Sometimes it seems that the most important gain in psychotherapy is the development of a structural trust. By structural, I mean, a deep continuous conviction that overall one can trust someone, and ultimately that one can trust oneself. The problem with the idea of trust is that it is often understood as a belief in the infallibility of the other person. Real trust is based in a deeper understanding and knowledge.
Trust is developed slowly, but once we have developed a solid relationship with a therapist, we can begin to explore what it means to trust another person and what it means to be trustworthy ourselves. We need not continually stand at the ready to defend ourselves or protect ourselves, and therefore we have the luxury of a space and time in which to expose, examine, and explain the many and complex motives that arise within our own experience. In this process, we can develop a reflective capacity to make choices based in the motives we have freely chosen rather than those which invisibly drive habitual behaviors and moods.
This type of freedom is not possible if we are generating our choices out of fear or unexamined reflexes. If we have been disappointed, ignored, discounted, or rejected early in our lives, before we could understand the separate, personal, habitual motives of other people, there is a deep need to stay disconnected and protected. This disconnection interferes with all of our relationships and ultimately with our relationship with ourselves.
When the experience of safety in a relationship is firmly established, we know we can relax and sink into the connection with the other person. And what do we trust? We trust that the other person has no motive, conscious or unconscious, to be destructive in any way, major or minor, in the context of the relationship. And we know we have this trust because of the experience we have of ourselves in that relationship. We see that we are undefended, expansive, curious, and stable.
This conviction is hard won, and it is built brick by brick, through direct experience–not cognition, emotion, or conversation. And that means the gains of long -term therapy cannot be achieved in other ways, except in the context of parenting or caregiving relationships. There are many ways to create change. Not so many ways to create trust.