Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Trust - Control - Anxiety - Fear

I just finished speaking to a young woman (between 17 – 23), she made a comment that was the essence of a comment I’ve probably heard every day during the course of my professional practice.

Basically, she told be that since a certain event, (Not an uncommon one – but one that is hurtful and involves loss as well as a sense of betrayal by one who she’d considered trustworthy.) … she “can’t trust anyone.” As I said, I hear this or close variants almost every day as I sit in my chair. (Maybe, instead of sitting during appointments, I should be on an elliptical machine during appointments?)

What does the statement suggest? Probably there are some different meanings but there are also shared implications.

Throughout my blog columns, probably the most common and central themes are the concepts of power – control – trust – anxiety and fear. These are all points of a loop of experiences. All are natural but when there is a distortion of one or more, it becomes the likely (not always) source of problems. 

For those with an unusual desire to read more of my comments on the matter, refer to the links below:

How things get off-track
Anger Management
Fair Fighting
Your Anchor
Who are you

In these columns, I discuss various ways these issues become problematic.

When people tell me about their difficulties in trusting, I am inclined to ask the following:

Regarding trust, what are your expectations?

Let’s assume a relationship (any manner of relationship: mother/daughter, employer/employee, marital, close friends or casual friends). What are the trust expectations? Let’s look at some different scenarios.

  • My colleague and I want to get coffee and catch-up. Personally, I am an early-riser; he is not. I suggest 7AM, he offers 9AM. We agree on 8AM. I arrive at the shop at 7:45AM and wait… he arrives at 8:10. Is this a breach of trust? Perhaps his watch is set differently than mine. Perhaps my watch is set early. Perhaps there were exigent circumstances with his family which delayed him. Perhaps the traffic was unusually bad. Perhaps our coffee-date temporarily slipped his mind. Perhaps he got lost. Perhaps he couldn’t find a parking space. What are my expectations and what do I infer from the fact that he arrived later than I? Do I assume he doesn’t consider my time important? Do I believe he’s just being “passive aggressive”? Do I become agitated? Has he violated some rule that I think EVERYONE must know – ALWAYS be on time. Are my expectations reasonable?
  • A married couple has a heated argument which is not resolved. During the emotionally-loaded argument, both say things that the other experiences as hurtful. While in the moment of the argument, both felt upset but nevertheless believe their own comments were warranted. Now, hours (or sometimes days or even years) later, one or both think, “I cant believe (s)he said that – or did that.” When I discuss it with the couple, they each have their own differing perspectives of what transpired. One or both suggest, “Until you can ADMIT to what you said/did, I can NEVER trust you again – and without COMPLETE TRUST, there is no foundation for a relationship”. REALLY?                                                                             Considering that many of us believe we are mature and reasonable, do we still expect that someone MUST agree with us? If they have a different perspective are they necessarily lying? If they see events differently does is necessarily mean the other is in DENIAL? If the other sees events differently, can we accept that people can see things differently without being WRONG? If the other says they have been hurt by our words or actions, can we sincerely and contritely apologize? I have talked with so many who insist they were NOT WRONG and therefore no apology is warranted. REALLY? Is your sense of being right (i.e., self-righteousness) so important and certain, that you prefer to let the harm stand instead of doing what you can to repair the damage? PLEASE, don’t say “Well what about what they said…” (It sounds a bit childish, doesn't it?) I agree; they assuredly share responsibility for the damaged relationship – but waiting for the other to be contrite will forever create a stalemate (pun intended). Some will go on to use these hurts as an ever-ready moral caudul, bringing it up at every opportune moment, like a trump card, to WIN a disagreement.
  • Assume a relationship between a father and son. The father has reared his son to be a responsible citizen. As the son assumes his role as an adult, can the father accept that the son may have very different values without resorting to suggesting that “something has gone wrong”? My own son decided to be tattooed. Had he asked my advice, I would have suggested that he not get a tattoo – but he didn’t ask (Indeed, it was appropriate for him to not ask – he is an adult, not living under my roof.) Can I accept that his wishes and decisions are his – that he needn’t seek my permission or approval? Can I tolerate the anxiety that we have different values? Must I insist that MY VALUES are RIGHT and that he must conform to MY standards? By living his own life, expressing his individuality and values, does he violate my trust? Do I suggest that because he has chosen a certain behavior that my trust is forever broken? Do I live the life of a victim (a very powerful role) telling any who will listen (or reciting it to myself like an emotional prayer) of my victimhood which I insist was first perpetrated by him – but which I now daily resuscitate? Will I forgive? Will I accept that he has become what I prayed for – an individual – not a carbon copy of myself? (A close expression of narcissism.)
  • Last for consideration, a 50ish mother with an adult daughter. Mom is a devoted evangelical Christian. The daughter is lesbian. I think most understand that the mother would have a difficult time accepting that her daughter is lesbian. Probably, this is not what she had in mind when the daughter was a five year old. The daughter states that she too is a Christian. The mother INSISTS that the daughter is WRONG and sinful. During a conversation with me, it seems what the daughter does in bed and with whom precludes any other conversation the two might have. It seems there is no room for, “How was your day? What are your hopes and dreams for the future? What kinds of projects are you pursuing? How do you feel?REALLY? Is the daughter’s sex-life the most important thing to discuss? I wouldn’t dream of asking my son about his sex-life – it would be a gross boundary violation. If he ever asked me about my sex-life, I’d tell him it’s not his concern. PERIOD.

Does all of this mean that we should continually tolerate UNREASONABLE violations of our relationships? Absolutely not. 

What are unreasonable violations? That can be difficult to answer. Some more obvious violations are blatant. When a person REPEATEDLY violates our relational boundaries resulting in EGREGIOUS DAMAGE and demonstrates no willingness to change behavior... self preservation prevails - but if there is a willingness to change, we must carefully examine our motives to leave.

(excuse my religious-sounding spin: REPENT, GR: metanoia suggests that one changes their direction/behavior. If one was traveling North, they turn around and travel South.) 

What if the violations are minor injuries, unintentional insults and differences in opinion? What if a couple has agreed to an austere budget and one party spends money beyond what is agreed. Is that a reason to cast the entire relationship in jeopardy? What about if one party in a relationship has an affair – the unfaithful partner apologizes, insists it was a horrible human failing and promises to change. Should the injured party accept the apology and continue in the relationship or is this violation too much? 

It is possible to forgive but also decide the relationship cannot continue. 

I have worked with many couples who decide to maintain the relationship. They decide that there is much in the relationship that they want to save. Rebuilding the trust takes time – perhaps a year or more. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. We do not forget terrible injuries. But if we forgive, we agree to not repeatedly bring up the issue.

(Here is an excellent article - thank you BN Forgiving.)

Going back to the beginning of my rant: Continually portraying ourselves as a victim can only result in the suspension of our emotional and spiritual growth. If we are victims, we are not taking responsibility for our life. We suggest that someone else has dictated our fate. 

Who is in the driver’s seat of your life – someone else, your ego – your parent’s expectations. Blame is a game that keeps us in everlasting ignorance.

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