(If you do too, this post is for you… read to the bottom for a free resource for your trust journey.)
The themes of trust and betrayal has come up in all of my relationships. Apparently, my core belief is that sooner or later, betrayal will happen. (“Hi, I’ll take the bloody, pain-filled éclair please.”)
In my world, betrayal is defined as, “You knew that I (fill in the blank) and you still (took the action that made me feel betrayed.) For example: “You knew I wanted to see that movie, and you went without me.” Or, “Even though I said it was fine, you know my history with Paul, and you know how I feel about him, and you went out with him anyway.”
I find that I am constantly vigilant in all of my intimate relationships, almost suspicious, because I ‘know’ I will be betrayed, and I’m just watching and waiting for it to happen.
As you can imagine, this puts my intimates into difficult and uncomfortable situations.
It’s taken a long time to realize how often I am viewing the world through the betrayal glasses, which color everything with mistrust. When I stop to examine it, I realize that real intimacy is impossible without trust. Problematic, oh teacher of intimacy.
So, assuming that I want deep intimate connections, it seems like relearning trust is the thing. How in the world do I do that? I was supposed to have learned it when I was a baby; is it even possible to do it now?
Yes. And it’s work.
What is trust? Trust is not a feeling. It is a belief about the other, based on our own observations or what we have been told.
Trust is a belief that someone will act in ways that support us, that are in alignment with what they say, and that we can depend on consistent care and honesty from that individual. We can be vulnerable and be our real selves. Ultimately, it is a belief that someone is worthy of our trust.
Truth: Some people are trustworthy, others are not.
And of course, there are varying degrees of trust we can bestow. I have a dear friend that I lived through some very harrowing situations with, including being held at gunpoint in Eastern Europe. I trust her with my life. I do not trust her to return my library books.
In grown-up relationships, we must be both trusting and mistrusting. We track the behavior of others, and use the information to discern the level of trust we give to someone. As evidence mounts that someone is indeed trustworthy, trust becomes a quality of a relationship. It’s important to note that if I am unilaterally mistrusting of everyone, the problem may be within me. And it may have been within for a long time. Like, most of my life.
In his Theory of Human Development, Erik Erikson theorized that how the infant’s basic needs are met by caregivers determine whether the child will essentially trust or mistrust the world.
The therapist, Buddhist and author David Richo goes further and explicates roadblocks to trust in his book “Daring to Trust.”
He said that our trust capacity is diminished when early caregivers:
- Failed to show us love through the modalities of: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, allowing.
- Were not attuned to and allowing of our feelings
- Neglected us physically or emotionally
- Abused us physically, emotionally or sexually
- Had expectations of us that were too low or too high
- Were continually arguing with or abusing others in our presence
- Used us as a go-between
- Had active addictions.
When I read first read these thoughts, I felt relief. I’ve felt so damaged by this whole trust difficulty. Like, everyone else got picked for Team Trust, and I’m over here, nursing my trust wounds. Somehow, having reasons for my trust challenges is comforting.
And I see that if mistrust and betrayal were things I learned, I can learn to trust again.
The journey thus far of relearning trust has been significant. First, I’ve had to see the ways my lack of trust has impacted relationships, past and present.
Here are a few things I’ve learned through the process
- We can increase our capacity to trust by taking calculated trust risks, and having them be successful.
- We can also place our attention our resilience to recover trust after betrayal.
- Our trust in ourselves grows, as we trust again, and are rewarded by having our discernment about trustworthiness validated by the behavior of others.
- Interestingly, our capacity to trust also increases when we commit ourselves to being trustworthy.
For example, I often find myself reflecting on my own behavior as a child to guide my parenting. (Aside: I don’t understand how adults conveniently ‘forget’ all the rebellious choices and exploration they experienced as teenagers. Luckily, I have journals from this period of my life that remind me exactly of my behavior and choices.)
There were many times as a child, that the need for freedom outweighed the need for being in integrity. I often acted in duplicitous ways, in order to achieve my goals of fun, friends and freedom. I was not trustworthy. This eroded my sense of trust in myself.
Now, as a parent, I can choose to be trustworthy. I can choose to be honest and integrous with my kids when approaching conversations about topics like sex, alcohol, drugs, and all those other challenging and exciting teenage decisions.
We can all choose to be impeccably trustworthy.
This means getting super clear with our boundaries. It means saying “yes” or “no” completely, and not changing our mind later, or if we do, having a conversation about it. It means owning what is ours, and moving away from blaming. It means doing what we say. It means holding our intimates well, and holding ourselves well.
Ironically, as we choose to be trustworthy, it actually increases our own capacity for trust. Since we are acting in trustworthy ways, we begin to believe that others are, too.
Okay, so at this point in my trust story:
- I’m able to realize how I see the world through my betrayal lens, and question my core belief.
- I’m able to practice putting new core beliefs next to the problematic one, such as “Many people can be trusted, most of the time.”
- I’m acting in trustworthy ways, and that is increasing my capacity to trust others.
- I’m taking calculated and small trust risks, and they are successful.
- I’ve learned to track people’s words and behavior, so I have good data on which to base trust decisions.
- When I feel betrayed, I notice my resilience to trusting again.
- I base the giving of my trust on past experiences with individuals.
Last night I dreamed that my partner betrayed me, and then confessed to me. I felt the feeling of betrayal; it is so painful and devastating. It feels like nothing will ever be right, ever again. When I woke, to his sleeping form, I knew it was just a dream reminder of the work I am doing. I am learning to trust him. I am learning to trust myself.
I see that I still have work to do: settling into the body sense of trusting my beloved to hold me well, to communicate, and to stay present.
If you would like to examine your own fluency with trust, here’s a worksheet I developed for one of the Intimacy Technology classes. Taking a trust history will give you qualitative data on your own life. Reflection on the journey is where the real learning happens.