Trust and Other Things
A Work in Progress
Why should you listen to me about trust and relationships? I’m certainly no expert. I’m actually a pretty hardcore newbie in a lot of ways. So, maybe I can earn some of your trust as we go along. How about that? :)
Any definition of trust we work from as we move forward should include, at a minimum 1) meeting each other in reality (no one can trust a fantasy), and 2) a sense of security in the relationship.
Consider what it must reveal about my perceptions and attitudes toward my friends if I was afraid of challenging them on anything. Am I afraid they won’t like me any more or will punish me in some way? That either doesn’t speak well of me for distorting reality so much in my head, or it doesn’t speak well of the friends who would warrant such concerns.
You can’t feel too secure around someone who only has your interests in mind when it serves their own.
A Younger Kevin
When I was in my early twenties, I went through something like a quarter-life crisis. I didn’t have a whole lot of emotional, moral or financial support and I decided to see a therapist to help me work through some long neglected issues involving anxiety and depression. This seems to me an apt place to start, since therapy is supposed to be all about trust.
I didn’t have a whole lot of healthy role models growing up. My parents were even more lost than I was, so they weren’t much help to me and my siblings, in that respect. My role models were mostly teachers, but those relationships were pretty one dimensional, and even that was rare.
So, when I entered therapy, I was pretty immature and clueless about a lot of very basic things. I lacked a lot of social skills which contributed to my anxiety, and I didn’t feel like an effective human being who could get things done, which contributed to the depression. Here I was talking to someone who’s supposed to be a professional at being mentally healthy and ready for life’s challenges.
I felt very ignorant and insecure about how I would come across to someone who understands human psychology at a serious level. In the first months of therapy I spoke as conservatively as possible, I was vague, I ended my sentences with an upward inflection, as if I were asking a question. I lacked a lot of confidence, to put it simply.
Whenever my therapist said something which irritated me, I felt very anxious and conflicted. I wanted to tell her she said something crazy, and I also was afraid of telling her that she was saying crazy things: afraid she wouldn’t like me. But she’s no dummy and could plainly see that I felt annoyed. So, I would speak very slowly scanning every word for anything that could upset her before uttering it. This was very stressful for me and contributed to my self loathing, thinking myself inept.
As the session was about to end one week, I was visibly distressed and at war with myself and my therapist said something which brought tears to my eyes (which was uncharacteristic of me). Among other things, she said “I’m not going anywhere”. By that she meant that I could totally get angry with her, and express my anger, and she wasn’t going to run away.
Fear of Abandonment
When I was in my teens, my older sister had a daughter who I spent a lot of time looking after and playing with over the span of several years. I was very attached to this adorable little girl, and I remember one day in the Wal-Mart parking lot, my niece, sister and I were heading into the store. My niece wasn’t quite ready to go in yet and was a little behind the pack. I thoughtlessly (albeit gently) told my niece that if she didn’t hurry up, we’d leave her behind. My sister, rightly, told me not to say that to her because she didn’t want her to develop a fear of abandonment.
That event stuck with me for a long time, not just because I felt guilty, but because it surprised me that this would ever seem like an appropriate thing to say. A few other memories stick out to me…
When I was 5 or 6, my parents divorced. The night my dad left, he was swearing and yelling at my mom as he angrily stuffed his belongings into his car. I was a frozen statue, not quite sure what was happening, where my dad was going or how long he’d be gone.
When I was 10 or so, I moved schools and I was so afraid. I wasn’t just afraid, I also didn’t think I had anybody to talk to or who would help me. For a period each morning I cried in the bathroom stalls feeling completely overwhelmed while I waited for school to start.
I felt an existential kind of insecurity growing up and was very conflict avoidant. My relationships were often codependent because I was okay with enabling someone’s unhealthy behavior so long as I felt like I fit in somewhere, relieving myself of some of that insecurity. But that ate away at me after a while, and each time I enabled someone’s dysfunction, I died a little inside. That eventually resulted in some very self destructive behavior. (Hitting rock bottom was what motivated me to go into therapy in the first place).
Some of the best advice I ever got was from philosopher Stefan Molyneux. I can’t remember the actual quote, but the basic idea is that if you want to gain certainty about the strength of your relationships, offer that person your full trust and see what they do with it.
I’d argue that trustworthiness is measured in those experiences. You can’t really lose when you offer your unreserved trust. Either they honor your trust, in which case it was good to offer it, or they reject it in some way which is great information to have about them toward establishing their trustworthiness.
The quality of my relationship with my therapist became far better when I offered her my trust (without reservation), in the form of full disclosures, trusting her with my irritation, even admitting to embarrassing feelings I had about her that I’m feeling too bashful to reveal here.
It’s not like I trusted her and then I responded by being an open book. I became an open book to build up the trust to open up even more. And I think a lot of people have the cause and effect reversed here, resulting in a lack of openness where it is needed very much, presumably because they are waiting for trust to be established before moving forward.
Trust is like a plant. You can treat it very delicately, but most plants need a little bit of stress on their systems, and they won’t grow as mightily without it. It’s a little like the Negative Bias in human psychology.
Our minds remember negative events and are affected more by negative feelings and thoughts, such that you need a disproportionate number of positive experiences with someone (e.g. 5 to 1, or 10 to 1) in order to feel the relationship is positive on the whole.
You certainly need positive experiences with people and this is a necessary condition of trust, but the true test of anything is not when things are easy, but when they are difficult; trust is not comfort or positivity, after all. Trust is a kind of awareness in this sense. It is being aware of another person’s virtue, specifically their reliability, consistency and loyalty.
If having conflicts with someone increases the amount of trust in the relationship, then I think that’s just about the best sign that you are both trustworthy people.
This is easily one of most important lessons that I’ve learned. Hopefully, it will motivate you to flex your trust muscles a little more. It’s a terrible thing when people violate your trust, but I think it’s a greater tragedy when those wounds get in the way of trusting good people or trust in yourself.
The kind of trust you gain through conflict is a powerful thing. At the risk of sounding vain, it can make an anxious and depressed 20 something and turn him into one of the most courageous and competent people I know.
With the support of good people, you can accomplish things you never thought were possible.
Trust is the glue that keeps good people together.