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Tackling a loss of trust during the pandemic

The pandemic seems to have eroded our sense of trust at various levels. People are feeling more guarded and cynical

Our ability to trust others is one of the pillars of our well-being. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO
Our ability to trust others is one of the pillars of our well-being. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO

A friend asked me, “What’s a concern that consistently comes up in therapy sessions?” As I thought about it, I realised that over the last few months, as the world began opening up and offices restarted, one concern that has shown up constantly is that of trust.

The pandemic seems to have weakened our sense of trust at various levels. As a result, people are feeling more unsafe, guarded and cynical. A 45-year-old female client tells me: “My colleague, whom I used to travel to work with and have lunch with every day, texted me yesterday saying how she missed me and is excited to see me, now that the office is opening up. But the odd thing is that while I tried checking in early into the pandemic, she never reciprocated or stayed in touch. I kind of now can’t trust her. It’s odd but I feel more distant and unsure of most people. I don’t like who I am becoming. Do you think we can work on what it means to rebuild trust and still be hopeful?”

Also read: How to deal with anger and frustration during the pandemic?

What’s surprising is that over the last year or more, many people have felt that their relationship with trust has changed. Think of one occasion over the last year when you felt betrayed or not seen/heard. A close family member who refused to follow the protocol, a friend who didn’t check on you when you contracted the virus, a boss/colleague who didn’t check on your personal well-being—and the mistrust we all experienced at a systemic level.

Our ability to trust others is one of the pillars of our well-being. It’s this quality that allows us to find community, invest in relationships, take on risks and even be vulnerable. When our need for trust is met, we feel safe and start believing we can be our authentic self. The presence of trust that is developed slowly and mindfully in relationships also allows us to experience intimacy, closeness—and brings hope.

It’s odd that we are not really taught what the components of trust look like. For people across gender and age groups, very often the conversation in therapy sessions is exactly about this. People who consistently show up for us, whether it’s by their physical presence, over text messages or just the fact that they always take our call, are reliable. As a result, we are more likely to trust them.

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The second quality that allows people early on in relationships to form trust is warmth. People who extend warmth and make us feel comfortable are the ones we very often want to get to know.

A quality that lies at the very heart of so many healthy relationships is emotional reciprocity. Relationships where people value reciprocity and embody it are the ones where it’s easy to initiate, be attentively present and not maintain a scorecard of who’s doing what for each other.

In the pandemic, a lot of people have sensed an absence of emotional reciprocity and that has made them doubt their friendships, or even their own choices. Reciprocity, consistency and an ability to hold a safe space and be non-judgemental are what allow the trust to cement and deepen.

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I feel that learning to not look at situations and people as black and white, but shades of grey, allows us to give relationships a chance and even have open conversations when there is a misunderstanding. What goes a long way in building trust is having realistic expectations, communicating, and not putting people on a pedestal. Our ability to be compassionate, generous towards others and let relationships unfold with time allows us to focus on the bigger picture and not get caught up in the inane and smaller things.

On most days when we find people we trust, we also begin to feel seen and loved. Maybe all our life is spent in pursuit of this.

Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.

Also read: Has the pandemic come in the way of friendships?

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