That’s me! I never think to ask for help until after a crisis is over. Then I tell people what happened and they get mad at me for not letting them know at the time. They are frightened (what if something bad happened and they had no idea what was going on?) and rejected and feel I don’t trust them. It’s natural to feel those things. Only then does it dawn on me that I should have at least let them know I had a problem and give them the opportunity to help me.

This goes for big things. Once my doctor put me on a new heart medication that dropped my blood pressure and slowed my pulse. I called for an appointment and got one the same day. Since I didn’t feel faint, I got in my car and drove the few blocks. I forget what my blood pressure was, but both systolic and diastolic were in the double digits. My pulse was 28. So I was kept for observation for a few hours and amused myself reading lot of junky magazines. When he checked me at the end of the day, he asked me how I got to the office and was appalled to hear I had driven myself. It had never even occurred to me to call a taxi, let alone tell somebody in my family or circle of friends. Oh, and I only thought of calling 911 as I wrote this!

It goes for little things, too. I no longer use step ladders so I no longer change light bulbs. Instead of asking my best friend, who would gladly do it, I automatically adjust to less light. Bulbs only get replaced when he notices that they are out. Which reminds me, there are at least four that are burned out right now.

This has been a habit of mine since childhood. The adults in my life could not be counted on to be helpful; when I asked for help in every-day life they usually blamed me and scolded me. I learned at an early age to keep my problems to myself and take care of them as best I could. That was an eminently sensible decision, because I was the most reliable person I knew. By the time I was an adult, being independent was deeply ingrained in me.

Psychology books see excessive independence in a slightly different light. They conceptualize counter-dependency as leaning over backwards to avoid dependency. It masks a deep yearning to be taken care of, to be held and cuddled and fed when hungry and cooed at. Later in life to be tucked into bed and read to and praised and fed healthy meals and given bandaids for scraped knees and smiled at for no reason at all. I would have liked very much to have had all those things, but, for the most part, I had to live without them. Both my description and the books’ description of counter-dependency are true — they go hand-in-hand.

As I age, the situation is changing. There are fewer things I can do for myself, no matter how much I want to, and so my choice is to ask somebody or do without. Naturally, there is a lot I do without these days, and consequently my life has shrunk considerably. Being barely able to walk means that if I go someplace I have to be sure there is parking real close by. I can’t use public transportation because the stops are too far away. I no longer drive at night and that means no concerts or plays. It’s sad.

There is an upside to this, though. I think of asking for help more often and I feel I am growing in this regard. I have been given the opportunity to see people in a different light, as helpful and non-shaming. I am slowly breaking the rigid role my parents cast for me. I try and see my loss of independence in a positive light — an opportunity to go and learn something new rather than as a loss of one thing after another. Some days that’s a comforting and uplifting attitude, other days it seems awfully goody-two-shoes.

More on Trust

There were some errors in the ritual calendar, but they are corrected now.

Mary and Karen’s comments on “Trust” are right on. Some of us consistently have the problem of trusting too much, rather than too little. Others oscillate between the two extremes.

There are several possible reasons to be overly trusting. Probably most important, it’s a protection against feeling helpless. If everybody else is good, then if they hurt you they are doing it for your own good. So, if you change your behavior, they won’t have to hurt you any more. And if you try hard enough, you can change and everything will be fine. The illusion of being in control gives a strange sort of hope. It was a very depressing day when I figured out that nothing I did would prevent me from being hurt.

After having been taken advantage of once too often, I found I was being overly trusting to differentiate myself from my abusers. They did not believe me when I told the truth, or, if they did, they didn’t let on. Therefore I bent over backwards to believe people when they lied. If I misjudged, I would hurt myself, not the other person. How many times, in cult situations, do we choose to hurt ourselves rather than others? Even knowing that it will make no difference, that the people we were trying to protect would be hurt regardless, we hurt ourselves. If we hurt the other person, we would be like our abusers in our own eyes; that was unbearable. And the other person might think we did it willingly. That was unbearable, too.

Sometimes I see people being overly trusting, like a big floppy golden Labrador retriever. It makes me think they are trying to be ingratiating. “Like me! Like me! Pay attention to me! Look how nice and friendly I am!” Maybe it works sometimes, but trying too hard usually comes across as needy, not appealing.

Me, I think I am both at once. On the surface I trust everybody until they prove they are out to screw me. And they don’t get a second chance; they get many chances to prove me wrong. But underneath I expect everybody to betray me, and so I don’t let myself be vulnerable, don’t let others in. I guard my deepest self as if my life depended on it, which it certainly did once.


“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.