Trusting Wisely By Karyn Hall, PhD

As you know from the last post, trustworthiness is not constant. People are not consistently trustworthy or consistently untrustworthy but vary according to situations they are in. Whether you behave in a more trusting way or not may vary in ways that you are not aware.

First, if you are feeling grateful you are more likely to behave in trusting ways to others. In fact, your level of trust is likely to vary exactly according to the level of gratitude you are experiencing at the moment. Notice this has nothing to do with the other person or the specific situation but is only based on the feelings you are experiencing. So maybe feeling good makes you trust others or be less judgmental and cautious? Yes, but it’s not only feeling grateful that increase your trust in others. If you are socially stressed, then you are also more likely to trust others. In fact, researchers found that social anxiety increased the rate of cooperation (trust) by about 50 per cent. Again, those feelings have nothing to do with trust.It’s not only feelings that increase trust. It could be the power of suggestion. If you believe you are wearing knock-off designer sunglasses, then you will act in less trustworthy ways than if you believe the sunglasses you are wearing are authentic.

A person’s trustworthiness can’t be determined from his past actions or reputation of being trustworthy. Asking if someone is trustworthy isn’t the right question. To increase your odds of trusting when it is appropriate to trust, then focus on whether the person is trustworthy right now in the current situation.

Survival of the fittest means that your mind is focused on how best for you to survive. So wouldn’t that mean that getting the best outcome for yourself in each interaction is the best strategy? In other words, trust no one and look out for yourself? Such an approach seems to work to the person’s advantage in the beginning but not in the long term. When you have that approach, as time goes on people do not want to cooperate with you and the approach no longer works. Those who behave in more trusting ways do better in the long term. Acting in trustworthy ways is often not easy. Behaving in trustworthy ways, both with yourself and with others, seems to count on your being able to resist immediate desires in favor of long-term benefit or self-regulation.

So one aspect of being trustworthy is being able to self-regulate. When you are wondering whether to trust yourself or to trust someone else, ask yourself if they are able to self-regulate in the situation you are in. How tired are they? How overwhelmed?

Another aspect of trust is to ask yourself if the person has the right skills to be trustworthy in the particular situation. You may trust your best friend more than anyone else in your life. But you wouldn’t trust your friend to tell you where to invest your money unless she is a financial expert.

So in considering whether to trust someone or yourself, remember that trust is not a set characteristic. Your feelings, the situation, and the power of suggestion can all influence trust. Are you emotionally regulated? Is the other person emotionally regulated? In addition, consider whether you or the other person has the competence needed to be trustworthy in the particular circumstances. So when deciding to trust someone, consider the context. Is your goal to get expert advice on a medical condition or to trust someone to babysit your new puppy?

Trust is one of the keys to building resilience. Being able to trust someone else is part of recovery and the ability to bounce back. Trust is necessary. So pay attention to your intuition, look for motives for your own or others behavior, and be wise in your decisions in each situation rather than having a set pattern.


DeSteno, D. (2014). The Truth About Trust. New York: Penguin Group.

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Your Pattern of Trust By Karyn Hall, PhD



handshake isolated on business background

For emotionally sensitive people, trusting someone is often a huge challenge.  Everyday, in one way or another, you probably ask yourself if you can trust different people. Trust plays a central role in your relationships, your business decisions, choices you make about your health, how you love, and how you invest your money.  The need to trust is uncomfortable and scary. It points out that you are vulnerable. You may fear being rejected or judged. Yet you can’t get the outcomes you want in life and meet your needs without trust. You need the cooperation of others. Your pattern of trusting or not trusting others may make relationships and cooperation more difficult.

Trust No One.  Perhaps you’ve decided to never ask for help or rely on others for anything. You doubt the information others give you and check the facts on every decision. You never let yourself believe that you can count on someone else. You don’t want to trust for fear of being hurt and let down. While you may see this as protecting yourself, in the long run this approach doesn’t work well in terms of getting what you want out of life. Not taking any risks personally or in your career has negative results for most people. Because we are dependent on others, and because friendships and family relationships are a big part of contentment in life, not trusting others brings you pain as well. When you don’t trust, it is not possible to have close, supportive relationships.

Trust Everyone.  The problem with trusting everyone is that you will likely be hurt and perhaps even be harmed physically, emotionally and/or financially.  Trusting everyone means you will be taken advantage of by those who have their own agenda and needs that aren’t the same as yours. When other people’s needs are not in line with yours, they may act in their own best interests, particularly if they believe they won’t get caught.   Perhaps you take this approach in an effort to be accepted or to avoid aggression, believing if you are no threat others will not harm you. Trusting everyone doesn’t work.

Be Suspicious But Engage Fully Anyway.  Perhaps you say you don’t trust and you keep in mind that others could betray you. At the same time you engage in the relationship and behave as if you trust the other person. When you find out the person is untrustworthy, you say you knew it all along.  The problem is that you still must deal with the consequences of acting as if you trusted.

Trustworthiness is not a black or white characteristic. It would be easier if some people were trustworthy and others weren’t and your job was to determine the difference. While some depend on reputation to determine whether someone can be trusted, this is not the best option.  This implies that trust is part of integrity. In truth, human morality is quite variable. Whether you can trust someone, including yourself, depends on the situation. Trustworthiness fluctuates.

Taking a look at how you decide to trust is an important first step in learning how to trust in more effective ways.  More facts about trust will be in the next post.

Survey:  If you are an emotionally sensitive person who does not have a mental health diagnosis, please consider completing our survey to help us learn more about emotional sensitivity.  Thank you.

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Letting Go of Blame By Karyn Hall, PhD

Business concept-Why me?

Business concept-Why me?

When something goes wrong, one of the first responses many people have is to blame someone. Being at fault may bring up many fears. If you can blame someone else, you can avoid the painful feelings of guilt and shame. You can avoid the fear of not being good enough and perhaps the resulting fear of abandonment. Maybe you panic when you may have done something wrong or taken action that didn’t work out because in the past others have rejected you or perhaps punished you for making a mistake. Blaming is the way you attempt to protect yourself.  Whatever the reason, blame usually leads to conflict and damaged relationships in addition to blocking problem solving. Time spent blaming only delays finding a solution to whatever happened.

Imagine that you and your spouse drive to work together.  One morning you are a few blocks away from your house and the car runs out of gas. You’re angry because your husband usually keeps the tank filled. He’s angry because you drove the car last and didn’t tell him it needed gas. You call each other names and yell about how flawed the other person is, using words like lazy, selfish, thoughtless, and stupid, plus a few that are unmentionable. No matter who didn’t fill the car with gas, arguing about whose fault it is doesn’t solve the problem. The more you argue the later to work you will be.

Letting go of blaming behavior can be difficult. Here are some ideas to consider.

1.  Ask yourself if it really matters who was at fault. Sometimes accepting responsibility is important for learning and change.  Accepting responsibility and assigning responsibility is different from blame.

2.  Focus on what you can do, not what someone else should have done or could do.  If the car is out of gas, what can you do to solve the problem?  How will you get the gas you need? Put your energy into getting past the difficult situation, not on who caused it.

3.  Stay in the present. Bringing up past examples of someone else’s behavior to justify your anger is not helpful in resolving the situation and only makes the situation more upsetting and volatile.

4.  Stick to the facts. Just describe the situation without judging. “The car is out of gas and I am going to be late for work.”  Remember to not blame yourself either.

5.   Express your feelings without directing them at someone else.  Say, “I’m feeling angry and hurt,” rather than “You hurt me,” or “I’m afraid I’ll lose my job,” not “Your stupidity will get me fired.”

6.  Use language of acceptance. Your basic view is that you and others are doing the best possible and that you are all human beings who make mistakes. Think how you would want someone to respond to your child if he made a mistake.

7.  Look for what others are doing right. Search for the positive actions that others take. Train yourself to notice the positive.

8.  Practice compassion. Replace your anger with understanding.  Search for a way to understand others’ behavior.



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Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder/Great Day Houston for NEA BPD

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BPD and Validation

Recently the Center for Faith and Healing gave Dr. Hall the opportunity to speak about BPD and Validation. Listen here if you are interested.

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Emotionally Sensitive Person–New Podcast on iTunes

Learning to accept yourself can be a long journey, but one that is worth it in so many ways.  In our new podcast I share some ideas about steps you can take.



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The Challenge of Being Happy For Our Friends




Sam and Ellen were best friends. Together they shared movies, devoured pizza, and watched football. They talked about whatever thoughts came into their heads and they were comfortable with silence too. If  Sam needed help, he could count on Ellen. If  Ellen had a rough day, Sam was there to help her get past it.  When Sam couldn’t find a job, Ellen looked at ads and gave him leads she got through her friends. They supported each other through the hard times.


Then Sam won a contest. Soon after  he earned a promotion at work. He expected Ellen to be happy for him. Ellen tried, but she couldn’t quite manage to celebrate his success. In the beginning she hid her doubts, fears, and resentments but soon she began avoiding her friend and not talking as openly with him. She believed he had changed. She was sad, thinking she had lost her friend. They just didn’t have that much in common anymore. She spent less and less time with Sam and when they were together she felt uncomfortable.


Sam was confused.  He thought Ellen would be happy for him but she was pulling away. She seemed angry and withdrawn. He resented her attitude and was determined she wouldn’t pull him down. They spent more and more time apart, each blaming the other.


Sometimes, particularly for emotionally sensitive people,  friendship can be based on being needed. When someone is struggling you might be the first one to offer support. You know how difficult it can be to deal with life’s problems and want to help other people find their way. Shared struggles can help form a bond. Sometimes that bond helps us remember that life is hard no matter what we do.


When someone gets good news, that can be more difficult to support. You may resent their good fortune and at the same time feel guilty for your resentment.  You may not be proud of your thoughts, but they still come.  Maybe you wonder what your friend did that was so great? Why does he deserve such a break?  She’s not so great, how did she get such a great boyfriend?  You’ve tried harder, done more work, or waited longer. It should have been you.


What’s behind the difficulty in being happy for your friends’ good fortune? Maybe you see the world as made up of people who struggle and people who succeed, and your friend is no longer in the same group as you. Maybe if the two of you aren’t the same anymore  your friendship can’t survive. Maybe he won’t want to be friends with you anymore and you pull away to protect yourself. Maybe you get angry for the same reason.


Maybe you see his success as an uncomfortable challenge to you. If your friend can find a job, then it puts more pressure on you to do the same. You compare yourself to your friend. If he can do it, then you could too. That changes your view and pushes you to take more responsibility. Or maybe you judge yourself more harshly when a friend has good news. Your thinking becomes black and white, with you as the “loser.”


Celebrating a friend’s happiness, especially when you are struggling, can be a real challenge. It’s just as important as being there during hard times. Being happy for someone else’s success is part of friendship.  If this is an issue for you, then you might try letting go of comparisons. Comparisons often lead to judging and judging yourself or your friend is not helpful. If you do find yourself judging, just notice the judgments and let them pass. Throw yourself into being happy for your friend. Be fully there. Remind yourself that what happens for someone else is not a judgment of you. If you want the same achievement or experience that your friend is having, be aware of and honor that thought. His happiness does not take away from your efforts or chances to have the same result.


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Building Resiliency


Building Resiliency












When I was working in a Children’s Protective Services Shelter I met children who were scared from being whipped with extension cords, had suffered broken bones from being hit and who lived on the streets, surviving as best they could. I also met a young man, a former medical student, who volunteered at the shelter. He had hit his head when he dove into a swimming pool and was paralyzed from the neck down. Like this young man, some of the children exhibited an admirable ability to find joy and meaning despite the traumas and stress they had suffered. Those children shared similar qualities as this young man: they were resilient. Not only did they survive, but they were able to become passionate thrivers. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and stress, a key quality for your emotional and physical health.

Resilience is important for everyday stresses too.  In a recent article in Scientific Mind, the authors cite this 2002 quote by Dean Becker, a founder of a resilience-training firm:  “More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails.  That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s’ true in the Olympics and it’s true in the boardroom.”

Emotionally sensitive people are especially sensitive to stress. The good news is that resiliency skills can be strengthened according to authors Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney who wrote Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges.

The first key is to be able to regulate your emotions. One effective way to manage painful emotions is through cognitive reappraisal, which means changing the way you think about a situation in order to change your emotional response. The strategy involves observing your thoughts and behaviors, challenging negative assessments of stressful situations and yourself, and replacing negative assessments with more factual statements. Ask yourself questions such as, “Am I thinking in black and white categories? What would be the gray or plaid way of viewing this situation?”

A second way to bolster your resiliency is to practice mindfulness. Staying in the present lowers your stress levels. Much of the stress you experience is due to worrying about the future or being upset about the past.

Increasing your positive emotions also will help you increase your resiliency. Creating joy in your life and creating positive experiences will add to your ability to cope well with stress. Developing realistic optimism, which means filtering out unnecessary negative information but paying attention to important negative information that is relevant to coping, will strengthen your ability to bounce back from stress and disappointment.

Avoiding stress may diminish your ability to cope. Using stress inoculation works to build your coping skills. Stress inoculation means taking on increasingly difficult challenges, much like gradually lifting heavier weights. If being out of your house is stressful for you, you might practice going to a small store a mile away before attempting to shop at the mall in the next town.

Exercise is always listed as a way to cope with stress and to improve your physical health. Walking is a simple way to start.  Having strong social support, and using that support,  also decreases your vulnerability to stress. Having friends to talk with, friends to play with, and friends who would help you out in a tough situation will lower your stress levels. Finally, having role modelswho manage stress well can give you inspiration and hope.

These ideas are not new. Sometimes when we hear suggestions that aren’t new we discount them when actually the fact that these ideas have been around for a while, been researched with many different groups, gives them credibility. Putting these strategies into practice will be difficult. Most of us would prefer an easier answer to being more content. But what if you practiced these suggestions for six months? Give it your all and do them to the best of your ability. If you need help, ask for it. Maybe you will be in a better place.

Self-Help Tool

Starting January 1, 2015 Dr. Hall’s self-help tool, Creating the Life You Want to Live, will be available. Dr. Hall will email subscribers daily coaching tips and ideas about research-based skills to help in your recovery.  See the details on this website (see the page for Creating the Life You Want to Live.  

Photo Credit:  ccThomas Levinson via Compfight

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Stop the Stigma

Stop the Stigma

Spread the word…NEA-BPD will be celebrating persons in recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder throughout the month of October through their #BeyondBPDStigma social media campaign.

—This anti-stigma campaign will be conducted through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. People in recovery from BPD will be encouraged to talk about ways that they are empowering and advocating for themselves through text, photographs, and videos. Participants will be asked to use the hashtags #BeyondBPDStigma, #BeyondBPD, and #Imhelpingmyself. Peer advocate and family member Carl Dunn (@CarlDunnJr) and Amanda Smith, LMSW (@dialecticallife) will lead the campaign designed to bring awareness to the issues facing those affected by Borderline Personality Disorder. “This is an overdue effort,” said NEA-BPD president, Perry Hoffman, PhD. “It’s a positive message of hope, encouraging people to take charge of their recovery and support others in doing so as well.” To launch the campaign, an #BPDChat will take place on Twitter this Sunday afternoon, September 28, at 4:00 pm (EST) and 9:00 pm (BST). For more information, please email Carl Dunn at or Amanda Smith at

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Worry and Relationships By KARYN HALL, PHD

worry and relationships








Some emotionally sensitive people are worriers. Not just your everyday worriers, but world-class worriers. They worry when they wake up about what the day will bring. They worry about their appearance, they worry if they’ve done the right thing, and they worry about what might happen in the future. They worry about their family; they worry about their friends. They worry about people they love. They worry because they love. Some see worry as being part of  love and caring. They may not realize that their worrying can interfere with their sense of belonging and the closeness of their relationships.

Worrying Can Drain Happiness

Your daughter comes in to tell you that she’s been accepted to the college of her dreams. You had secretly hoped she wouldn’t get in because the college is so far away. You bite your lip and say in what you hope is an excited voice, “That’s great. Congratulations.”  It’s not long though before your brow furrows and you are asking questions like, “If you go there you won’t be able to come home as often, you know.”

Of course you don’t mean to dampen her excitement. You just want to be sure she is thinking of all the problems with being so far away. Truth be told (come on, now, admit it), you are thinking of the problems that you see happening and that bother you, not your daughter. She may respond with, “Mom, can’t you just be happy for me?  Just this once?”

Thinking of the pros and cons of a situation is a helpful way to evaluate choices that you have. Pros and cons are presented in a logical way though and worrying is filled with emotion, usually sadness and anxiety.

Worrying Communicates Lack of Confidence

Though you may not mean to do so, worrying about others communicates a lack of confidence. If they are uncertain about their decision or situation, your expressing worry can lead to their being more upset and uncomfortable. It can increase the tension that they already feel. If they are confident in their decision or situation, expressing worry will be seen as saying you don’t believe in them. Neither outcome is helpful and you may find they talk with you less and less about what is most important to them.

Worrying Can Be a Way of Avoiding Happiness

Sometimes people who worry are afraid of being happy. Most suffer greatly with their own worry and when they have let themselves be happy, losing that feeling hurt more than not feeling it at all. So when an event occurs that seems to bring happiness, they may automatically look for ways it could not be a pleasant experience. Sometimes they do this for other people too, perhaps not even aware of hat they are doing.

Most events in life are a mixture of both desired and less desired emotions. Graduating from high school can be a happy event with sadness about leaving friends. It’s usually pretty easy to find a reason to be doubtful about happiness. Winning the lottery could bring fears of tax problems and conflicts with relatives. Getting married can bring fears about losing independence.

While a realistic view considers both the advantages and challenges of events and decisions, not allowing celebration and not enjoying the positives limits your overall joy. Joining with others to celebrate joyful events is part of having a sense of belonging and strengthens relationships.

Worrying Affects the Way Others Treat You 

When you express worry about the decisions of others, they may see you as someone who can’t handle life. “Don’t tell her, she’ll just worry about it,” may be the mantra of your friends and family. They may discount what you say because they see you as worrying about everything. If others don’t listen to you, that can lead you to feel left out, which weakens the relationships.

You may be confused about how others react to your worrying about them.  You care so much and they don’t seem to understand that. If you’ve noticed that your worry is pushing people away, then you may want to try some ways to decrease your worry.

Ideas for Change

Find ways to be more aware of worry statements you make. Sometimes worrying is such a habit that you don’t notice when you are communicating worry. For example, ask others to point out your worry behavior to you. Statements of uncertainty can communicate worry. Asking others if they are sure about their decision, with a stressed tone and/or look, is an example. The television character Edith Bunker is an exaggerated example of communicating tension and anxiety to others through body language and tension level in addition to her tone of voice and the words she uses.

Once aware of your worry statements and body language, practice omitting those statements from your conversations. Practice having a more relaxed body.

Replace worry statements with supportive and congratulatory ones. “I’m so happy for you,” is an example.  You probably still have worries, but you don’t always need to express them.  If you do need to voice a concern, timing is important. Wait for some time to pass.

When you notice yourself being obsessed with worry, find an activity that gives you pleasure. Throw yourself into the activity.

Remember that productive worry is when worry gets you to take effective action, such as preparing for a test. Unproductive worry is worry over events that you have no control over and cannot change. Notice when your worry is not helpful and practice distracting yourself.

These are just a few ideas. Changing worry behaviors will not be easy and won’t happen quickly.

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