I’ve been thinking a lot about trust lately.
In my last relationship I was naive and far too trusting. I believed my ex’s description of himself and his characteristics, and acted accordingly. I believed that he had a good insight into my personality, and wouldn’t say things without good cause. Unfortunately he wasn’t the way he had described himself, and my trust in him made me very vulnerable when he started behaving coldly and erratically. He didn’t intend to harm me, but simply wasn’t the person I trusted him to be.
A necessary part of growing up is developing protective mechanisms that stop us being too deeply affected by the judgement of strangers or people we do not trust or respect. My protections were perhaps weaker than they could have been, but still fairly effective in maintaining a good level of self confidence. The real problem was that my trust in him was strong enough to deactivate them. So I was wide open to the things he said, and believed them far too easily.
Ironically, one of his criticisms was that I didn’t trust him enough. And this and similar comments made the situation worse, because they made me try to ignore my fears and question my judgements. Without going into the details, I rapidly reached a point where his advice and judgements had seriously weakened my normally strong self-esteem. It was only after we split up that I began to see how much more his judgements had to do with his fears than with me. Our last conversation confirmed this, demonstrating just how bad the problem had become, and really kick-starting my recovery.
Now that I am well on the way to complete recovery, I am thinking about preparing for future relationships. I am vividly aware of the dangers of trusting too much – but I’m now at risk of falling into the other extreme of not trusting enough. I need to heal my ability to trust and to be open, without allowing myself to become so terribly vulnerable.
To retain my innocence and trust, but not my naivete.
To some extent it’s a question of finding someone who is trustworthy. Someone who is genuinely the way he claims to be, whose personality is secure and not subject to sudden crises of self-confidence. But in my old relationship, I saw the signs of trouble from an early stage – the problem was that I closed my eyes to them because I wanted to go on being happy in the belief that he was perfect.
So what really needs to change is in me – in my willingness to accept reality as it is. And to be open to what comes, with the knowledge that I will cope. I’ve made a lot of progress on these things over the last few months, and many of the mistakes I made have been seared into my memory deeply enough to be an effective deterrent!
Some vulnerability is inevitable in any relationship, of course. So I think I also need some sort of warning system that will alert me to take action to protect myself if needed. But at the same time I don’t want to be so alert and paranoid that I can’t relax into a relationship. Or am always wondering whether I should be with someone else.
I’ll need to experiment and explore a bit, but I think part of the answer lies in being open to what I am feeling at any one time.
To be alive to my experience of being in the relationship – enjoying the positive bits but not ignoring any fleeting moments of discomfort. Because if I’d paid attention to the moments of discomfort in my old relationship, I would have been alerted to the problems before they became serious issues between us, and much better able to protect myself. And then the second stage would be to act on what I see – to resolve the problem or step back to protect myself.
In that way I hope it will be possible to be open and yet protected, and at the same time fully present in the relationship. I’m sure it will be harder than that in practice, but it’s a nice idea to aspire to!
I’m sure many other people have taken this journey before me, and I’d love to know what your experience says!