Epistemic is a term that means anything that relates to knowledge and our assessment of how believable it is. When we have epistemic trust in another person, we accept that their knowledge is reliable, and we can allow ourselves to be influenced by the way that person sees the world. This kind of trust is fundamental to healthy human relationships, and, at the same time, requires careful discernment to recognize with whom we should have epistemic trust.
The previous post explained the concept of mentalization: the capacity to accurately understand and reflect our own mind experience and that of another person. When we have a relationship within which we believe we are accurately seen, we can have epistemic trust with that person. In other words, we know intuitively if that person has an accurate judgement about us, they will likely have accurate judgements about other things too. We can allow ourselves to consider their perspectives, points of view, and opinions about reality. In other words, epistemic trust is a kind of indirect intimacy which reflects respect, connection, and vulnerability.
Trust in another person does not require that that person be right all the time, or caring all the time, or grown up all the time. It does require, however that that person is serious about him or herself, serious about other people, and recognizes the importance of authenticity and openness to change. Anyone can make mistakes or have a bad day. What we would like to believe is that the people who care about us and about whom we care, can recognize and take responsibility for their unwanted and/or destructive emotions, motives and actions, can tolerate engaging with us to understand the process between us, particularly when it is off track, and can commit themselves to continual growth as a person in the ways that matter to them and to us.
Epistemic trust is important. It is worth looking for and building. And it is precious. Trust of any kind is easily broken and very difficult to create. We are trusted based on our way of being in the world; based on the story our history tells about us; based on the values our choices demonstrate. We don’t create trust as a main goal but as a side effect of being the kind of person we want to be. And that process of being is created by our relationships with ourselves.