Asking for a Friend: Help! I’ve been betrayed by friends before. How can I learn to trust again?

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  • Each week, we respond to a question from our readers and give advice and resources they can turn to
  • This week, we help a student who is distrustful of people after being hurt in the past
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It can be hard to trust people after being betrayed, but it’s important for your relationships. Photo: Shutterstock

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. If you have a question you’d like answered (about anything at all), please fill out this Google Form. Don’t worry – you will remain anonymous!

Dear Friend,

I’ve been betrayed before, and now I just assume my friends will turn out to be toxic and stab me in the back. What can I do about my trust issues?

Sincerely, Untrusting

Help! My friends have replaced me. What should I do?

Dear Untrusting,

We can understand why you may distrust people after previous bad experiences; it’s a way of defending yourself against getting hurt again. However, this instinct to protect yourself can also make you feel isolated and prevent you from forming deep connections and healthy relationships.

It’s good that you already know you struggle with trusting people and want to fix it. This means you can be more aware of your actions and work on changing your perspective. Here are some tips we hope can help:

While you may be nervous about trusting people, it is an important element of a good relationship. Photo: Shutterstock

Allow yourself to feel

Betrayal can make you angry, confused and disappointed; it can also cause you to doubt yourself and your judgment, not to mention bring up feelings of abandonment. Don’t pretend like you aren’t upset – it’s only by feeling our emotions that we are able to process them and move on.

It may not be possible to get closure from the person who betrayed you or understand why they did what they did. Instead, you can write them a letter (that you don’t send) filled with all the things you wish you could have said to them. Even just getting the words on paper could help you get these feelings off your chest and put the past to rest.

How can I make friends when I’m too shy to talk to people?

Practise taking words at face value

Start with the assumption that a person is trustworthy until they prove they are not, rather than requiring people to prove themselves. After all, trust can’t develop in a friendship without first taking a leap of faith. You might find yourself questioning what your friends say or look for hidden meanings in their actions. Ignore this instinct, and remind yourself that the friends you have now are not the same people as the friends who betrayed you, and you have no reason to doubt what they’re saying. Although it can be tough, the only way to truly get close to someone is by letting yourself be a little vulnerable.

What to do if you and your pal have grown apart

Learn how to express your feelings

Good communication is one of the best ways to keep relationships strong and healthy. It’s important to discuss things that bother you right away instead of letting them fester and get worse. Poor communication can lead to problems that don’t need to exist – how can your friend know how you feel if you don’t tell them? Practise speaking up when something bothers you. Being able to work through differences and clear up misunderstandings can help strengthen the bond between two people.

Hope that helps, 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.

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