Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Can I Trust Again?

Most of us have been hurt or betrayed at some point in our lives.  Its a terrible feeling that can have lasting repercussions, if we let it.  When our experiences of hurt and betrayal linger, they can seep into our future relationships and impact our functioning with our families, friendships and colleagues.  These negative feelings can also impact our physical and emotional wellbeing.


However, as human beings we need relationships like we need air, water and food.  So if we want to survive and thrive in our lives, we must expose ourselves to potential hurts and betrayals.  Being willing to trust involves an element of risk.  You make yourself vulnerable to another person when you put your faith in them.  This is why it so courageous that we continue to love and reach out to others despite the hurts we experience.


Wikipedia defines trust as "the willingness of one party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party".  Your first task is to decide if it is worthwhile for you to trust again and this may involve an examination of the pros and cons of making yourself vulnerable to another person.  Deciding to trust is a very personal choice, and only you can determine whether the benefits outweigh the risks. 


Things That Build Trust
Like a precious porcelain vase, trust is very easy to break but very difficult to repair.  Fortunately, there are some behaviors that you can engage in that are trust enhancing.
  • Consistency – showing a regular pattern of behavior with few contradictions
  • Reliability – doing what you say you will do or what is reasonably expected of you
  • Honesty – being truthful, sincere and authentic without intending to deceive
  • Open Communication – sharing information freely, often without being asked
  • Competence – demonstrating the skills, wisdom & experience necessary to do what is promised or expected
Acceptance and Forgiveness
Acceptance is experiencing and acknowledging the reality of a situation (whether good, bad, fair, or unfair) without avoidance, judgment or intention to change - in other words, being at peace with what is.  Sometimes the decision to trust also includes accepting what happened and moving on from it.

Forgiveness is letting go of the need for revenge or punishment as well as any negative thoughts, grudges, bitterness or resentment toward the person who wronged you.  Contrary to popular belief, one does not have to forget to forgive and reconciliation with the person who wronged you is not a necessary component.  For some people, the decision to trust again must also include forgiveness of the person who betrayed them.

What is the difference between acceptance and forgiveness?  They are very similar, however, forgiveness tends to involve people rather than situations and usually includes a percieved wrong or injury rather than merely unfortunate circumstances.

How Do I Accept or Forgive?
Try a symbolic act or ritual to make your forgiveness concrete and tangible.  You may destroy or toss away some item that reminds you of your pain.  Some people pray or write a letter to their transgressor.  Others may create a visual representation or reminder of their forgiveness.

Cultivate compassion.  Move the focus from your own pain and suffering to an attempt to understand the situation of the transgressor.  Recognize that "the victimizer is, truly, the most unfortunate of all" (Abhayagiri Buddhist Monestary - Universal Loving Kindness).  This involves recognizing there is courage in forgiveness, that being betrayed is not a reflection on the victim, and that the betrayer experiences their own suffering and pain.

Is it Safe to Trust Again?
There are no guarantees and relationships inherently involve some risk.  Although the decision to trust ultimately involves a leap of faith, there are some things you can look for to help you make a wise choice.

Is there genuine remorse?  Remorse is when a person understands they have hurt someone or done wrong, accepts responsibility for their part in it, and feels regret for what they have done.  The only way to know if someone is truly remorseful is if they are demonstrating this to you in their words and actions.  Demonstrations of remorse may include things such as a sincere apology, an attempt to make amends, changes in perspective or behavior, and most importantly - not repeating the offending action.  

Making amends may include reversing the effects of a wrong (where possible), offering restitution, or doing good deeds. A sincere apology is more complicated than it might seem.  A good apology is specific, owns up to the mistake, acknowledges the victim's pain, and doesn't contain excuses or explanations.  Remember, a sincere apology is for the person who has been wronged, not for the benefit of the transgressor - it should be intended to help the other person heal, not to obtain forgiveness.

There is not enough evidence in the world to prove someone trustworthy.  As Ernest Hemingway said, "The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."  I might add that it is the only way to truly know.  This is the leap of faith.

If you or someone you love is struggling with relationship issues, it may be helpful to consult with a professional. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological AssociationPsychology TodayNetwork Therapy and GoodTherapy.

Please also visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/ for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health concerns.