capturing the beautiful calamity of healing in therapy

In Defense Of Having “Partial” Trust

I believe, at a core level, we are all humans trying to connect, understand, and be understood. We all need validation and confirmation to survive. We need feedback, frequently, and we need direction and interpretation sometimes. The foundation that creates this space, just like the foundation that creates space for any connection, entails trust.

Trust is thrown around all the time, a catch-all term that we use mostly when it’s betrayed. Trust is the glue that creates closeness and safety. Trust is the bond between humans, an instinctual and intuitive process that happens without a timeline and without a set destination. With trust, we feel safe to be as we are; we feel safe to express ourselves, knowing it will be accepted and received.

This type of trust, I believe, is the epitome of what we are all looking for. All-encompassing, perfect trust. In a world where nothing is exact and nothing fits in neat little, precise categories, I challenge this notion of an all-or-nothing trust paradigm. Currently, we hold onto this limiting idea that trust is something you either have or don’t.

And, like most extreme thinking, there is no in-between.

I disagree. I think the magic of trust lies in the in-between, in the uncertainty and fear of letting go and hoping another person will catch you. This testing and experimenting, while scary, is essential for the solidification of any healthy relationship. The reality is, trust cannot happen all at once. It is not a package delivered on our doorstep, fully assembled and ready to go. Trust is experienced moment by moment, in a series of repeated events, occurring over many, many occasions; it is positive reinforcement on an emotional level. And, because trust is a journey, rather than a fixed destination, I believe partial trust exists.

Partial trust is the in-between, and this is where the therapy portion of my writing comes in. I experience the beauty of partial trust within therapeutic contexts all the time. This is not conscious; this is not them choosing to refrain or hold back. This is my clients needing to put out their feelers, protect themselves, and work through a process of trial-and-error interactions in their organic processes. Does this mean the therapeutic relationship is not solid? No, I really don’t think so.

Instead, I interpret it as they are experimenting with limits and redefining their comfort zone. They are unpeeling themselves, layer by layer, and I get to not only watch that, but I get to help, too. It’s a fragile exposure; a vulnerable experience that words cannot adequately describe. Showing yourself to someone else, knowing it can be rejected, judged, or shamed, is terrifying. This fear is exacerbated when we’ve experienced repeated episodes of such rejection, judgment, and shame. For this very reason, expecting clients to open up on my agenda is, at best, selfish, and, at worst, detrimental to our relationship.

Trust moves in a nonlinear way, in a maze of sorts, with loopholes and obstacles just like any other journey. In therapy, it has to be okay if the trust doesn’t manifest wholly in the first, second, or even tenth session. That doesn’t negate the growth. And since so many of us have profound trust barriers- whether we realize it or not- the working through can be powerful, channeling us to tap into other areas in the meantime.

Clients frequently lie in therapy, and it’s rarely, if ever, malicious. Withholding information and selectively choosing words and stories happens commonly as well. In fact, I consider this par for the course, a normal developmental process in testing the other person, establishing your level of comfort, and negotiating your personal boundaries. It’s the client’s process, and the awareness of the behavior gives you the space to decide what needs to be done about the behavior.

Eventually, the truths emerge- organically or mysteriously- with the correct timing and pacing. Eventually, we, as two people in the room, hit the core issues, even if it takes a creative back road to get there. There is no right way to trust someone. It happens if and when it happens, and it’s important to give that amazing process its due credit.