Learning how to trust
Written for one of my readers – you know who you are 🙂 I hope this helps or at least provides a bit of comfort. xox
When you grow up unable to rely on people in your life, it’s something that helps you grow super powers as an adult: you’re self-reliant, independent, and often extremely resourceful. The downside is it can be very hard to untrain this mistrust in others, because your life experience has taught you that it’s only going to hurt you and potentially put you in danger. If this sounds like you, I am writing this for you. I hope to give you some clarity and also some simple marching orders so that you can start to build the awesome and trustworthy relationships you deserve to have in life. It’s going to take time, focus, and work, but as long as you want it, you’ll have it. AND it gets easier and easier with time because once you feel the benefits of this work you gain a massive amount of momentum and you won’t want to stop.
Often when you grow up with caregivers or relationships with people who are inconsistent, unstable, deceptive or unreliable, as a natural result you end up completing the other half of the Yin-Yang and it becomes inherent to your make-up as a person. Because you have to, you grow opposite and complimentary strengths — and those strengths actually reward you in lots of ways, not to mention, it feels good to be able to take care of others and make it happen. However — here’s the kicker — as a result, in the rest of your life, you unconsciously seek out others you can compliment in the exact same way, which means you end up with partners and friends who are just as incapable or flawed. It’s not your fault, it’s just the dynamic you’re comfortable with. It’s also because that’s who is drawn to you: they crave what you can give and once they see you giving it, they cling to you. Yes, it’s rewarding and feels good to use strengths, but no – it’s not fair to you and it’s not a mutually beneficial relationship in the big picture.
Not to fear! This is not a damning situation in the least. You have the building blocks for something much greater than if you hadn’t had this upbringing at all. You can build the muscle to trust others and you can also build the muscle that will allow you to find trustworthy people. Your solution will take conscious and consistent work, but it’ll be simple and somewhat automatic so don’t stress. It’s something that will be a natural progression, done overtime, and once it’s begun it’s not something you’ll have to force. It will unfold on its own, and it can start right now with 3 very conscious, deliberate steps. I’m going to introduce you to those steps right now.
Step 1: Recognize your pattern. For example, “I have a lack of trust in my relationships.”
Recognize that this is something you want to change. If the introduction of this blog rang any alarm bells, I’m guessing that this part’s already happening. Was there a void you noticed or a pang of pain you felt? Good for you! You’re on your way to making change. I highly recommend writing this observation down in your journal because it always helps speed up the process when you’re able to read your thoughts in black and white — especially if you’re inchin’ to get to Step 2. Basically, clarify to yourself the problem or void that you want to change. For many it’s a sad feeling that there is no one in their life they can trust — and their life experience has not shown them any different, therefore it’s almost like good relationships don’t exist. (I hear you — I was there, too!) Whatever your truth, write it down and don’t judge it. Don’t even look at it after that. Know that for you, it has been true — you’re not wallowing, you’re acknowledging the reality so you have a rock solid starting point. This is about stating where you are and then immediately moving forward from that place. It might take a while — feel free to add to it later when you’ve had a bit of time to marinate. Got that part down? Sweet! Let’s get to Step 2.
Step 2: Decide you want to be able to trust others in your life.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but if you’re in the middle of the work sometimes you have a tendency to forget. Right now you’re going to decide it and commit to it — this is also important to do in your journal because it formalizes the mission and the promise you’re making to yourself. Yes, your life is worth it, no matter how long this has gone on – you can create massive change in your life and your relationships, right now. Decide you’re going to do this work for yourself and the good of your life experience and write this decision down in statement form. Once it’s completed, sign and date it. I also recommend ending it with a loving p.s. to yourself, like, “You’re awesome and I love you!” Sweetness. This statement is like the starting-line gun being fired and now you’re off! Let’s keep going to step 3.
Step 3: This is a two-parter, part 1: Define your values.
This is something you will likely have to marinate on because those values get very clouded when you’re used to putting up with bad behavior. It’s almost like you grow the skin of an avocado — things just stop getting to you, even though they should. To get you started, here are a few examples of basic human values.
- Someone who cares about my needs and respects them.
- Kindness — I want relationships with others who are kind to me and would not intentionally cause me pain.
- Someone who respects me.
- Someone who inspires me and encourages me to grow.
Highlight your list of deal-breakers, meaning the values that are mandates and if someone betrays them, they cannot be a part of your life. Things like “Honesty” should go on that list.
Part 2: Define healthy boundaries.
This one is definitely something you should write down, so if you’re not into journaling then put this in a spreadsheet or a single sheet of paper. Choose something you can access again and also add to.
You’re going to define a list of healthy boundaries you will enforce in your relationships moving forward — I say healthy boundaries because often if you’ve grown up with untrustworthy and inconsistent caregivers, your tolerance to negative behaviors is a higher than most — so what it means to have boundaries can be a totally foreign concept. If you don’t know what those are, (I didn’t used to!) here are some examples:
- Respect for your time and privacy.
- No illegal activity or drug use around me.
- Speaks to me in respectful ways – does not degrade or insult me.
- Does not ask me to do things that are not good or healthy for me.
- Asks my permission to use my things.
- Does not say bad things about me or degrade me to others.
Now that you have that list you’re going to begin to enforce your boundaries and seek out only relationships with people who adhere to them. You’re basically going to have to be deliberate about who you’re choosing to interact with based on your highest values so you might find they are not the same people you’re used to. It might feel a bit awkward at first because you’ll be looking for different people than you’re used to and it might seem like you don’t have much in common with those “goody-two-shoes” types. This process might also make a few of your old relationships awkward when you have to enforce your new rules of engagement. That’s cool — it’s all part of it. You’ll grow into new people and out of old people or find a way to readjust — don’t worry about that part right now. Just remain kind and convicted and disengage if people grow confrontational. You are allowed to take care of yourself and you are doing this for a good reason. You don’t have to defend those reasons to anyone.
As you go through this deliberate process, know that you’re doing this for a great reason and do not let it get to you if you get some grumpy reactions. Talk to yourself and reaffirm your reasons in your journal because if it means cutting off negative behaviors from others in your life, it might get a bit rough. Especially if people are telling you it’s your bad – and you have in the past, believed them. Just keep on walking forward on your path. Don’t listen to the nego’s. Comfort yourself by reading back your own goals and intentions. Know they are true and real.
As you go through all of these steps, invest in building yourself and loving yourself. Better your relationship with yourself, be good to yourself. Basically, get happy and OK with you solo and do nice things for yourself as though this is a courtship. You’re going to be faced with trying relationships in the future and you will be okay no matter what because you have yourself to rely on. No one can take that bond away and no one can make you feel less-than. Foster your reliance on yourself and build trust with yourself by enforcing the positive boundaries and adhering to your values. Let you know that you will not let you down – let that bond be unbreakable, and demonstrate it with your actions.
Really trusting other people is still something built over time by really witnessing they are trustworthy in their behavior. Being confident in yourself means you are capable of anything and everything, regardless of what others might do that hurt you. It allows you to take more risks and also reap greater rewards. If you have a strong bond with yourself, you also know that no matter what happens you will be okay. You will survive and take care of yourself no matter how severe the situation. And it’s when you’re in this state that you can choose to invest in the potential positives of love and intimacy. Feeling comfortable enough with yourself allows you to be vulnerable to somebody because your life is not at stake.
What if you’re already deep into a relationship?
You can go through this process with a partner but you will likely get a lot of pushback from the other person. All you can do is know you’re doing this for the right reasons and stand your ground. They will eventually have to form around you as your new self — it will be a difficult transition but it will have to happen and if they are worth your time and love, they will do it. All you can do it create your boundaries and enforce them with kindness. Create that list. You will either see the person change with you, or them push away from you. But you cannot stop your growth for them. It will be a push pull for a while, but they will get to know and love the new you. If they don’t know that it’s coming from fear and they don’t want to look at themselves — you’re forcing them to do so.
If you’re trying to build something with someone healthy and awesome and you’re struggling with how to explain your current state, just be honest about what’s going on and keep them in the loop. I like to narrate exactly how I’m feeling and be totally transparent because at least it gives others the opportunity to understand. Even if they don’t, know that they will witness you change for the better and if they love you, they will embrace it. If they don’t — know that it’s because they are too afraid, themselves. It’s not about you or what you’re doing being bad. It’s more that it’s too hard for them to be with someone healthy and confident.
To be aware of. . .
Know that because of your past experiences you’re pre-set to expect the negative. I can relate to that, because if you’ve had bad experiences in the past, the instinct is to fear and anticipate more negative outcomes — it’s your life! That’s what you know. In order to not do that — stay in the objective and rational. Deduct facts from objective information and do not react when you’re emotional. If it helps, write lists of the objective facts down so that you can look at it minus your disappointed expectations. You’ve also got to forcefully stop your brain from waiting for the negative, because really you cannot know what people will do or what they’re thinking. You are not psychic and cannot predict the future.
Why you get so upset when people disappoint you:
If you’re getting extremely hurt and upset by current situations you experience in your relationships, it’s likely because you’re assigning the situation a massive amount of weight and importance due to your past traumas. You’ve likely got a form of PTSD related to trust and currently experiencing old triggers. The next time you’re in that freak-out mode around someone else and what they’re really thinking, remind yourself, “I am not psychic” and whatever you’re feeling is likely old. It’s also emotionally heightened because it’s an echo of something you felt when you were young: when everything was severe and your life depended on it. Now that you’re older, you will survive. You have the tools. Pain is not going to kill you. When you’re a child — you’re not in control so those feelings are overwhelming and terrifying.
Most importantly. . .
As you weigh relationships, just remember that nobody’s perfect. As you filter people via your values, you’re likely going to be extremely overprotective of yourself if you’re not already. Allow yourself the opportunity to weigh the true values of your relationships for you — personally. Meaning, how much they mean to you, and open yourself up to examining whether or not it’s worth losing certain people from your life. Go easy those who love you because everyone comes with good and bad. You get to decide if it’s worth it to keep them and if so, create a safe form of the relationship that doesn’t injure you. Everyone has flaws and will not live up to exactly what you idealize – because they’re human. You are allowed to forgive.
With all of this change, the most important part is deciding you want it — that you want intimacy, friendship, and love – that you want this connection. Know you want it and start small. One day, the issues you have with trust will go away. Why? Because your life proves to you trustworthy people are the norm. The old fears fade away.
No matter how long you suffered at the hands of others you should have been able to trust, they are not the average experience of your life. They are the average of your focus in your life — which is what you are going to change. The fact that you are fearing it, means you’re still seeing it. Without this muscle-memory, you would know that the most common relationships in your life are positive and happy. Your vision and expectations will create the behavior of others and influence it, which is just another reason to keep your expectations on the positive. Look for more of what you want and know that you can trust you no matter what. At the end of the day — investing fully means getting to feel fully. Getting to love fully. Coming out the other side of a life without trust, it’s a beautiful and incredible world just past this point. Keep going – for you and for your happiness. You get one life, you best go for it.
I hope this has helped you in some way and if you would like me to clarify anything or embellish any topic, by all means let me know! Sending you my love and vibes of positivity. If you want to read more on this topic or see more of my work, check me out on Teaspoon of Happy. If you prefer to listen, you can find the podcast version of this blog on iTunes.
xox Sarah May B.
Featured image via Flickr