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.

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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.

Vulnerability and Courage

Talking about journaling to groups of writers, artists, or those who have never journaled is one of my favorite things. So, last Thursday, when I was talking to PaperWorks in Tucson, I was having a great time. I ask people about why they journal and what they write about. The answers are always so interesting–people don’t want their journals read after they die, people are afraid strangers might pry. Keeping a journal opens you to being vulnerable.

lovelettersAs I sometimes do, I talk about my mother–the angry woman who would challenge me with, “No one ever loved me enough, not even God!” When she was dying, and I was cleaning out her house, I came across her love letters to my father. They showed me another woman, one I had never met, and could scarcely believe existed, much less was the same woman I called my mother. When I tell this story, I tell audiences I will choke up, because I do.  I don’t cry, but my voice waivers and I have to pause and swallow. And when I did that, I saw several women look away. One was shaking her head, frowning.

We are not supposed to choke up, that’s a sign of weakness. How many times have you seen people interviewed after horrible, gut-wrenching tragedy and as they try to answer a personal question in front of a TV camera and they start to cry, they say, “I’m sorry.” For what? For crying in the face of tragedy? Shouldn’t the person jamming a microphone in the face of someone struggling with tragedy be apologizing?

So, there I stood, choking up, and suddenly realized I did not feel shame nor embarrassment. This was hard stuff I was sharing. “Vulnerable” comes from the Latin wdaringgreatly_final525-resized-600ord meaning “to wound” or “capable of being wounded.” It’s brave to make yourself open to that. Shame researcher Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”  In her latest book, Daring Greatly, Brown says, “The profound danger is . . . we start to think of feeling as weakness. . . .It starts to make sense that we dismiss vulnerability as weakness only when we realize that we’ve confused feeling with failing and emotions with disabilities.” Then Brown says something powerful and important: “If we want to reclaim the essential emotional part of our lives and reignite our passion and purpose, we have to learn how to own and engage with our vulnerability and how to feel the emotions that come with it. . . .Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

It’s very hard to stand up and admit to being vulnerable. Someone could make fun of us. Someone could attack us. And that’s what our inner critic tells us–stay shut off, keep those emotions stuffed down. And the value of that? We become fearful, and that ignites the ancient fuse of fear-anger-blame-alienation.

Being vulnerable is hard. Admitting your complicated emotions is hard. Not running away from your emotions, sitting with them, facing your truth, actually talking to your inner critic–now that takes courage. Being vulnerable in front of friends is a risk, in front of strangers, well it may feel like eating glass. But I know from experience that when you are vulnerable you are powerful. Authenticity always is.

This doesn’t mean blurting out your entire life story under the guise of vulnerability. It does mean not going out in the world with your fists up so you can take the first swing before your imagined enemy swings at you.

If you are interested in learning more about the courage of vulnerability, you can read Five Insights from Brene Brown or watch her Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability.

—Quinn McDonald doesn’t always have the courage to be vulnerable, but she’s finding it easier every time she tries.

“I Am Enough” Well, Sometimes

If you have friends, you have been sent one of the TED Talks of Brené Brown, the story-teller researcher who works on slippery topics–vulnerability, shame, being enough.

Stories are wonderful–we love them. But when we get to the part of bringing a story into our lives, we get into trouble. Suddenly, the story isn’t quite right anymore. It doesn’t fit your life exactly. Your life is different. That story is a little uncomfortable. So we abandon the story just when it would have done some good for us. Here’s what I learned when I explored Brown’s ideas of being enough.

When my coaching clients tell me they have no dreams, no goals, no ambitions they often present it like a fact that has always been true and will always remain true. When I peg that as the “I’m enough” baseline, they get nervous. Unhappy. Because they often feel they aren’t enough. What would it take to be enough?

We want to feel better than other people around us.  Which means we are allowing other people to determine who we are. Competition has made us this way–at school, we play competitive games and learn these rules as the rules of life. In the workplace, competition amps up and winning–the job, the house, the promotion–becomes the way we measure our satisfaction in ourselves. Among our friends, winning is getting the envious looks at the size 4 figure, the Prada bag, the BMW, the wealthy spouse. We define ourselves in the eyes of others. Nothing wrong with the Prada and the BMW, as long as you know they aren’t you, and that if you lost them, you would still have the essential you. (Reality check: if you lost the Prada, the spouse, the BMW, would your friends stay?)

It’s easy to lose sight of, then forget, our own values, our own dreams, our own goals. We replace what our heart yearns for with the prize we want right now.

When our friends change, leave, move on to someone else, we again feel we are not enough. Right here is the critical moment of rationalization. We choose to work on ourselves, or we choose to work on our acquisitions.

The harder truth to cope with is that we are enough every day. Everyone fails, everyone does dumb things, everyone wishes they could take something back. The real success stories belong to the people who get up again. The ones who brush off their values and won’t allow rationalization to tarnish them. Who push themselves to grow every day. To be enough every day.

Your “enough” can grow. That’s the point. A real trick is to allow your friends to be Enough today and grow to be Enough tomorrow, too. Not your Enough, their Enough.  If last week’s Enough feels tight, you have outgrown it. Luckily, Enough can grow with self-awareness.

-Quinn McDonald is a life and creativity coach who helps people deal with change and re-invention. In other words, who helps people grow into Enough.