8 behaviors that reveal a trustworthy friend, according to psychology

How do we know if a friend is truly trustworthy?

It’s an important question if we are to surround ourselves with people who will lift us up in life, rather than drag us down.

Luckily science may have the answer.

That’s because there is a psychology behind the traits that will make someone either your friend or your foe. And these show up in their behavior and how they treat you.

So let’s take a look at the signs that reveal you are lucky enough to have a true pal by your side.

1) They feel guilty when they’ve done something wrong or hurt you

When your friend messes up, how do they respond?

Whether they say sorry and try to make amends or whether they try to dodge blame and brush it off may tell you all you need to know.

“People who are high in guilt-proneness are more likely to be trustworthy than are individuals who are low in guilt-proneness,”

That was the finding of a psychological study into trustworthiness published in 2018.

If someone is capable of feeling guilty it shows a certain amount of interpersonal responsibility. As highlighted in Greater Good Magazine:

“The emotion of guilt is provoked when individuals recognize a wrongdoing they have committed, and people who are guilt-prone tend to avoid engaging in behaviors that might harm or disappoint others (behaviors that would make them feel guilty). If they do commit a wrongdoing, guilt motivates them to take action to try to make things right again.”

It’s a powerful reminder of the psychological purpose of feeling guilt in the first place. Seeking to avoid this uncomfortable emotion can be what prompts us to treat one another better.

2) They’re relaxed and open around you

Transparency is a biggie when it comes to proving trustworthiness.

That doesn’t mean we don’t all have a right to privacy of course, but when we have nothing to hide we can be open and upfront in our communication with others.

This gives the impression of sincerity and authenticity.

Studies have even highlighted that trustworthy people are unambiguous in their decision-making and motivation.

They’ll let you know what’s going on, so you naturally have more faith in them. You know where they are coming from because they express that to you clearly.

When someone is open with us we can often sense it in their general energy. It may even show through their comfortable and easy body language around us.

3) They’re honest with you, even when it’s difficult

When it comes to trustworthiness, we cannot be selective with the truth.

You’ve probably heard it said before that a true friend will tell you the truth, rather than say what they think you want to hear.

Whilst there is always room for tact and sensitivity, especially when dealing with trickier situations, we can’t decide to withhold from people without it impacting our trustworthiness.

In the long run, this complete honesty is what helps to build trust.

We know someone is being honest with us if they are prepared to deliver a dose of reality your way, even when you don’t always want to hear it. 

4) They do what they say they will

We are all aware how broken promises are a surefire way to break trust, and fast.

But aligning our words and our actions runs even deeper than that. It’s all very well to talk a good game, but without followthrough it means nothing.

Even if a friend has always been nice to you, if you know that they talk a lot of bullsh*t, it’s understandably harder to have trust in them.

When we don’t do what we say we will, we become unreliable friends.

Whilst this may sound like an obvious point, the reality is that plenty of research in social psychology has shown how people talk and how they behave can be very far apart.

Meaning that it is commonplace for us to say one thing and do another.

If we are to find someone credible, that means they have to stand by their word, otherwise, their word doesn’t mean a whole lot.

5) They’ve got your back through the bad times as well as the good

Fair-weather friends are the type of people you can call up when you want to party. But when you need a shoulder to cry on they’re nowhere to be seen.

As psychologist Aimee Daramus points out, not all of our so-called friends will be there when the going gets tough.

“They may tell you how much they care, but they’re only really there for the fun parts of being a friend.”

Meanwhile, a trustworthy pal will be by your side through thick and thin. That means you feel supported during your struggles too.

6) They put your interests ahead of their own

Maybe not all the time, and that’s okay. It’s important to be mindful of our own well-being as well as others.

But if your friend regularly takes into account your feelings and preferences it’s a really good sign.

It shows they take a prosocial approach rather than a selfish one. They have your best interests at heart and they show you this. 

In contrast, fake friends tend to be all take and very little give. They certainly don’t put themselves out for you or offer favors freely.

7) They don’t bad-mouth people behind their backs

I think if we were hand-on-heart honest, most of us would confess to saying something unkind behind someone’s back at some point or another.

I know I have on more occasions than I’d like to admit.

We’re only human, and having a little moan can become a cathartic outlet for built-up frustrations.

Even though there is always a better way to deal with things, it happens.

But let’s also face it. The less of a gossip someone is the more trustworthy they seem.

If they are fair and respectful about people even when they’re not around, there is a far greater chance that they will treat you the same way.

People who frequently say nasty things about those who they’re meant to care about are not trustworthy.

8) They have self-awareness and take time to reflect

Self-awareness is the starting point for much of our personal growth.

That’s because unless we can see the truth about how we feel, what we believe, and how that affects our behavior — we remain fairly powerless to change it.

You may have a friend who means well, but if they are lacking in any self-awareness you should tread carefully.

Because the bottom line is that they are more likely to do mindless things.

They’re also less able to honestly evaluate themselves or reflect on the impact their actions have on others.

Self-inquiry not only prompts us to be better friends but generally better members of society as we are more equipped to hold ourselves accountable.

People show you who they are

When we’re getting to know someone new, it can be trickier to clearly see whether they can be trusted.

That’s why we have to take our time and allow our vulnerability to grow alongside our bond.

But ultimately, people eventually reveal who they are through their behavior. Past actions are the strongest indicator of whether someone is trustworthy.

One of my favorite cautionary quotes from poet Maya Angelou that reflects this is:

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

The friends that prove themselves to be trustworthy are consistently reliable, respectful, considerate, and concerned about you.

If you spot these things in someone, then rest assured you’ve found a loyal and true friend.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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