You always hear that trust is the foundation of any loving relationship, and you hear that for a reason – it’s true. I have never understood that more than I do at this point in my life. The question is how and whom do we trust in the face of constant uncertainty? Anytime we love anyone – a parent, child, partner, best friend or treasured family member (including our pets), we become enormously vulnerable, and we are asked to trust in the face of that. The fact is, none of us knows how long we have. The one thing we can count on in this life is change. Some change is wonderful – a new job or relationship that feels right, a move when we need more space, a different environment – and some change hurts like hell: the end of a relationship when we hoped for a different outcome, the loss of a job we needed, the end of a friendship we thought would last forever, or the biggest loss – the loss we endure when someone we love is taken from us due to age, or a million other heartbreaking reasons. There is no such thing as deep love without vulnerability. So how do we trust our hearts to anyone?
There are other ways we get hurt when we love, of course, short of sickness, and the random events that can rip loved ones away from us. People can betray you or let you down every way under the sun. This isn’t personal. You meet people on the road where and how they are, and they have the tools and self-knowledge they have. This includes our parents. They are happy or unhappy, kind or unkind, giving or not giving, thoughtful or thoughtless, interested or distracted, curious or self-absorbed. They might also be struggling with their own difficulties – addictions, personality disorders, a lack of empathy, attachment to stories that keep them angry or in a victim mentality. People seek help when they struggle, or they make everyone else wrong. The path is full of all kinds of travelers.
I’ve encountered so many people as I’ve moved through this world, as have you. Connection is a force that drives most of us. We want to love, to understand and feel understood, to laugh, to hug, to touch, to feel not alone. Sometimes the people we reach out to cannot do anything but hurt us. This has to do with our history, what we grew up with, what we’re used to, what feels familiar to us. Sometimes the home we came out of is scary and unpredictable, a place where we didn’t feel particularly safe or loved. If that resonates with you, you might find you seek out friendships and relationships with people who also give you reason to feel unsafe and unloved. We tend to seek what we know until we know better.
I used to be attracted to people who were not available to me, and this includes friendships and romantic partners. I used to chase love, bend over backwards to make people happy (not yet understanding you cannot make another person happy), try harder if someone was unkind to me, take it as a sign that there was something broken in me if someone rejected me, doubt my worth and value unless I was doing something for someone. I used to try to save people, excuse poor behavior with compassion for what had driven someone to behave that way in the first place, work both sides of the equation for people who could never be wrong and never apologize, and accept treatment far below the treatment I would want anyone whom I love to accept. I do not do any of that anymore.
Over the years I have come to understand in a more profound way that trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship. This includes self-trust. In order to feel at ease in your own skin, you have to feel like you are ready and able to act on your own behalf, to stand up for yourself when needed, to put an end to abusive treatment, to teach people how to treat you with respect and consideration by showing them what you will tolerate and what you will not tolerate. I do not need the people in my life to be perfect, I am certainly not perfect myself, but the standards of what I will and won’t accept from the people closest to me have changed over time, and you may find this is true for you as well. I want people in my life I can trust to have my back, who are going to be kind and considerate, loyal and honest, and whom I can trust to treat me with care, because those are the same things I offer as a friend, partner and parent, and I want nothing less for myself. I want to have people in my life who know how to apologize instead of deny, deflect or make up stories, the same way I have learned how to own my mistakes and examine my behavior when I don’t show up the way I wish I had so I can do it differently next time.
Sometimes this means the dynamic between you and certain people in your life will have to change, or the relationship will no longer be sustainable. It’s sad when this happens, but it’s also okay. Loss and change are part of the human experience and we’re in training for them all the time.
I am in a season of abundance in my own life. For the first time, I am in a relationship with a man I trust completely. The fact that I have not been able to do this before has a lot to do with my own history, with things I learned as I grew up and relationships I was drawn to that confirmed my wrong belief that you can’t trust anyone. That’s a story I carried around for many years, and it’s a story I learned to release because it isn’t true and it wasn’t serving me. If that’s your hypothesis, you will keep drawing people into your life who help you prove your case. If you set out to conduct a different experiment, to see if perhaps there are trustworthy people in the world who know how to show up for you and be good and sweet to you, guess what happens? When you know someone loves you and would never hurt you, when you are cherished and seen and adored, you can relax and be yourself in ways you’ll never be able to in a relationship where trust is not the foundation. Think about the standards you have for the people in your life and the way you’re teaching people to treat you. Teach people to treat you well, your precious heart deserves that.
Sending lots of love,
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