Do you find yourself moving through life always on the defence, poised for the next attack? Maybe the world feels like a scary place, and you find it hard to trust people. After all, everyone is out for themselves, right?

Being cautious in itself is no bad thing. But if this level of caution has put you in a state of high alert and you find yourself constantly questioning the motives of everyone you meet, then there might be something more at play.

We’ve written this blog to explore some of the reasons you might be feeling this way, and the different ways this will be holding you back in life.

The good news is you do not have to feel this way forever. Trust can be built, and thoughts, behaviours and perceptions can all be changed – that’s if we’re prepared to put in the work.

Why do I feel this way?

Belief patterns like this usually stem from past experiences. It is perhaps best explained through the lens of Schema Therapy. A schema is a pattern (or “life trap”) that begins in childhood and reverberates throughout our adult lives. Think of a schema like a line of code that runs through your brain. That code determines everything from the way you think, feel and interact with the world.

The experiences we have growing up form our schemas – our perception of the world. This is great news if we have a very secure and stable upbringing – less so if not.

When we feel suspicious of people and as though we need to always have our guard up, we are living from a place of mistrust. Trust is formed – or not formed – in our earliest relationships. That’s because as a child we are our most vulnerable. We are almost entirely reliant on adults as children, and without an alternative we place our trust in their hands.

If you find it hard to trust people, it might be worth looking at these early relationships. Did you feel safe and secure? Did your family love and protect you? Did you feel supported and cared for?

If you struggle with trust, it might be because no one earned your trust growing up. Maybe your parents were struggling with their own issues, arguing a lot or emotionally unstable. Perhaps the people who were meant to be looking out for you and guiding you ended up betraying you in someway. Or perhaps you suffered cruelty or abuse (verbal, emotional, physical) at the hands of our parents, siblings – or on the school playground.

You might have grown up with parents who were very suspicious themselves, telling you things like, “You’ve got to look out for yourself – no one is to be trusted”.

If trust is never formed, it’s going to colour of perspective of the world. Trust is something that is earned. If we never experienced its safety as a child, we’re going to be reluctant to give it out so readily in our adult life.

But why is this belief a problem?

Living life on the defence can cause us a wealth of issues. Research shows that the way in which we read other people’s intentions shapes our experiences of the world. If we’re moving through life paranoid and suspicious, then our experiences are going to be pretty miserable (to say the least).

Our relationships are likely to take a hit too. Deep friendships and relationships are formed through the ability to be vulnerable. We can never fully give ourselves to a relationship if we always have our guard up.

We might end up unintentionally alienating ourselves from our friends or perhaps even isolating ourselves completely.

Changing perspective

What if you were to turn the whole thing on its head and instead consider that everything in the world is actually there to help you? Maybe even the bad things too as they allow us to grow and develop. There’s a term for this: pronoia (you guessed it, the opposite to paranoia). Paulo Coelho famously expresses this concept in The Alchemist with the words, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”.

Bad things happen – no one can doubt that – but there is also a whole lot of good in the world. Never forget that. There are a lot of good people just like you who only wish the best for you.

The interesting thing about trust is that it ultimately comes down to us. We need to learn to trust in our own judgements. There is a whole spectrum of trustworthiness out there, and we need to trust ourselves enough so we can make that call.

When paranoia becomes something more ingrained: Paranoid Personality Disorder

Whilst we might all suffer mild bouts of paranoia every once in a while (e.g. thinking that people are laughing at you or unnecessary worrying about being laid off work), if these kind of thoughts persist for an extended period of time, then it might be a sign of mental illness. Paranoid ideation is a symptom of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and paranoid personality disorder (when combined alongside other symptoms). Anxiety and depression can also make you feel this way.

Paranoid Personality Disorder manifests as a long-standing pattern of distrust. Someone suffering from PPD will nearly always believe other people’s motives to be suspect. Because of this, they might come across as controlling, critical or secretive, and their suspicions might even go as far as to cause them to act in devious ways.

How can therapy help?

Therapy can help you get to the root of where your issues stem from, and support you in building feelings of trust once again. It is the people from our past who deserve our hurt, anger and mistrust, not the people who love and support us today. When we leave our issues unresolved what tends to happen is that we end up playing out our hurt on the wrong people. Your therapist will support you in working through the dynamics of past betrayals so you can express this hurt where it is deserved. And when this happens you open yourself up to experiencing love and trust – both with others, but also the world itself.

Get matched to a psychologist and start your therapy journey today.