Trust, what is it? What does it feel like? What does it look like? What does it taste like? What does a life look like with it and without it? Mr. Rogers of that lovely neighborhood where now I wish I had lodged my sons as babies, testified before the Senate in 1969 to ask that they continue funding for shows on PBS. He began his testimony with the comment that the first thing a child learns in a healthy home is trust. But what if the lesson is not learned properly or in a manner that instills a life long unease with the notion? Can a person who lacks the foundation of the most basic and necessary builder of trust regain it later in life or is the possibility gone for good? I don’t trust. I can’t seem to. And the irony of it is that I am generally trusted by most people: as a mother with kids by the mothers of other kids, by my work peers and overlords, by myriad ventures and partners in volunteerism doing their finances or leading their organization. Trust. How could someone who has so little of it to give, be a person who gets so much of it from others?
My lack of trust in others, especially those closest to me, has done damage to some relationships that I can no longer repair. All I can do now is try and get to the bottom of it. Why does it happen? What are the ingredients that go into the decision to trust or not to trust? Fear, I think is the number one factor; fear of being hurt, fear of being betrayed, fear of physical harm. It’s much better not to take a chance and a leap of faith than suffer the painful consequences if wrong. A life led that way makes for a lot of missed opportunities and misunderstandings.
There are all kinds of trust: the kind between a husband and wife or any other variation of that contract, the kind between friends and relatives, the kind between parent and child. My ex husband has accused me time and again of not trusting him. This has been a real issue in our failed marriage. He contends that I never trusted him with our kids or my feelings or a myriad other things. And he is right in a sense, but he also fails to acknowledge that the source of this mistrust was concrete at times. I didn’t trust him to take my sons on solo trips when he was drinking, for example. I feared for their safety. We shall never agree on that nor on the effect it had on my kids. I also did not trust him to make the right decisions in child rearing and I did exclude him from those discussions many times. In that sense, my lack of trust did cause pain and damage that could have been avoided perhaps. It is too late to know that though at this point.
The one area though that I never mistrusted him about was fidelity. It just never would have crossed my mind. Just not in his character but that’s not only it. I felt no sense of unworthiness with him. I never thought him out of my league in looks or intelligence or charm and so while he had to deal with my mistrust in the area of our kids and life in general, he never had to deal with the tantrums of a jealous partner steeped in the mistrust born when you feel you are not good enough for someone. It’s the kind of mistrust that makes you see boogey men or tantalizing women around every corner and in every engagement your partner has with the opposite sex. It is a madness that comes from the mistrust that ensues when given two plausible explanations for a thing. Lack of trust will always select the worst one. But how much of this type of mistrust comes from your character rather than your previous life experiences? Can this type of mistrust ever truly be reconciled? If not, then is the vicious cycle of selecting a partner with qualities you don’t necessarily want in exchange for the very tangible benefit of being able to trust their fidelity, easily destined to be repeated again and again? Would one then run screaming from a potential partner who they saw as their ideal simply because their sense of unworthiness of it renders them incapable of trusting that such a person could be loyal to them? Perhaps it all goes back to the beginning. Perhaps Mr. Rogers is right and if there is some issue in our early development where the trust needed is not there for whatever reason, then our entire life’s approach to trust or lack thereof is predetermined. My father left when I was a baby for several years right after I was born. My mother had an extremely difficult time of it living with her in laws that she did not get along with until he returned. My world was changed when I was three and had to leave my homeland and move to America. I still remembered all my life my maternal grandmother and the screaming I did when I had to leave her. Was this a memory I truly had or just repeated to me by my mother? I’ll never know but it stays with me nonetheless. Was all this enough to obliterate the early foundation of trust in a home that a child first needs to experience for me? Is this the source of my lack of trust? Or is it other avenues of trust formation like the outcome of one’s first love? Do those fortunate enough to have their very first encounter with true love go well and get to live happily ever after never have the foundation of their ability to trust obliterated? And for those of us who it goes woefully wrong for, are we left wondering and wandering forever? I don’t know frankly.
I am of the opinion that we do not let our childhood dictate our adulthood. I believe that firmly. I think we need to see our upbringing for what it is with its limitations and faults and recognize that our parents did the best they could under their very own unique situations. I believe, however, that we can examine the effects of these things upon ourselves and then make a conscious choice of how we let them affect us. If not, we become crippled by our childhood and will need the crutches of addiction throughout adulthood. But all this is easier said than done. To truly trust requires the ability to forgive, I think. To truly trust requires taking a breath and a leap of faith sometimes. This is most difficult for those of us with analytical brains to the point of overthinking just about everything. Ironically this skill, which serves one so well in the world of business and organization, is the death knell for most successful personal relationships. My sons at a very young age have constantly asked me to stop thinking so much and that I need to let things be. Is lack of the ability to trust forever intertwined with the penchant to over analyze and think? Perhaps. A study I came across a few years back suggested that the higher the intelligence, the harder it is to trust. Is it true or just another rationalized excuse to assuage a character flaw? My jury is still out on this one. I am a work in progress in this arena with a long, long way to go unfortunately.
While lack of trust in a marriage or other significant relationship like that is exhausting and tiresome, lack of trust between child and parent is so much more painful. It usually rears itself during the teenage and young adult years which are so difficult in and of themselves to deal with but throw in a lack of trust and it’s a witch’s brew of strife, uncertainty and sadness. What happens when that trust is broken by an offspring trying things like drugs or alcohol or sex or lying or a myriad of other things you really prefer them not to be doing. How do you know when it’s just a rite of passage that some need to experiment with versus something that will suck your child down a rabbit hole they may never crawl their way back to the top from? How do you stay vigilant while allowing them to try and earn your trust back. For some parents I imagine this is easy, for me not so much. It gets back to forgiveness for me and a sense of inflexibility when it comes to forgiveness in that I see it as, “if you did it once that’s enough to make you want to do it again”. I know people learn from their mistakes, but there some types which are never learned from because it is the very character of the person that caused it in the first place. Does this way of thinking prevent a parent like me, from seeing that trust can be restored? Or will I constantly be looking over my sons’ shoulders for evidence? It’s a tiresome way to live for both them and me. A parent has to continue to take that leap of faith and trust their offspring again. If not, the relationship severs for good. With each time I trust and am disappointed though, it becomes harder and harder like an uphill climb. I don’t want the door closed permanently like that, but how to keep it open when there are so may obstacles in the way is heartbreaking.
The issue of trust and the effect of the lack therefore are at the eye of the storm of my life right now. The assault is on several different of these relationship fronts that require trust. I am no closer to solving my inability to trust but hope I have the chance to keep trying in some of these arenas. There is no easy answer and the angst it causes is not much fun to live with. To truly suspend all the protective measures we have built up over a lifetime to guard our heart and mind and soul from pain, real or imagined, is a tough thing to do, especially at my age, but do it I must if I don’t want to repeat some mistakes again. I trust and I hope that you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.