- Each week, we respond to a question from our readers, and our team of clinical psychologists gives advice and resources you can turn to
- This week, we help a student trying to rebuild trust after revealing information meant to be kept private
Need an answer to a personal question that you’ve never mustered the courage to ask? We’ve been there. Whether it is about school, family issues or social life, share your thoughts with us.
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People are saying that I’m untrustworthy and that I have a big mouth. It is because I told my friends something another person told me. Now, he blames me for exposing his secret, but he never told me that it was private and that I shouldn’t tell anyone! He also said that I am not capable of keeping secrets.
My other friend thinks that I am unreliable and can’t be trusted with private information. Rather than share things about her life, she instead pretends nothing is happening.
I don’t want to be left out of the inside jokes and secrets. What should I do?
Sincerely, Big Mouth
Dear Big Mouth,
We can sense your disappointment and frustration; no one wants to be isolated from their peers! This incident certainly appears to have you and your friends at odds, and from what it sounds like, you didn’t act maliciously or intend to hurt your friend’s feelings.
Regardless of intent, however, your friend feels betrayed. But it is still possible to reconcile with them and prove you are trustworthy. Here are some suggestions for you:
Learn from your mistakes and feelings
It sounds like you were in a bit of a grey area when your friend shared his personal information with you. Although he did not explicitly say it was a secret, most people only choose to share their thoughts and feelings with someone they trust. Leaking someone’s private or sensitive information without their permission can feel disappointing and untrustworthy.
On the other hand, your frustration about the situation can lead to meaningful self-reflection and help you realise what your friendships mean to you.
Offer a genuine apology
A sincere apology to friends we hurt is crucial for rebuilding friendships.
First, you should acknowledge your mistakes. As we mentioned, self-reflection is necessary for an apology. Maybe you were too casual sharing someone else’s information without taking their feelings into consideration, and you can start to assume there is a mutual understanding to keep private chats private. It may seem painful, but looking for flaws and examining them can help you fix them.
Secondly, try to manage any defensive thoughts. Sometimes people try to justify any wrongdoing or blame others for their mistakes. While it may be tempting to give excuses, please say no to these thoughts. They are convenient and easy to rely on, but ultimately they are shallow and will likely prevent you from truly reconciling with your friends.
Finally, you can work on rebuilding trust. A sincere apology means you care, you are responsible, you are committed to rectifying mistakes and you can be trusted. Ask for forgiveness through genuine communication and commitment; admitting your mistakes and carelessness shows people you are respectful and will keep their privacy.
Remain open and gentle
There is no guarantee your friend will accept your apology, at least not right away. They might need time to cool down, and to see your commitment through changed behaviour.
Having said that, a person who learns from their mistakes will always become a better person. Keep treating others considerately and be open-minded. Don’t frame your growth as transactional – I apologised and worked on myself, so my friends should trust me again. That’s not how a good friendship works!
As always, remember that you can speak to a trusted adult if the issue is still bothering you, such as a school counsellor, your parents, or a teacher. You could also try organisations like Open Up and 6PM Cyber Youth Support Team, both of which you can contact through their websites.
We know you might feel hurt and confused right now, but remember that everyone makes mistakes. Take this as a learning opportunity that can help you form closer relationships in the future.
Sincerely, Friend of a Friend
The question was answered by clinical psychologists from the Department of Health under Shall We Talk, a mental health initiative launched with the Advisory Committee on Mental Health.