Trusting Again

Trust is a fragile thread, and if you are over the age of six, someone has broken your trust, or you have lived a very protected life.

spider caffeine-thumb


Once trust is broken, then what? Can it be rebuilt? Do you hold the rest of the people in your life as emotional hostages because of one untrustworthy person in your life? You can, but it won’t get you far. Blaming others for the dishonesty of one person may seem brilliant from your perspective. But walk around to the other side, and view the relationship through the eyes of the person who is befriending you. The situation looks like you are demanding a long series of proofs, of jumping through hoops, to earn your friendship and trust. In a new friendship, you may not be worth it yet.

It’s easy to turn bitter after trust has been broken, to suspect the next person (and the next and the next) will also hurt you. And if you look very closely at every relationship you build, you will find tiny cracks and flaws in everyone. After a while, you will spot flaws  from far away, and then just assume everyone is flawed. And they are. But that doesn’t make them unworthy of your friendship.

It’s a brave thing to trust again after trust has been broken. It makes you vulnerable. What if you are a bad judge of character? Are you ready to slip down another sharp-stoned slide that leaves you in a heap at the bottom?

New people in your life are not responsible for what others did to you. If you hold them responsible for your past,  you won’t be able to trust them with your future.

August sunrise in Phoenix.

August sunrise in Phoenix.

Each person you meet deserves fresh trust. Each person you want to befriend is a risk. And you are a risk to them, too. It’s hard to start trusting again after a bruised ego, a broken heart, a stab in the back. The lesson you learn runs backward, to one person. Hold them accountable for the damage they caused. You don’t have to continue a friendship that’s been damaged beyond repair.

On the other hand, don’t make the rest of the world responsible for your past, either. The dawn is always fresh, and as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “No emotion is final.”

–Quinn McDonald knows a good deal about the DIY-aspect of trust.

34 thoughts on “Trusting Again

  1. Having exceeded the nested reply limit, here’s my nomadic (that is, not nested) reply.

    An earthmover that a homonculus climbs into, passing emotion and continuing into cognition (and presumably taking his homonculus mind along, a Tonka-earthmover that a nanite climbs into, passing emotion and continuing into cognition (and presumably taking his nanite mind along…). And so forth.

    You’ve just created a vivid visual theory. It’s a widely-held theory (although a unique image) and that’s what I’m suggesting an alternative to. That in every mind there is an observer, that there is a “you” that is not “your thoughts” or “your feelings”, that cognition and emotion are separate (or separable).

    It feels like it’s true. It thinks like it’s true. It feels and thinks like there’s a “you” in your head. (or a “me” in my head…the language begins to fall apart here). It feels and thinks like “I think” and “I feel” are two different statements. All I’m saying is, in light of the problems this way of thinking leads to, I feel and think starting from a different place might work better.

    Isn’t it odd that we say “it feels” but “I think”?

    • What Pete’s been saying reminds me of something I heard someone (maybe Pete) say once, that emotions follow thought, even if not conscious thought. So beliefs started as thoughts. “I think/believe a friend is someone who will not betray my trust.” That sets up an expectation about the friend’s behavior along with a whole bunch of corollaries about what acts constitute a betrayal of trust. When those expectations are not met by the other person, the emotion of betrayal and mistrust results.

      Is that where you were going with this, Pete?

      If so, then Quinn’s original post isn’t that far off – as what I got out of it is that I can choose (albeit the conscious choice has a hard time trumping the unconscious ones) to not lay such expectations on future friends. Isn’t that what unconditional love (agápe love, since the English word has so many possible meanings) is all about? “I love you unconditionally, no matter what you do.” (Which, by the way, doesn’t mean I have to *agree with* everything you do.) So thinking *about* emotions doesn’t help much (hence the failure of most theories of emotions and emotion-control self-help programs).

      • It’s part of what I mean. And I don’t think Quinn is off at all; I’m just trying to suggest that the way most people around now and around here address the whole tangle of self/emotion/thought/trust/etc bundle might not be working as well as it could (at a big, aggregate level; I don’t mean individually), and there might be a different way to address it. And one different way, which is feeling and thinking right to me, is to discount the notion of self. If you do that, then trust is not so much individual to individual (because individual selves are not [as] important). It’s something bigger.

        On the other hand, I’m trying to combine all this stuff from David Foster Wallace, Aristotle, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, neurology, sociobiology, Chartalist economics, Vipassana meditation, and who knows what else, so it’s two-six-and-even that I’m just bonkers. I’ve thought for years there’s about a 14.2857% chance I’m insane anyway. 🙂

        Yes, that unusual number is significant. [mad scientist laugh]

  2. Sometimes a person gets too broken to find a real connection with others. The worst loss of trust is trust in yourself and your ability to relate to others.

  3. I invited my sister to read your post….she struggles with this, and this having to prove trust over and over again impacts our relationship. thank you for writing these words…..

  4. Nothing personal. Trust is not a thing having to do with individuals; it’s a collective measure of a population. Sometimes a population, for reasons I’m not sure are understood, loses trust, or at least trust dips below some crucial level. The results are often violent (by which I do not mean disorganized or chaotic) as many people believe (mistakenly, I think) that coercion was the basis of trust in the first place, and additional coercion is needed to restore trust, and thus recreate the systems that have broken down in that population. New people in your life are, indeed, responsible for what others did to you, just as you are responsible for others whether you know them or not. It’s all a kind of web, and a mighty sticky one.

    • In the way you think, yes, but once more I am talking about a much close level of pain. When I hear the term, “nothing personal” I wonder if that person has a brain. Everything is personal, because we interpret the world on a personal level.

      • We certainly are convinced we interpret the world on a personal level, aren’t we? What if, instead of hearing the term from somebody else, and, I gather, not liking it very much, what if it was an aspect of something that you are also an aspect of? There is you. There is pain. There is trust. They are all real, and maybe they’re not localized points in space and time and awareness and the other thing.

        • I’m not sure about the ‘we’ Pete . . . I know I interpret the world from a personal perspective however I know ‘I’ am the result of the past and the people who populated it and how I understood it at the time and have reframed it as I got older . . . so, deeply personal and somewhat collective. The collective are the individuals and the society or culture I grew up in.

          There is a Maori whakatauki/proverb that goes: We are where we come from, we are what the past has made of us. That’s not to say that we cannot change how we think of it, how we let is affect our future.

          I think everything is personal. I don’t aim for complete indepence, I aim for interdependence and for that I need to trust on a personal level despite the old heartaches that cannot be denied and despite their lingering effect, they have no control . . . I make choices. Because I make choices I can decide whether I want to fall on a trust/distrust matter on a local/national/global issue.

          Quick, unconsidered judgements are not my style these days.

          • I think — and I want to make it clear that I’m not sure about this, but I’m getting there, little by little — that “personal” is probably an illusion. It’s a very convincing illusion, and a very seductive one for many reasons. But I really suspect it may not be true.

        • Pete, trust and pain are both facets of personal experience. They are not in and of themselves “Real”. They don’t float around waiting to alight and inflict themselves on a person. Trust is a social construct and in my society of one I have rules for trusting. Trust and the pain of broken trust are the result of my projecting expectation, acceptance or rejection of some facet of you, or you doing the same to me. Even in these comments, we trust each other to have manners and to abide by the social contract implicit in the tone of the blog. We trust each other to be open and accepting of someone else’s opinion or to debate it in an intellectual good-natured way. It all comes down to what Leone said above, lack of trust in others leads to a loss of trust in yourself and in the inability to put yourself out there vulnerable to others ever again.

          • Ray, you’ve achieved the perfect society! 🙂 (emigration may be an issue, of course…)

            I don’t disagree at all, at one level, and I’m definitely not at trying to trivialize anyone’s pain or broken trust. I feel those things too.

            I’m trying to suggest (pretty unclearly, I fear) is that the personal experience we perceive is something like a conjuring trick, an illusion of a sort. That we have it “backwards”, in a way, and it’s not trust that’s the social construct — it’s us.

            Now, this sounds (even to me) like it could be complete BS or just a metaphorical approach, as in “you could look at it this way”. It might indeed be BS; after all it’s a theory. I think there actually is an objective reality outside our heads, though (well, outside MY head anyway; the rest of you are on your own), and I also think it’s possible to discover more about it. The more we do that, the more we find things that are not what they initially seemed. Or really, the more we find our original explanations don’t jibe with what we find, so we try new explanations, and sometimes they match better. That’s what’s going on here.

            A few posts ago we were discussing happiness, which is another pretty basic idea. Basic in the sense that it’s immediately familiar to everybody. And while it’s familiar, it’s also an open question, and as far as I can tell has been as long as there’ve been people. Now we’re discussing trust and pain. These are also basic, obvious ideas. That are also open questions. People are smart. We’ve been around for millennia. Some of the smartest of us have tried *very very hard* to figure these things out. And yet there are these basic questions, and a lot of them. What if there’s a “bug in the system” that’s sending us in the wrong direction as we try to answer questions like these?

            I think it’s likely that there is, and I also think it probably has something to do with how and what we (including me, by the way) think of as personal experience.

          • I’ll toss in my two cents here–for me there is a difference between a philosophical understanding and experience. I was writing about how I experience my emotions. It’s my experience. I can also discuss it from a philosophical direction, but that tends toward definitions and crawling into your head and talking in words. I try to do something much, much harder. I try to use words to open up my experience for others, so they can see that they might not be alone. I respect Pete, and admire his intelligence very much, but a lot of this blog is about emotional experience and using words to include others experiences in those emotions, not to set up a philosophical re-framing by using words as structures and explanations.

            This is hard to do. But it is why I blog. Words were my first tools and I spent my life in my head speaking from brain power, and now I am using words in different ways. It’s the way I approach my art. It’s the way I approach coaching. It’s the way I approach my life. I don’t expect it to be clear, but it’s the work I am undertaking now. Words as emotions for connection.

        • I’m not saying you are wrong, as there is no right and wrong with emotions, I’m simply saying that when people say, “This isn’t personal,” it usually is. I talk about life as it lives, instead of in theoretical ways, although I appreciate that perspective very much.

          • To me, there’s no difference. Life as it lives is the same as what I think you mean by theoretical ways. I experience emotions (and enough said about that “spock” nickname business back in the day) and they are, like everything, something to understand. I don’t think I’m alone in this; there are probably hundreds of thousands of people in professions and millions of pages of books devoted to exactly the same undertaking. And that is part of what I’m trying to understand. People are smart. Lots and lots of them have worked hard for centuries to try to understand this area. But if you look at what they knew thousands of years ago, it’s hard to claim there’s been much progress.

            I find that very puzzling. In other areas, where for a long time understanding didn’t progress much, the reason often turned out to be a theoretical “model” that didn’t match well enough. Buildings and bridges stopped collapsing quite as readily when better theories about building came along. Doctors started being able to cure patients when theories about germs replaced theories about humors and fluids. Farmers got more productive when theories got better about seasons and weather and fertilization. So when I see what looks like little or no progress in areas like emotion, behavior, and generally “living”, I wonder why. And I think that’s at least as directly experiential as any other approach. To me, it’s more closely related to life as it lives than not. I recognize not everyone agrees with me about this. Where by “not everyone” I mean “hardly anybody”.

            “There is nothing as practical as a good theory.” Whether it’s your theory about why you shouldn’t touch that hot burner, why taking a walk will be rewarding, theory is the foundation of human experience.

            p.s. “life as it lives” is a *crazy good* phrase.

          • My experience of you is very different. Here’s what I see: Every morning, Pete climbs into his brain, which is part excavator/earth mover for heavy lifting, and part super computer and time travel. There’s a big research library in there, and a playroom, too.

            Emotions? They are on another level, you pass them every day, climbing up and climbing down, but they aren’t really all that fascinating to you.
            And if this work space caught fire, you wouldn’t care about saving the emotions on the floor below. You would probably invent an incredibly clever escape plan and possibly save the world.

          • A bit like when some says, “now don’t take this personally” and procedes to say something that is hard not to take that way . . . and it is always negative. Instead, how about, “Now Quinn, don’t take this personally but I think you provide a truly wonderful, non-judgemental venue for our existential wonderings.”

          • I always find it fascinating when people make my posts far more complex than I meant them to be. It’s that objective correlative thing working again. I love T.S. Elliot for that.

  5. If you don’t trust new people in your life, you let the people who hurt and lied to you in the past, affect your happiness now and every day in the future. They walk around with power over you, to make your life miserable. You blame them, stay a victim and find unhappiness instead of happiness. They win, you lose. And they aren’t even in your life any longer.

    For me personally, I won’t let that happen because I don’t want to give someone that much power over me (and my heart)…especially someone who is undeserving. I seek to find value in every relationship, even if it’s only a lesson well-learned.

    Great post Quinn!

  6. “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in…” ~Leonard Cohen~
    Thanks for this post Quinn – I could do with this reminder.

  7. Thank you for this post. It seemed to have been written for me. Hard knocks seem sometimes to have demolished one’s spirit. It’s difficult to ignore the ‘pain body’. But thank you again – you show the light at the end of the tunnel. I always look forward to reading you.

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