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Trust and Control

Explanations > Trust > Trust and Control

Ceding trust | Betrayal and control | So what


Trust and control are very closely related, in particular how trusting people cede control and how betrayal leads to a strong control-based response.

Ceding trust

We all have a need for a sense of control. It is a fundamental driver of how we live. When we feel in control we can predict what may happen, change things to best suit us and cope with problems. Control gives us power to achieve our needs and goals.

We get this sense of trust in two ways: we can take control or we can cede control. This is like driving the car or trusting the driver.

Ceding control allows others to have control over our lives. Trust is essential in order to sustain our sense of control when we cede control. When others have control, we are vulnerable. They could use their control of situations to achieve their goals at our expense or otherwise harm us.

Ceding control is often done with an assumption of care by the party who is taking control. I will trust you if you care for me. This is like a parent-child relationship where the parent has control but cares for the child, who trusts the parent to support them.

We cede control to many others, including governments, family, friends and employers. We even trust strangers in the street and drivers on the road to decide and act in ways that will not harm us.

Betrayal and control

There is a paradox of control and trust. Trust leads to ceding of control, yet wielding of that control can lead to the loss of trust and, ultimately control. When others who we have trusted betray the trust we have placed in them, it destroys our sense of control and hence our trust.

A typical response to betrayals is to grab back control in order to protect oneself and also to punish the other person. A betrayed person typically seeks justice, and in doing so places themself in the control positions of police, judge and jury.

There is distinct potential for an extreme response to betrayal, which acts an encouragement of those to whom others have ceded control to refrain from breaking that trust. Personal values also discourage betrayal, including the general 'golden rule' of 'do to others as you would have them do to you'.

Social norms and cultural rules act to support trust and provide legitimization for restoration and punishment after a betrayal. This not only allows the betrayed person from grabbing back control but also encourages other to engage in the corrective activity.

The operation of many relationships and workplaces can be understood through the locus of control and the dynamics of trust and betrayal. We cede control to employers but then lose trust in them as they seem not to care for us. This can lead to parent-child patterns, including sulking, spite and other dysfunctions in the relationship.

So what?

If you are changing the minds of others and you want them to trust you, show that you will not use the ceded power against them and work to provide ongoing evidence of your trustworthiness.

Also seek to provide visible confirmation that supports their sense of control, for example by giving them choices and involving them in decisions.

If you must trust others, then be sure of that trust or else retain enough control so you can take action if the trust is broken.

See also

Need for Sense of Control, The Effects of Betrayal, Transactional Analysis


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