Borderline, PTSD and Trust Issues

Trust BPD PTSD 1

Trust ~ the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, character or strength of someone or something.

The inability to trust is a painful thing. Both BPD and PTSD make it difficult for me to trust people, to trust situations, to trust myself. Struggling to trust makes it hard to feel safe. Not feeling safe makes it hard to stay calm. Thusly being in a constant state of vigilance, stress and anxiety is exhausting and it’s terrible and unhealthy.

In healthy people trust develops when they are babies. When they experience – over and over and over again, with no major exceptions – that their cries are heard, their needs attended to, that they are the cause of joy and smiling faces, that touch is pleasant, warm and comforting and that good things happen when they call attention to themselves. That is how children come to trust that other people are good, that they mean it when they are being nice, that the world is a safe enough place and that they are good and capable little people who can rely on themselves.

This very first kind of trust – achieved by a healthy and secure attachment to a caregiver – can be seen as a foundation for all other kinds of trust people develop later in life.

As you can read on my page Borderline in more detail, I have, for myself, come to the conclusion that BPD is essentially a relationship disorder. That it’s not my personality that’s damaged, but my view on relationships. That by the way relationships worked at my childhood home, I have come to expect that they are dangerous, unstable and all-or-nothing. That people will change in the bat of an eye. That words are deceptive. That nobody will protect me or stand by me. That promises are empty and care is shallow. That trust leads to pain.

That the traumas I experienced where solely interpersonal (as in caused by people, not by circumstances or natural disasters or anything) only reinforced that nobody and nothing is to be trusted. That no situation is truly safe. That I can’t trust myself to keep me safe. That even I can’t trust my body not to betray me. So lack of trust is an essential part of my PTSD, too.

In daily life so many crap results from that, I don’t even know where to start. I think most of my issues actually do go back to trust, either directly – like second guessing people’s intentions, feeling incapable or suspecting that getting abandoned is an imminent danger – or indirectly – like my impulsivity (if nothing seems really stable or permanent, what do I go by other than the impulse?) or my dissociation (if I don’t trust myself to be able to cope with something, don’t trust the situation to turn out okay, don’t trust anyone else to keep me safe, then disconnecting myself from everything seems like the only option left) and even my feelings of emptiness (nothing is “real” enough to fill the gaping void, everything appears too shallow or like it won’t last anyway).

 So if trust is such an issue, yet at the same time the foundation I got when I grew up means that my default setting is now “DISTRUST” – what can be done about it?

Let’s start optimistic and with the good news: I am increasingly able to trust.

The bad news: it requires constant effort.

Trust DistrustMy ability to trust works like a light switch. At first it had been jammed in the distrust position, but after lots of work it can now go up to where it says ‘trust’. But it doesn’t stay there by itself yet. The moment you let it go, gravity pulls it back down to ‘distrust’. It’s still the default setting.

But hey, at least it isn’t permanently stuck on distrust anymore. That makes a big difference for me.

So what kind of work helped against the jamming? I must admit I couldn’t really say all by myself, so I asked mom. This is what she said helped me:

  1. Considering the emotional age regarding my ability to trust
    Well, let’s just say my emotional trusting age started out at below zero. Mom said that at the beginning I was like an infant in this regard, that either I got my needs met now, or I could not emotionally understand why not and reacted with distrust and pushing her away. And go figure. I can only second that. I still remember that I didn’t even trust her consistency and immediateness for a long time and pushed away despite it.
  2. Reinforcing trust on as many levels as possible to make it more palpable
    I have a hard time trusting words. I have a hard time trusting actions. I have a hard time trusting affection. Or experiences. Or my feelings. So each of those channels alone isn’t sufficient, because each lets through only a weak impulse towards trust. Combining them increases the strength.
  3. Awareness that trust needs to be earned
    So often a little bit of trust was the reward for a hard struggle mom and I had with each other. I test. A lot. That’s what being distrustful does. Trust is what can lie on the other end of the struggle if all goes well. So one needs the willingness to get there together, even when getting through sucks real bad.
  4. Willingness to take risks  
    On both sides. My mom never knew for sure if it was going to work out. Neither did I. I suppose what kept both of us going was that the relationship appeared worth some risk taking.
  5. Monitoring the switch together
    Mom says it’s important she knows where my switch is – on trust, on distrust, or in between – and let’s just say she’s very good at reading my behavior to figure it out. But she says it’s just as important I learn to become more aware of what the switch is doing early on, too, so that I can learn to recognize that it’s sliding out of place before it is all the way down. So we talk about it a lot to monitor it together.
  6. Being trustworthy
    Maybe a no-brainer, but mom said I should add it anyway. So I decided to write a follow-up post on being trustworthy: How to be Trustworthy.
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Things that make me feel safe & loved

Since feeling safe and loved is something I struggle with a lot, I thought maybe it would be good to make a list of things that help those feelings along. To get some clarity, and maybe to actively seek out those things when I run low in a way that’s a little more constructive than becoming a nuisance to those around me.

So let’s see.

Things that make me feel safe:

  • Knowing someone is home with me.
  • Being in the same room with mom or dad.
  • Having the lights on at night.
  • That mom and dad don’t yell and only rarely raise their voices.
  • Having the same predictable routines every day.
  • That my mom keeps an eye on what I do and where I am. (Okay, it’s annoying, too, especially when I’m up to no good, but then, it’s kind of the point that she notices when I drift south before I’m all the way there, even when I hate it at the time.)
  • That mom takes my hand when we’re out and about on the streets, so I can relax and don’t need to stress about getting lost, and neither about losing face by actively taking her hand (yes, life is complicated).
  • Knowing in advance what’s planned for the day.
  • Getting things explained to me, so I don’t feel left out or stupid for not knowing something.
  • Getting included.
  • Mom and dad staying calm when I’m upset.
  • That we talk about things in the family.

So far so good. I have a feeling that those were the easier ones. The ‘love’ part is more difficult because I have an even harder time feeling loved than feeling safe, and I also feel more embarrassed about the things that make me feel loved. But I guess the point of this post is to try and figure it out and be honest about it, so here goes.

Things that make me feel loved:

  •  Sitting on mom’s lap. Yes, physically I’m kind of too big to be sitting on her lap, but emotionally there’s not a single thing in the world that compares to it. I’m lucky I’m small and light, but I guess I’d like it just as much if I were tall and big. (Poor mom, though, in that case.) It feels loving and safe and like she must really love me if she allows me on her lap. After all you don’t let people be that close who you don’t really like that much, right?!
  • Small things like mom and dad never leaving the house and waiting for me outside, even if I dilly-dally and they are long ready to go. I’d probably be way faster if they waited outside, because I hate being left behind, but they always wait and only leave the house when I’m with them.
  • That they see through my relationship tests and use them for good stuff. I often construct situations that invite them to give me negative relationship messages, to punish me or to discipline me. I am annoying on purpose to see what it takes to make them snap and lose it and show their “true face”. But instead of snapping or losing it, they acknowledge that I’m stressed, make me aware that I’m stressed and try their best to help me figure out what I need to feel safe in our relationship again. That they do that instead of taking the easy way, makes me feel like they care about me and love me.
  • That my mom pays attention to what I do, even when it’s nothing important, and either smiles or says something to let me know how she feels about what I do. I often do things just to see if she will notice, and nine out of ten times she does. That makes me feel like I’m important to her and like she loves me enough to care.

Those are only four things, and I’m sure there must be more, but I have a really hard time becoming aware of those things. I’m actually pleased I made it to four, plus explanations. 😉

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