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PTSD and Trust

Dr. Martin counseling a young maleAndrew L. Martin, PsyD

Have you ever heard of someone losing their self-confidence following a traumatic event? Or finding it harder to trust others? This is fairly common, and can be a symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder. This disruption in trust in self and others happens when the brain tries to make sense of what happened, and prevent similar events in the future.

In order to feel like it has some control over traumatic events, the brain may tell us that the traumatic event was our fault (even if there is no evidence that this is true), and therefore we just can’t trust ourselves to stay safe. But the reality is often that we did everything as well as anybody could, and a traumatic event happened anyway.

Trust in others is disrupted because the brain tends to think in absolute terms (all or nothing, good or bad). Prior to a traumatic event, our brain may think that other people are very trustworthy. After the event, it may flip to the opposite belief, and think that no one can be trusted. The truth is more nuanced – most people are trustworthy most of the time, with most things, but there are exceptions. Sometimes, people will violate our trust, and the only way to actually know who is trustworthy in what ways, is through experience.

Correcting unrealistic beliefs about trust is important in posttraumatic stress disorder treatment, because it helps both in acceptance of the traumatic event (and processing related emotion), and improving relationships with oneself and others.



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