Bad Decisions We Make With Trust

January 29, 2010

Before analyzing bad decisions we make with our inclination to trust (or not trust), let’s determine why we make these mistakes. First and foremost, we blunder into these pitfalls when we don’t know that trust is an emotion. It is truly an emotion like affection, greed, fear, sadness, gladness and horror. We cannot cause trust to be there, and neither can we completely prevent it. Therefore, when we see trust as something we can produce at will (such as love) we begin to rely upon it for decision-making. Let me give an example.

Let’s assume that a young woman becomes infatuated with a young man. He tells her he is taking the money they have saved together and is moving to the big city to get an apartment and buy furniture for the two of them. He informs her he has a great job lined up there, and will send her money to fly out when all is arranged. He has never lied to her before, cheated on her, or brought her pain in any way. Likely then, she will trust him. It may all depend upon her past experience with men, and even people in general. If she has grown up with people who, for the most part, kept their promises, it is likely she will trust this young man. But is that wise? If we knew that young woman, and observed things about her reactions to this young man, we might be tempted to jump in with opinions of caution and warning. Unless we are asked, it is unlikely we would share our “red flags” with her until it is too late. If she receives word that this young man has absconded with their money and never intended to send for her, she will be heart-broken and reticent to trust again.

What happened? She allowed her emotion of “trust” to cloud her logic. Trust was the product of infatuation multiplied by good experiences. Notice we can feel that way even watching a television program. We give the benefit of the doubt to the so-called “good guys” (or gals), even though they’re fictional characters. We really can’t help it; the writer has set us up to trust by designing the characters with that purpose. The danger with trust is that we may bypass logic, experience and even God’s internal warnings and make foolish and dangerous decisions. But the opposite is also true. An inability to trust may cause us to lose opportunities, to give up on people and to refuse to love when love is crucial. When one does not acknowledge that trust is just an emotion and not a decision, they lose sight of the importance of the decisions that trust might make. Let’s examine five bad decisions made with the emotion of trust.

  1. I Completely Trust this Person“: On so many levels, this is a bad decision. As we saw in the last article, not even Jesus trusted anyone this much. In John 2:29, it says that Jesus did not trust himself to anyone, because he knew what was in the heart of man. No person is completely trustworthy. There are countless ways we can let one another down. The decision to completely trust another person is a pipe dream, and is often a form of denial: We want so badly to believe there is someone in this world we can completely rely on that we make this foolish decision. When someone inevitably lets us down, we react to it according to this faulty framework we have created. Either we will deny that they broke our trust (fomenting the denial process) or we will become defeated and give up on them and look for another “perfect person” to trust.
  2. “I will never trust anyone again“: This decision can shut down certain aspects of our emotional character. Any time we deny the emotion of trust, it robs us of elements of personhood. If you no longer allow yourself to trust anyone, you cannot allow yourself to hope, to become emotionally intimate or to relax around others. If these things are missing, then so is much of life’s joy. In 30 years of counseling, I have seen many people spiral into debilitating depression simply because they chose never to trust anyone again. I can hear someone saying, “But after being hurt so badly by so many people, what choice did I have?” You always have choices, and they are not that fatal. Assuming that at some point, everyone will let us down, we can then make decisions how we will act toward them. We can begin by deciding there are ‘failures of trust’ that we can live with. There may be other actions we will confront in love. There are still other betrayals that cross our boundaries and cannot be tolerated. New boundaries may have to be erected in our relationships as a result (more about this in a later article). But what is the worst thing that can happen if you trust others? They let you down, and then you get the opportunity to grow through forgiveness and God’s contentment.
  3. I believe they won’t make the same mistake again“: Trust wants to hope; that is its nature. But, when we say to ourselves, “my loved one will not do this again” we are ascribing growth and maturity to them they may not have attained yet. This is a recipe for potential disaster. The alternative is not deciding they will fail again. Rather, we should decide to live realistically. The husband who has an affair is always capable of doing it again. The wife who goes on a gambling spree, the teenager who has come out of drug rehab, the parent who says they will never be violent can all return to their failures, even though they promise it won’t happen. And we also want to believe them. But we also should reserve a place in our hearts that says “they may fail and I want to be ready if they do”. This way, we are not putting all our emotional expectations on an outcome that may not happen. Holding enough caution in reserve is good mental health.
  4. I have to trust them or it says I don’t love them“: As I said last time, love and trust have little in common. Love is a decision, trust is an emotion. Love covers a multitude of sins, trust seeks to ignore them. Love is willing to live with mistakes, trust can only do it by living a lie. If someone says to you, “do you trust me”, ask them if it matters. If they say they need your trust, offer them your love instead. Tell them that trust will come in time, but until it does, you will promise to love as best you can. It may not cause them a lot of joy, but it will give them stability they can hold on to.
  5. I can’t trust God because he will treat me like everyone else has“: This is a huge mistake made by most of us. We foolishly ascribe characteristics to God that resemble certain people in our lives. Dad was distant, and therefore God is distant. Mom was hyper-critical and we assume God is as well. Our friends all let us down when we needed them, so our hearts assume God is no different. When we accept this false view of God, we really become idolators. Idolatry is not just worshipping a false God. It is also worshipping a false image of the True God. After accepting a diminished view of God, we then choose to trust God less, the amount based on how little we trust other people. That is a slam against God he has never deserved. Only God is trustworthy. God is not a human being that he should lie. For many people, this is the start of the road back to a realistic relationship with trust. Trust God first, and God will help you order your priorities with trusting people.


  1. This is so helpful. Thank you Mike. I look forward to more on the series of trust in dealing with people. I really needed to hear (again) that trust is an emotion separate from love. I have growing to do in understanding this emotion. Your teaching on John 2:29, is new to me, and brings some clarity to my past.

    • Rarely do we hear much about John 2 other than the turning water into wine. The last three verses may be the most important teaching in the chapter.

  2. You have taken my understanding of trust and love and shaken it (I have a mind’s image of you with each hand on a support structure and shaking it – gently, but enough). I think i will use these two articles in my contemplation time. Thank you for breaking through a falsehood.

  3. This makes sense to me. But why are we admonished to “trust in the Lord” repeatedly if trust is an emotion that is not conjured up? The admonishment itself implies there is an element of will there, some decision we can make to trust in God. However, I see how this doesn’t work. I can decide to behave as if I trust in God, but that’s not really trust, is it?

  4. Great question Barbara. As I intimated in both of these articles so far on trust, God is really the exception. The word in Greek for believe means “trust/obey”. It’s a compound word, implying that both are necessary with belief. To trust God means that we have separated God out from humans and ascribe absolute qualities to Him: e.g. Absolutely wise, absolutely good, absolutely trustworthy. So even if we don’t feel like trusting, God is still trustworthy. In this case, we put ourselves in the place where we rely on God even if we don’t feel like doing it. That is faith. Faith is misguided when given to people.

  5. When it comes to a husband or wife committing some serious offenses in the marriage relationship, I believe there should first be “fruit in keeping with repentance” for a length of time before one makes a decision to trust the offender again.This can also be true in any relationship where there has been betrayal.
    I guess what I am saying is that I believe trust is a decision more than an emotion. It needs to be earned once it has been broken.

  6. Marilyn, I agree completely about someone needing to see fruit before making decisions. That is my point. Trust is certainly an emotion, and therefore cannot be the basis for decisions. When I allow someone who has hurt me back in my life, it is not because I trust them; it is because I have put boundaries in place to prevent them from hurting me again. Or, I have decided how I will act if they break my trust again. The longer a person shows fruit, the more a healthy person will trust them.

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