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.
My 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.