Why We’re Wrong When We Talk About Trust
Whenever I go to a climbing gym, I always follow the same routine. I pick an easy route and pick my way through the handholds until I’m at a height that causes my breath to come just a little faster and my brow to start to moisten. And then I intentionally let go.
Not to fall.
But to feel the security of the ropes and my partner on the ground catch my weight and hold me aloft.
And once I’ve learned to trust that I won’t fall, I am willing to climb.
If only life were so simple.
I used to view trust as a simple concept. Black and white. You either trusted someone. Or you didn’t. A person either earned your trust or deserved your mistrust.
And I trusted my ex husband. Completely. Totally. The trust filling any gaps like caulk around a window, not allowing for any passage of sharp and biting winds.
When I said I trusted him, I meant that I believed that he would never do anything that would intentionally harm me. I was convinced that he would always be there. And that his future actions would always be as loving as his past ones. I felt secure in my trust. I felt secure because of my trust.
We speak of trust as though it is an absolute.
That when someone is branded as “trustworthy,” that they are safe. Incapable of causing pain through actions or motivations.
And wouldn’t that be amazing? If we could have some sort of promise that the people around us would never hurt us. Never stir up doubt. Never cause us suffering.
Amazing. And also impossible.
Because trust, like love, is organic. Breathing and changing. Described in actions rather than words. And more like the ebb and flow of the tide than the still waters of a static lake.
Because no matter how honorable a person is, he or she will falter sometimes. There will be oversights that cause harm to another. Mistakes that lead to pain. Decisions made without sufficient consideration. And moments of pure weakness and conceit.
Trust doesn’t mean the person will never hurt you. It doesn’t offer a money-back guarantee against the cold and biting winds of the world.
Rather, a trustworthy person will admit to his or her shortcomings. Be willing to take responsibility for any mistakes and work to correct them. Trust isn’t about never screwing up. It’s about owning up.
We speak of trust as being earned. And it is. When actions match words. When commitments are kept and promises honored.
And I think that’s where it’s easy to go off course. To assume that at some point, the deposits are made and the trust is ensured. As though the previous actions were collateral against harm.
We all desperately want to feel safe. Secure. We want some assurance that the way things are now is the way they will always be unless we act to change them. And it’s easy to confuse trust with surety. To believe that promises made will never be broken and that there are people that we can always depend on no matter what.
But that’s not reality. From the loving and well-intentioned parent who makes a poor decision for his or her child without fully considering the effects to a spouse who underestimates the impact of his or her words on a partner, we will all hurt and be hurt.
And when that occurs, we feel as though our trust has been breached.
And maybe the problem is that we focus too much on trusting others.
And not enough on trusting ourselves.
Trusting that we will see what is around us.
And be able to handle anything that comes our way.
There is a reason that the phrase, “blind trust” exists. When we focus too intently on trusting others, we lose sight ourselves. We either become complacent or suffer an anxious suspicion that can never be sated.
Learning to trust again after betrayal is less a matter of finding a person worthy of trust (although that is certainly a key element) and more about listening to your own emotions, intuition and instincts.
It is accepting that trust is no promise against pain and that there are no guarantees in life.
And most importantly, trust is believing in yourself.
It’s not a place of security, but rather a place of calm.
Where you may not always know what is coming, but you know that you have what it takes to face it.
I’m often asked how I’ve been able to trust again after the immense betrayals of my ex. It is a process. And sometimes it’s not so smooth🙂
My ex was quite brilliant about covering his actions – I saw pictures of the auto show he was supposedly working only later to find that he was on his honeymoon and the photos were culled from the internet. His phone was always accessible and unlocked. I can only imagine that there was a second device used for the second life. The mail was intercepted. The phone line cut. I was carefully isolated from the truth so slowly and so gently that I never even knew it was happening.
And the lingering effects of that gaslighting mean that I have a very difficult time accepting even what would seem like “proof” to anyone else. I always have (and probably always will have) that slight tug that whispers that maybe what I am seeing isn’t real.
And so I’ve worked hard to separate the anxiety from the past from what I am actually seeing in the present. I’ve learned to listen to my gut and trust it when it tells me something is off. And I’m no longer blind; my brain is always assembling little bits and data points, ensuring they line up.
Throughout, I’ve been very careful not to give in to suspicious and snooping behavior. First, I think that it only feeds anxiety and mistrust and secondly, I believe that it creates a toxic environment for any relationship. There is a difference between spying and seeing. The former leads with the assumption of wrongdoing whereas the latter leads with an open mind.
I mentioned earlier that finding a trustworthy person is also a component. Here are the characteristics of my now-husband that have made it easier for me to trust:
-He does not hide from uncomfortable truths. And he openly admits his screw-ups.
-His initial words are often unpolished. Sometimes, this may sting, but it is also evidence that the words were not carefully chosen and rehearsed to elicit a desired effect.
-He trusted me early and often. I have found that people who are distrustful of others are often hiding something themselves.
-He doesn’t hold back secrets. I always know of my birthday present (or any “surprise” present) the moment he clicks on “submit payment.”
-His friendships are lasting and he demonstrates intense loyalty to them.
-And the funny one – He struggle with attention to the little details. And after the carefully-crafted facade my ex built and meticulously maintained, I find comfort in this:)
But at the end of day, all of that is just the supporting evidence. It ultimately comes down to trusting myself to see if there is a problem. Trusting myself to make the right decisions.
And trusting myself that I’ll be okay no matter what happens.
Trust doesn’t mean that you’ll never fall.
It means that you have faith in yourself to get back up.