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6 Ways to Regain Trust After Betrayal

How nearly drowning saved my life.

Key points

  • Those who trust others experience more meaningful relationships, greater self-esteem, and better work performance.
  • Those who lack trust tend to see others as a threat and the world as hostile.
  • The path to healing begins with compassion, self-care, journaling, motivational reading, and embracing friendships

I didn’t notice the sign in a far corner of the beach warning: "Rip Currents. You could be swept out and drown. If in doubt, don’t go in.”

This past March, while in Hawaii, I confidently paddled into the quiet waters of Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s north shore, unaware the area is known to locals for unpredictable and dangerous currents.

 Gina Vild
Hanalei Bay on Kauai's north shore
Source: Image: Gina Vild

It was glorious. Embraced by crystal blue water, I could see the shore and behind it, the island’s lush emerald valleys tucked between magnificent sea cliffs. While floating, I saw the day’s sunbathers begin to thin as the afternoon waned. What I didn't see is that the lifeguards had also packed up for the day.

Tony, my partner of three years, had nodded off. Upon awakening, he noticed I was gone and he waded in to find me. Had he continued to nap, this would have been a far different tale, an obituary rather than a reflection.

We swam a bit, then, seeing we had drifted, decided to head in. If there were a soundtrack, here the music would shift from melodic to discordant with a rapidly accelerating beat.

It was immediately apparent that the drifting was caused by a swiftly moving current, sucking us into deeper water and taking us far from the safety of the sandbar. I swam hard but soon realized I wasn’t making progress.

Tony and I began expending Herculean effort but became overwhelmed by the swells that washed over us. As we took in water, my fatigued body began to panic. In that moment, I remembered that to panic in the sea is to drown. I said with terror in my voice, “I can’t make it in.”

We had two options. Either Tony, who was faring far better than I given his core strength could swim ashore saving himself, or we could continue to struggle together.

His decision to remain with me literally saved my life. Tony began to time the swells and push hard on my chest shoving me toward shore. He would push. I would gain three feet but lose two to the undertow. Push and pull, over and over. At great personal risk, as the swells washed over us, Tony used our only available resources, his remaining strength and determination.

Eventually, my toes found sand. I was exhausted from struggling for what seemed like an eternity but that was likely 30 minutes. We staggered onto the beach and hugged. I collapsed in tears, overcome with relief and gratitude.

Later at a tiki bar over celebratory mai tais, Tony admitted he thought at one point we wouldn’t make it. I asked why he didn’t leave me and save himself. Had I not survived, no one would have faulted him for going in search of help. His response: “I would never leave you. It was going to be both of us or neither of us.”

 Gina Vild
Celebrating survival
Source: Image: Gina Vild

This near tragedy handed me a gift, the renewal of trust. It had withered seven years earlier after I ended my 28-year marriage; a series of devastating reveals had shattered my faith in someone who professed to love me beyond all else and in whose hands I placed my life and my trust. Not surprisingly, I was unmoored and leery of anyone who sought my love.

As Maria Popova wrote, “It is a cruelty of life that, along the way, people who once appeared fitted to the task crumble in character when the going gets hard in that natural way hardship has of visiting all human lives.”

Tony didn’t crumble, and the result was transformational. He restored the tenets I was raised with: People are trustworthy and the world is mostly safe.

In the waters of Kauai, I experienced his character through actions, not words. His selflessness was more than life-saving. It was restorative.

What is trust?

As His Holiness, the Dalai Lama said, “You can’t buy trust in the supermarket.”

Trust is surety—certainty of emotional, psychological, and physical safety. Trust becomes the lens through which we view others. It is the glue that cements relationships and instills in us the ability to move confidently in the world. Trust results in more meaningful relationships, greater self-esteem, and better work performance. It promotes happiness by increasing oxytocin, the feel-good hormone.

When trust is lacking, the cost is high. Those without it tend to see others as a threat and the world as hostile. They ruminate: Can I open my heart without fear of being bruised? Without trust, we are hypervigilant for inconsistencies that foretell betrayal. Lack of trust elevates cortisol, the stress hormone associated with weight gain, fatigue, brain fog, and infections.

Betrayal by anyone is painful, but betrayal by those you love results in mental injury, a psychic wound leading to depression, severe grief, and a loss of faith in others. Psychologists have named this betrayal trauma. It occurs when those we depend upon for survival and on whom we are emotionally attached violate our trust in a critical way.

Steps to restore trust

Can trust be restored? And how does one heal? While it's a good idea to seek professional help to gain an impartial perspective and avoid struggling alone, there are other restorative steps.

1. Engage in self-care

“Taking care of myself doesn't mean 'me first.' It means 'me, too.'” ― L.R. Knost

Find ways to nurture yourself to regain balance. Taking good care restores self-esteem, confidence, and resilience. Learn to meditate. Exercise by taking long walks, practicing yoga, or joining a gym. Discover the joy of gardening. Treat yourself to a new dress or lipstick. Watch When Harry Met Sally or anything that makes you happy. Indulge in napping or sleeping in. Remember, self-care affirms your worth and alleviates distress.

2. Invest in your personal community

Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.” —Woodrow Wilson

Spending time with family and friends reminds you that the person who broke your trust is an exception and boosts your sense of belonging and purpose. It’s indisputable that those with strong social connections are healthier and have a reduced risk of depression, high blood pressure, and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). People with healthy friendships are more likely to live longer. Remember, your social network reflects the goodness inherent in humanity.

3. Find compassion

“Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion.” —Buddha

Strive to understand the person who hurt you and the impetus for their actions. Did they act out of carelessness, personal weakness, or addictions? All humans are flawed and strive to do their best. Leading with compassion requires we accept our wounds, while we recognize the wounds of others. Understanding this duality is a fast track to shedding a mentality of victimhood. Choosing to be a victim is debilitating, not unlike strapping heavy emotional baggage to your back and carting it around. Finally, give yourself the greatest gift of all—practice forgiveness.

4. Read and learn

Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light. —Vera Nazarian

Books offer a doorway to healing. There is a wealth of literature to aid understanding; reading and learning shed unproductive emotions. Here are just a few recommendations: When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner; A Beautiful, Terrible Thing by Jen Waite; Mindful Moments by Deepak Chopra, MD; Between the Dark and the Daylight by Joan Chittister; Wintering, the Power to Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May; Your True Home by Thich Nhat Hanh; and When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. Also, the poetry of Mary Oliver is highly recommended.

5. Journal your story

"Journaling is like whispering to one’s self and listening at the same time.” —Mina Murray

Journaling is a valuable problem-solving technique that offers a safe space to work through your pain. To write your story is to better understand it and to ensure you are wiser in the future. Journaling reduces stress and separates you from negative thoughts. Writing for ourselves helps validate our experiences in a forum that promotes healing.

6. Take another chance on love

“Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” —Helen Keller

Don’t stop taking chances. Go in the world with arms held wide open to new opportunities. Don’t let the past define your future. Rather, let it be a launch pad that takes you on new adventures. Should one of those adventures lead you to a new relationship, the best advice is to take it slowly, trust but verify, and listen ever so carefully to your intuition, which will never steer you wrong.

In summary, I don’t recommend others restore broken trust as I did—in the rough currents of the Pacific Ocean—but I do recommend as the poet Maya Angelou advises, “Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”


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