When I used to work with students, I’d take them to camps or retreats and we would often do “trust falls.” If you’ve never done one, they are all at once exhilarating and terrifying. You stand on a platform or chair with your back to a group of people (it’s best when the people are complete strangers) and your arms crossed against your chest and fall back, trusting they’re going to catch you. It’s a pretty scary thing to do and once you start your fall, you’re pretty committed to the people behind you. You can’t just stop mid-fall if you have a change of heart.
Several years ago I started a process to deal with all of the junk in my life. Past hurts, personal failures and shortcomings…one by one I went through them. It was an often difficult and ugly process, but I am better for having gone through it.
One of my core issues was my inability to trust people. This goes all the way back to my childhood and stems from a specific event when I was in third grade. The event itself isn’t important and, in fact, would seem trivial to most people. But what happened to me at the age of eight years old set off a pattern of coping with and relating to others that did damage to the people around me for decades.
As I learned to manage my trust issues, I realized I had to completely change my approach. Many will tell you trust must be earned, but think about that for a moment. You either trust someone or you don’t. It’s not an incremental process. Ernest Hemingway once said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
I also had to learn the difference between being disappointed and having trust violated. Once I was able to make that distinction, it became much easier. Disappointments happen all of the time, but it doesn’t mean trust has been violated.
You may start out by trusting another person with small things and as the relationship grows you trust them with more significant parts of yourself, but make no mistake. You either trust or you don’t. There is no middle ground.
In the past, when I withheld trust from people and made them work for it, my relationships were exhausting. I always doubted the people around me. I always wondered whether or not they had my best interests in mind. I was a paranoid mess living out of fear and anxiety. But, thankfully, all of that changed as I went through my journey of recovery.
These days, I begin my relationships from a place of trust. My trust isn’t earned, it’s freely given and I’ve found that when the other person has reached a point of being able to treat me likewise, then the relationship is infinitely more satisfying.
Does this leave me vulnerable to more frequent disappointment? Absolutely. There have been people who have violated my trust and that’s when the boundaries have to go up. But this approach to relationships is much preferred to the insanely neurotic world I used to live in. I never want to go back to that other guy.
If you’re not one who easily trusts or makes people earn your confidence, I can assure you from firsthand experience that you’re wearing out the people around you. Give them a break and do yourself a favor. Do the hard work of finding out what your core issues are and deal with them, no matter how hard or painful that may be. I promise you’ll be glad you did.