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December 6, 2023 Dec 06, 2023 9 min read

Tools for Survivors: How to Rebuild Trust in Others After Sexual Assault or Abuse


  • Due to the violating nature of sexual assault and abuse, many victims struggle to trust others
  • While “trust issues” can have significant negative social impacts on our lives, they are an expression of our body’s instinctual survival mechanisms
  • Learning how to trust others again can be a long and slow process, but working with a mental health professional can aid your success
  • With or without therapy, survivors should remember to take things slowly when endeavoring to rebuild trust
  • Moving at the pace of trust allows time to identify real dangers or people who do not deserve to be trusted
  • Other key elements of rebuilding trust include practicing open communication, establishing clear boundaries and expectations, and recognizing that trust is always an inherent risk

Despite persistent myths about rape and sexual assault, approximately 80% of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. This understandably results in an immense sense of violation and broken trust for the victim, leaving many survivors struggling to trust partners, friends, family members, and acquaintances.


Of course, “trust issues” arise for good reason, as an instinctual attempt to keep us safe from further harm. Unfortunately, despite this practical function, difficulty trusting others can interfere with our ability to form meaningful or lasting relationships after sexual assault or abuse.


If you’re struggling to form or maintain relationships as a survivor of sexual trauma, this article presents some helpful ideas for how to rebuild your trust in others after abuse.

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How to Rebuild Trust in Others (5 Tips for Survivors)

Before we dive into this list, it’s important to note that re-establishing safety in the mind and body after an experience of sexual trauma is often much easier with the help of a therapist or counsellor. For information on how to find a therapist near you, check out our article “How to Find a Trauma Therapist.”


The following tips can be applied regardless of whether or not you are pursuing therapy.

1. Go slow

The most important part of rebuilding trust with others is to take things slowly. When building trust in your romantic relationships, friendships, or work relationships, moving at the pace of trust is an excellent guiding principle. As a rule, trust cannot be rushed, and attempts to speed up the process of trusting others can lead to even more guardedness and hesitation.


If you feel frustrated with the parts of yourself that are struggling to trust, practice showing compassion and understanding to those parts. Trusting will become easier over time as you begin to re-establish a sense of relative safety and comfort within yourself and your relationships.

2. Practice discerning between “trust issues” and healthy instincts

Not everyone deserves our trust. There’s a difference between struggling to trust trustworthy situations due to past experiences and struggling to trust untrustworthy situations due to healthy instincts. Before you can heal your relationship with trusting others, you will need to find ways to ensure (to whatever degree you’re able) that the people you’re trying to trust are invested in your safety and well-being.


Of course, figuring this out can be extremely difficult, especially when we feel overly cautious about others’ intentions.


Here are some basic questions to help you determine whether someone is worth building trust with:



If the person you’re trying to build trust with respects your boundaries, demonstrates patience and compassion, and has shown meaningful investment in learning about how trauma affects relationships, then you can feel relatively assured that they are worth trying to trust.


However, if someone pressures or guilts you, violates your boundaries, or shows little to no investment in learning how to accommodate your insecurities, this is a fairly clear indication that your hesitation to trust them is a healthy instinct.


To learn more about the science of trust and why we struggle with it as sexual trauma survivors, check out “The Science of Sexual Trauma: Why We Struggle to Trust.”

3. Learn the difference between discomfort and danger

As you begin to re-establish your ability to trust others, it’s important to understand that you will sometimes feel uncomfortable during this process. Trusting others is scary after our trust has been violated, but discomfort is not the same as danger.


Although it can feel extremely difficult at first to learn the difference, practice checking in with yourself about the difference between discomfort and danger.


Example: “Trusting this person is feeling difficult for me right now. Am I in danger, or am I just uncomfortable? Am I willing to tolerate being slightly uncomfortable, or am I too far outside of my comfort zone?”


Of course, even if something is “just uncomfortable,” this doesn’t mean that you should push yourself into it. Exploring the edges of your comfort zone is important, but pushing too far past your limitations can prolong the process of rebuilding trust.


To learn more about working with the edges of your comfort zone in trauma healing (also known as “titration”), check out this video from nervous system educator Irene Lyon.

4. Establish clear boundaries and expectations

Without clearly communicated boundaries and expectations in a relationship, trust loses its meaning. Both people involved in a relationship should be fully aware of all boundaries and expectations so that they can uphold and respect them effectively and consistently. Communicating honestly and respecting boundaries are the two essential ways that trust is formed and demonstrated in a relationship.


By clearly stating your boundaries and expectations, you create opportunities for your partners, friends, and family members to demonstrate respect for your boundaries. When boundaries are respected consistently, this helps our minds and bodies understand that trust is possible and present.

5. Recognize trust as a risk

In 1996, British psychotherapist Adam Phillips wrote that trust “is a risk masquerading as a promise.” Although it may be difficult to accept, rebuilding trust in others requires recognizing and understanding that trusting someone does not mean feeling guaranteed that they will never hurt us.


Trusting someone means trusting them to act with integrity, good intention, and honesty, to respect boundaries, and to communicate openly and compassionately when rupture occurs. Trusting someone does not mean trusting them never to do anything wrong or inconsiderate.


Perhaps the most difficult part of learning to trust again is being willing to establish a more realistic understanding of what trust really is.


Should I try to rebuild trust with the person who abused me?

Of course, accepting trust as a risk does not mean accepting the possibility of mistreatment, abuse, or violence. If someone is actively committing abusive behavior, they are not acting with integrity or respect for others’ boundaries and are therefore not trustworthy.


However, in some cases, a survivor may be interested in re-establishing a relationship with someone who was abusive in the past but has expressed a desire to change. Deciding whether or not to do this is a highly personal decision and will depend on the individual circumstances and capacities of each survivor.

That said, it is unfortunately extremely rare for people who engage in abusive or violent behavior to change unless they consistently engage in therapy or counselling to unlearn their abusive behaviors.


Rebuilding trust in others is a notable challenge for survivors of sexual trauma. But with the right support and approach, it’s possible to rebuild trust even after a significant traumatic experience. For a closer look at how to rebuild self-trust in the wake of sexual trauma, check out our article “Tools for Survivors: How to Rebuild Self-Trust After Sexual Assault or Abuse.”

Summary :

 Many survivors of sexual assault and abuse struggle to trust others. This is a normal and understandable defense mechanism, especially considering that around 80% of sexual assault is committed by someone known to the victim. To rebuild trust with others, victims should consider working alongside a mental health professional, although this is not required. It’s also important to recognize that the process of rebuilding trust can take significant time and that pressuring ourselves to trust before we’re ready is not a good idea. Other things to remember when rebuilding trust in others is that danger and discomfort are not the same thing, and learning to discern between the two is an important skill. Survivors should also learn to foster clear communication in their relationships and vocalize boundaries and expectations early and often. Although it’s a difficult reality to face, it’s also important to recognize that trusting others is not a guarantee that we will never again experience pain or disappointment. The most important part of establishing trust in a relationship is the commitment each person holds to behaving with integrity, honesty, and care, especially when rupture occurs. That said, there is a difference between ordinary violations of trust and abuse, assault, and violence. Survivors should be extremely careful when attempting to rebuild trust with those who have committed abuse in the past.

About the Author

Dana Anastasia (they/them) is an independent writer, editor, podcaster, and artist. With a degree in interdisciplinary sociology and a background in domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy, Dana brings a keen awareness of victim and survivor needs and experiences to their work. Learn more at


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