Why Do We Automatically Distrust Some People?

· August 21, 2017

It happens. We distrust a person without knowing them well. It is like an inner voice that whispers, “get away,” like a cold wind pushing us in the opposite direction, guided by a natural instinct, and puts us on alert.

This type of feeling that caresses the surface of our minds, almost like a chilled finger scratching our back. It isn’t anything supernatural, it isn’t precognition, nor is it a wisdom “radar” in our genes that we got from our ancestors. In reality, it is simply a mechanism for survival. 

Distrusting everything and everyone for fear of making a mistake again will prevent us from living life to the fullest.

It is clear, however, that sometimes our internal voice fails us, that first impressions are not always right, and there are those who sin excessively by relying on their supposed instinct. Now then, if there is something that our brain is preparing for, it is to anticipate risks, and because of that, we are able to avoid physical and psychological dangers, it rises that subtle echo entrenched in our subconscious that tells us something simple: “go.

You remind me of someone who hurt me

Elena is 32 years old, she and her husband take their son to see a pediatric cardiologist. Her son is 5 years old and suffers from a cardiac illness which requires quarterly medical exams. Upon entering the exam room, the new doctor extends his hand to them and begins to get to know the child.

Elena quickly feels something strange as she watches the doctor closely. There is something about him that she does not like. His way of smiling makes her feel uncomfortable, that false and sneaky grin. She also does not like the way he jokes with her son, how he moves, breathes, and even the way he combs his hair: slicked back.


During the 20 minute visit, this mother barely listened to what the doctor said to them: she doesn’t need to. So much so, that as soon as they leave she tells her husband that they are switching doctors immediately. This visit will be repeated, but with a different person, a different cardiologist.

When her husband asks her why, she simply says “he doesn’t seem trustworthy.” He doesn’t say anything else, he trusts her opinion and agrees to look for another doctor. However, Elena keeps the real reason to herself. This woman is hiding a little piece of her life that she doesn’t dare reveal to him…

When she was 9 years old, Elena’s parents separated and she lived with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend. Two months after moving in together, that man with the wax smile and slicked back hair started abusing them. After about a year her mom stopped leaving the house, it was a dark nightmare with the taste of tears that she did not want to remember, which only ended when she told her teachers at school everything she was going through.

We distrust because our amygdala continues regulating our behavior

It is very likely that the pediatric cardiologist they saw was an impeccable professional and an exceptional person. However, this woman’s brain identified him as a hostile, because of a traumatic experience she lived through. What we reject, everything we avoid, and what makes us feel uncomfortable says a lot about us: it defines us. 

Our life journey relentlessly integrates itself into our sub-consciousness and in those brain structures associated with emotional memory, in the hippocampus, for example. However, human beings have a region in their brain that regulates each and every one of our snap decisions: the amygdala.

All of these “visceral” reactions that we experience in our lives and that impel us to display behavior of flight or avoidance are regulated by this gland located in the deepest part of our temporal lobe. The actions we take based on it are not rational and are simply a motor response that is implacable and automatic: the instinct of survival

Should we listen to that inner voice that tells us to run away or distrust? 

Something that psychotherapists know well is that the person who does not allow themselves to be kidnapped by the power of the amygdala is someone who has developed enough self-control so as not to live in fearNow then, does that mean we should not listen to that inner voice that, once in a while, warns us to distrust something or someone?

“The only really valuable thing is intuition.”
-Albert Einstein

The following are facts for you to reflect on:

  • Daniel Goleman explains in “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence” that every natural reaction in which we experience fear or anxiety is regulated by the amygdala. Ignoring that emotion or silencing it is not recommended, just as it is also not recommended that we allow ourselves to be led viscerally by it. 
  • The right thing to do is to give serious consideration to that voice. All the studies related to the sixth sense tell us that people who listen to their hunches or feelings sent directly from their unconsciousness or from the primitive structures such as the amygdala, tend to give them the right answers.
  • There is a concrete reason for this: listening does not imply obeying, but rather starting a proper analysis and reflection. 

If we do not like someone, it is due to a series of concrete reasons, and these reasons are related to us. Maybe it is because they remind us of someone we knew in the past and they are following the same pattern, or maybe it is because their values are not in harmony with ours, or maybe because our experiences have taught us to know who is trustworthy and who isn’t. 

Be as it may be, the only thing we should do is not allow ourselves to be steamrolled by fear, because distrust will continue. All intelligent reactions have the marvelous counterpart of intuition and reflection. 

Do we put them into practice?