured.
    3. Forgiveness is NOT the same as trust. Forgiveness often happens before reconciliaton, but forgiveness can occur without reconciliation. You can choose to NOT trust someone for whatever reason.
    4. Reconciliation is a step toward EARNING trust.
    5. Not all relationships deserve reconciliation; some relationships are dangerous and not worthy of trust.
    6. Trust is DYNAMIC. Trust can change in any relationship for any reason. Again, trust needs MAINTENANCE.
    7. Trust is a CHOICE. You can choose to not trust. You can choose to trust. You can change your mind.
    8. Trust has CONSEQUENCES. There is a range of consequences when you trust. There are many different outcomes that can stem from trust.
    9. Trust lies on a continuum at any given time with any given person and/or situation. Your overall trust levels with a given person, place, or thing is not only dynamic (meaning that it can change), but it also has degrees ranging from no trust to absolute trust. Some people absolutely trust in God or a Higher Power, and some trauma survivors have absolutely no trust in those who harmed them. In between those two extreme examples, there are different degrees of trust with certain people in our lives. We may trust professors, teachers, therapists, doctors, and coworkers to a lesser degree than we trust significant others, bosom buddies, and certain safe family members. For some professions, however, “fictive kin” such as those who serve in high-risk situations together (e.g., military personnel, police, fire fighters) may have a deeper level of trust for their coworkers (e.g., their “military families,” or their “police families”) because they have to have one another’s backs in order to survive and complete their job duties (which should be ethical).
    10. Trust also includes your SELF. If you don’t trust yourself, it is harder to trust others. When you’ve been traumatized and explicitly or indirectly gaslit into believing that your self is unworthy and/or powerless and/or “bad” (or at fault, or guilty), then you’ve lost trust in yourself (in addition to losing trust in the perpetrator who gaslit you). Therapy includes a notion of learning to hear yourself, correct cognitive distortions, and then trust yourself well enough to be able to move forward (e.g., having efficacy, psychological hardiness, CBT skills, internal family systems dialogues, etc.).

    –Lilly et alia for “the system” of “gumdrops”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A truly wonderful post. I’m disillusioned with humanity, but I’m also able to hold onto the view that there is still good in each and every person. There’s a risk with any kind of connection, but it doesn’t negate the very real benefits and beauty of connection, even if it only lasts for a time.


    • drgeraldstein

      I think you are on to something important in bringing up the issue of time. Marcus Aurelius asked an aide to remind him of his mortality each day. If nothing lasts, then such fragile things as trust, sacrifice, and love become more important.

      Liked by 1 person

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