“I can’t trust anybody because of my childhood. Everybody betrayed me, badly and often. So my ability to trust is permanently damaged.”
“I would be a lot healthier and have an easier time in life if only I could trust. Especially trust myself.”
Sounds true? Well, sure, or perhaps maybe. But at the same time maybe it is not that simple.
I think trust is much more nuanced. Who can I trust for what? How often? Under what circumstances? Is my decision to trust based on accurate observations, or is it just a blind guess? Or am I assuming something will happen because it once did in a totally different situation?
People who have not been abused as kids learn the nuances early in life, starting in preschool. Oh, this kid is usually nice and shares toys. That kid yells a lot. That kid over there grabs any toy in sight. I get cereal or eggs or pancakes first thing in the morning. I am put down for a nap after lunch. Every now and then these things don’t happen — one day my Mom gave me left-over pizza in the morning — but they usually happen.
One of the principle reasons we didn’t learn how to trust is that the things kept changing. Mom is really nice one minute and a raging maniac the next. At home you are hit if you don’t eat all the food on your plate, at school the teacher says, “Oh, you aren’t hungry today?” when you are slow to drink your milk and eat your cookies. And she doesn’t hit you, she smiles. One night you are supposed to sleep when you are in bed, the next night you are yanked out of bed and and taken to a dark scary place where people hurt you.
There is no consistency, so you can’t predict what is going to happen. And under those circumstances, trust is pretty meaningless.
Once you are out in the non-cult world, you have to learn to navigate an entirely different world without a map or compass. You have to build trust the way non-abused children did, by observation. Slowly, you start to see patterns in events. Some things happen reliably over and over again. In time, you start to think, if this has happened 100 times, it might just be likely to happen 101 times. You are building your own map.
There are people who get drunk every night 99% of the time. People who have temper tantrums when they don’t get what they want. People who will steal your wallet if you turn your back. But there are also others who usually do what they say they will do, are pleasant and matter of fact about it, and don’t guilt-trip you.
Over the years, I have learned that trust is not a warm fuzzy feeling. It is a hard, calculated, rational assessment of the situation. That may sound cynical, but I think it’s a very useful way of looking at it. To me, that’s trust — the belief, based on observation and statistics, that, while things are not guaranteed, they are pretty darn likely.