What It Means if You Don't Trust People

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If you've ever thought, "I don't trust people," there's a strong chance you struggle with trust issues. Sometimes people might use this phrase to indicate a lack of trust for people they don't know well, but in other cases, it might suggest a more serious difficulty when it comes to trusting anyone at all.

Feeling like you can't trust anyone can make navigating interpersonal relationships challenging. While you might want to form deep, close connections with other people, you might find yourself holding yourself back from fully trusting even those closest to you.

This article discusses what it means when you don't trust other people, what causes such problems, and what you can do to develop more trusting relationships.

What It Means to Not Trust People

When you trust someone, it means that you believe they are dependable, reliable, and honest. A certain amount of trust is necessary for relationships. But trusting other people is not always easy, and the closer the relationship is, and the more you have to reveal yourself, the harder it can be.

Trust doesn't just involve believing that others are reliable. It also means making yourself vulnerable and believing that others will live up to your expectations and act with good intentions. That can be a big ask, and not everyone is prepared or willing to accept the risk of making themselves vulnerable.

A lack of generalized trust can play a role in not being able to trust people. Generalized trust involves your ability to trust other members of society.

This type of trust plays an important part in social functioning and creating a sense of community. Research has found that it has positive benefits, including better self-rated health and happiness.

How Trusting Are You?

  • Do you often question people's intentions?
  • Do you frequently assume the worst about people?
  • Do you assume that others will let you down?
  • Do you distance yourself from others to avoid disappointment?
  • Do you have a hard time asking other people for help?


If you answered yes to many or most of these questions, you may have difficulty trusting people.

Reasons You Don't Trust People

Research suggests that a lack of trust is often caused by social experiences. Relationships with family members and peers, for example, give you opportunities to trust and depend on the people close to you.

When those people aren't trustworthy, or if you have an experience where your trust is repeatedly broken, you may end up feeling like the people around you are fundamentally unreliable.

According to the social learning perspective, people are continually adjusting their degree of social trust based on their experiences and interactions. In addition to your early learning experiences as a child, the events of your life continue to impact how much you trust others. Some of the reasons you might have a hard time trusting people include:

Early Childhood Experiences

Trust starts to form in the earliest days of life as infants discover whether they can rely on their parents and others' care. The psychoanalyst Erik Erikson called this phase of life the trust vs. mistrust stage, and he believed it plays a pivotal role in setting the course of future development.

People who grow up with supportive, trustworthy family members and friends may be more likely to trust others in adulthood than people who don't have healthy relationships in their lives.

Important people in your life can affect trust levels throughout your lifetime. If you trust the people around you, it's more likely that trust will reciprocate trust, and you'll grow closer to them. However, if trust is broken, you may find yourself trusting less in the future.

Bullying or Rejection

Throughout your life, your interpersonal and social experiences affect the trust you place in others. Bullying or social rejection can both contribute to trust issues as a child. If those around you repeatedly hurt you, it may be difficult to trust people as an adult because of the fear that you'll be hurt again.

Negative Relationship Experiences

Unhealthy romantic relationships can also make it tough to trust people. For example, an emotionally abusive partner might make it difficult for you to trust other people in the future because of the fear that they'll hurt or take advantage of you.

Trauma or PTSD

Mental health conditions or traumatic events can also contribute to trust issues because they affect how you see yourself and your relationships with others. For example, trust issues may manifest as a symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Personality

Certain personality traits might contribute to a general lack of trust in others. For example, people who tend to rate higher on the characteristic known as neuroticism may be less likely to trust other people. 

Research also suggests that a characteristic known as locus of control can play a role in trusting people. Locus of control is your belief about how much control you have over the events that occur in your life.

People with a low (or external) locus of control believe that what happens to them is largely out of their control. Those with a high (or internal) locus of control tend to believe that their fate is largely in their own hands.

In one study, people who had a strong internal locus of control were less likely to follow humans and AI technology advice.

Recap

Not being able to trust people can be linked to a number of factors. Early childhood experiences, social experiences, adult relationships, personality factors, and mental health conditions can all play a role in undermining trust in other people.

Effects of Not Trusting People

When trust is broken, it often becomes harder to put your faith in people in the future. However, trust issues could also hurt you in the long run because they prevent you from connecting with others or receiving support when you need it.

Not being able to trust people can affect your friendships and romantic relationships, so if trust is an issue for you, consider talking to a therapist about these problems. A mental health professional can help by teaching you how to trust others and form healthy relationships with them.

Not being able to trust others doesn't just affect your behavior; it can also negatively impact how other people respond to you. 

Research has shown that other people are more likely to respond with more negativity when they know that you don't trust them. In one study, people who knew that others didn't trust them felt more negative emotions, had lower opinions of those who didn't trust them and were less like to behave in altruistic ways toward those who couldn't trust them.

This can also affect how people are willing to act in social situations. When you don't trust people, you may be less likely to interact with them. The consequence of this is often fewer social opportunities, fewer relationships, less social support, and ultimately, fewer chances for other people to earn your trust.

Recap

When you don't trust people, you have a more difficult time forming relationships with others. And when other people sense that you don't trust them, they are often more likely to respond to you in negative ways.

How to Start Trusting People Again

Even if you find it hard to trust people, some strategies may help you learn how to form better relationships and become more trusting in different situations.

Start Small

Look for small ways to trust people. Trust is always a matter of degree. You might trust some people with some things but not with others.

A good way to become more trusting is to push yourself to trust other people in small doses until you can trust something more significant. Once someone proves themselves capable of earning your trust when it comes to the small stuff, you might find yourself more comfortable depending on them even more.

Stay Positive

Try to be optimistic about others. Start with the belief that there are good people out there. Approaching social situations with an open mind and optimistic mindset may help you feel less distrustful of people in general.

Trust Carefully

If you trust too easily, you may find yourself dealing with disappointment. So start by learning to trust people to the degree that the situation calls for it.

In many cases, this might involve a more superficial trust based on a mutually agreed-upon set of expectations. You trust your mechanic to fix your car, and they trust you to pay them for the work they have done. In other cases, you may find that some people have proven themselves dependable, honest, and worthy of your trust.

Using caution and varying your level of trust depending on the closeness of the relationship is good practice.

Talk to a Therapist

If your lack of trust in people affects your ability to function normally or is causing distress, you should consider talking to a mental health professional. Several different therapy approaches can help you work on underlying negative thoughts that might be affecting your ability to trust.

A therapist can also help you practice social situations and develop new coping skills that may be helpful when it comes to learning how to trust people. Also, the therapeutic relationship with your therapist can also be an excellent opportunity to learn and practice trusting another person.

Recap

Learning to trust people again can take some time. Start small, maintain an optimistic mindset, and talking to a mental health professional are all strategies that can be helpful.

A Word From Verywell

Feeling like you don't trust people can hurt your ability to form relationships, get help when you need it, and participate fully in your community. While it is normal for your trust levels to vary depending on your social experiences, a significant lack of trust might be a sign of a more serious problem. 

If trust issues are causing problems in your life, talk to a therapist about taking steps to begin relying on people more. Rebuilding your trust in people may take time. It also requires a certain degree of vulnerability. But learning to trust can make it easier to connect with others, form strong relationships, and create a solid social support system.

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6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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