How to Stop Trusting the Wrong People

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, well… I should have seen it coming. Dammit!

Some years ago, I was having drinks with a friend. He’d knocked back a few beers, while I kept to non-alcoholic beverages, being the responsible driver that I am. As we stepped out of the bar, he asked me if he could drive home. I said no.

He started pressuring me, saying that “it’s only a five-minute drive”, that “the beers had no effect on him”, and that he’d “let me do it if he had a car”. I wasn’t swayed by his efforts and asserted that I’ll be the one driving.

“Why? Don’t you trust me?” — he yelled out in a hostile way.

Confused surprised weird man looking at the camera
Come on bro, let me drunk drive your car. Be a real friend!

A few years later, I was in a parking lot with another friend. It was pouring outside and we were just sitting in a car, waiting for the rest of our friends to show up.

We got to talking and he explained how he often wished he’d learned how to drive, but could never afford. Since we had nothing better to do, I started explaining the basic mechanics of driving to him, before asking if he wanted to get behind the wheel and take a few laps around the empty parking lot.

His eyes flared up with surprise and confusion: “I don’t know anything about cars, I’ve never driven before, I don’t have a license, plus it’s raining outside. Why would you let me do this?”

“Because I trust you.” — I replied.

What is trust and how it works

While there is no agreed-upon definition of trust, all of us know what it pertains in its essence — will you screw me over? 1Psychological Foundations of Trust  – Jeffry A. Simpson

You often hear people talking about how they “just can’t trust anybody” because one or two people didn’t come through for them at one point in their lives. They make generalizations based on a few instances, become frustrated and isolated when it comes to trusting others or, even worse, keep repeating the same mistakes.

It’s true you can never be absolutely, drop-dead sure that someone will keep their promise every single time. When someone actually does betray your trust, instead of assuming blame and venting, ask yourself this:

Did I put my trust in the wrong person (again)?

More often than not, the answer will be yes.

As we develop relationships and interact with people, we differentiate those are worthy of our trust and those who aren’t. We only expect someone to come through for us if we are in a more intimate relationship with them and view them as reliable.

So what makes us trust someone in the first place? Does trust develop over time or are we able to read people in seconds?

Turns out, it’s both.

Research 2New Scientist — How your looks betray your personality shows that people who seem happy and genuinely smile will be deemed trustworthy, while those displaying aggressive facial features will seem uneducated, potentially dangerous, and definitely not someone we should trust when they say “Don’t worry, you’re safe with me”.

Male model showing a mad and happy face
Okay, I’m smiling. Do you trust me now?

However, these are only our initial expressions, often filled with prejudice.

If we get into a conversation with someone we believe to be sketchy, only to find out they have two PhD’s, a large circle of friends, and a partner of three years, we’ll be more likely to trust them. After all, they seem like a smart, social, and competent individual who has already earned the trust of others.

Psychologist David DeSteno 3BrainPickings – The Psychology of Trust in Work and Love notes that trust is basically a bet: no matter how good of a friend somebody is, you can never really know if they will always come through on what you need them to.

It’s not just that they might purposely choose not to. They may forget or be prevented by external forces.

If your friend promises he’ll make it to your concert, but his car breaks down halfway and he can’t make it in time, it doesn’t mean he’s untrustworthy. But if someone continually breaks their promise, makes excuses, or simply doesn’t care enough, then you should maybe pull the plug on that personal connection.

What makes people seem trustworthy

There are a lot of components we take into consideration when determining whether to trust someone. 4Forbes – How To Get People To Trust You They range from physical looks, facial expressions, and body language to the length of the relationship, intimacy, and past experiences.

You know that feeling when someone asks you to trust them, especially if asking for a favor, but for some reason, you just don’t feel comfortable saying yes?

It’s not that you’re psychic or have supernatural abilities. It’s that all those little elements you subconsciously interpret add up to your brain saying: “Hey dude, internal analysis concludes this guy is full of shit”.

scumbag brain meme
Trust me bro, have I ever screwed you over? 5Source: Know Your Meme – Scumbag Brain

Authors of the book Friend & Foe denote a way to get people to trust you more quickly. 6Business Insider – How to get people to trust you

This simple psychological trick is: display a combination of competence and warmth. First, show you’re competent to perform a task, then display vulnerability.

For example, a psychiatrist may parade their clients in front of various diplomas and achievements, then purposely spill their coffee at the beginning of the session. Diplomas prove they’re competent to perform what is expected of them, but it is the clumsiness that puts clients at ease, as it shows them that their analytical and seemingly intimidating psychiatrist is just as clumsy as the rest of us.

In turn, it makes the patients more likely to open up and talk about their issues.

These techniques are used by many criminals, especially con artists, to gain their victims’ trust. Serial killer Ted Bundy was regarded handsome and charismatic by women, often smiled, and seemed trustworthy. It only goes to show you that just because you think you should trust someone, doesn’t mean they really are trustworthy.

How to start trusting the right people

In my initial story, friend A wanted me to let him drunk drive my car and, very logically, I said no. He became hostile, tried to guilt me into submission, and questioned my friendship hoping I would yield.

All these things accomplished was strengthen my gut feeling to send him packing.

Dark strawberries mood in dark

A real, trustworthy friend would respect your choice. He would not expect you to owe him something, try to manipulate you or guilt-trip you. A real, trustworthy friend wouldn’t even ask a thing like that in the first place.

On the other hand, friend B has proven on countless occasions he will not let me down. If something came up, he would call to reschedule with apologizes. He would rearrange his plans to help me out if possible.

You don’t always consciously notice things like micro-expressions, eye contact, or body position, but they are still registered on a subconscious level. 

It rarely occurs that you give an enthusiastic “Hell yeah!” to trusting someone, only to discover you shouldn’t have trusted them in the first place.

For example, my friend Greg constantly complains about how his friend Katy didn’t keep her promise, never texted back, didn’t show up for that thing, etc. It’s always the same person and every time he starts with “Can you believe what Katy did yesterday?”

Yes, I can. What I can’t believe is why that keeps being a surprise to him.

She always acts like that and will keep doing it, so when you expect her to do something and she doesn’t – that’s on you. You’re the idiot for putting your trust in the same person, over and over again, when every single time she keeps proving to you she’s unreliable.

Not everybody in your life can be trusted. In fact, you can’t depend on most people to keep their promise.

That doesn’t mean you should hate them or never hang out with them. I’m sure they have other qualities you like. Spend time with them if you want to, but don’t expect them to come through in a time of need. They’ve already shown you they won’t.

Put your trust in people who not only seem trustworthy and reliable but actually act like it. And if you get screwed over by someone, stop and ask yourself: Was it really their fault?

Or did you simply put your trust in the wrong person again?

P.S. Want to stop making the same mistakes? Check out rules of a strong mindset.

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