**This article also appeared in Elephant Journal. Read it here.
You’ve heard this before. Or perhaps you’ve said it, yourself. I know I have—casually, politely, as though refusing the idea of being in a relationship is as inconsequential as refusing a top-up of my coffee at brunch. “Oh, no relationship for me, thanks! I have trust issues.”
The justification is rarely questioned. It’s fail-safe. An easy out. Protection from hurt, an excuse for eccentric or jealous (crazy) behaviour, sometimes even an intriguing characteristic, at least to a psych-junkie like me.
But really, of course you have trust issues. Almost everyone who’s experienced a wounded heart has trust issues. We could argue that anyone who doesn’t want to be hurt has a degree of trust issues.
Take a moment to ask yourself what “trust issues” actually means to you:
I’ve experienced hurt in the past when I’ve made myself vulnerable, and I don’t want to experience that hurt again.
After (insert ex’s name here) , words don’t mean to me what they used to. I fear betrayal, heartbreak, humiliation—it’s easier for me to stay guarded.
I require certainty. I need to know that I won’t be f#@&ed over. I need to know that you’ll be with me for as long as I want you to be.
But here’s the problem (and I’m sorry for letting realism take over, here): You can never have total certainty. Sure, you can have “I love you’s.” You can have a ring. You can have a ceremony and children and decades together. But you can never have absolute certainty that you will not be hurt. Love and risk of hurt go hand-in-hand. You cannot have one without the other. You can’t control or predict whether or not you’ll be hurt. Nothing someone says or does in a current moment can guarantee the future; and, so long as you fear the pain, the hurt, the rejection that comes with detachment, you will have “trust issues.”
So how to get over them? It’s not about becoming hardened to the point that you can’t get hurt. It’s not about getting into a relationship where you are convinced a person isn’t going to leave you. It’s about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. To risk being wounded and be OK with taking that risk. To know that so long as we form connections with people, we will experience grief and hurt. We experience similar pain when we lose someone due to death, and that doesn’t stop us from forming deep connections with family members or friends.
How do I allow myself to be vulnerable? To risk pain and rejection and grief? By practising my favs, self-compassion and mindfulness/staying present, and thereby finding comfort in the discomfort that is uncertainty and vulnerability (did that sentence make sense?). Let me explain further (as if you have a say…):
1) Self-compassion so you can be whole/complete/happy/worthy/etc. without the other: As humans, we are naturally-attaching beings. We want to belong, we want to connect, we want to be in relation. However, when this becomes a problem is when we require a specific other to consider ourselves whole, happy, complete, worthy, lovable, content, satisfied, etc. This doesn’t mean you become guarded and don’t let anyone in; it means you don’t look to a relationship to fill the void. Connect, attach, fall in love, but prove to yourself that you have the capacity to be without that person. Ideally, by coming to a place of “wholeness” (or whatever word works for you) that does not necessarily depend on your (potential) partner, it results in confidence that you are still whole/complete/worthy as you are, and there’s less at stake by trusting. The result? Being vulnerable becomes easier.
2) Self-compassion so you can make potential hurt less scary: By allowing yourself to be vulnerable—to be hurt without internal judgment, and comforted with compassion and patience, you take away some of the pain that comes with hurt. I had a client the other day who was beating herself up over getting attached to a “player” by whom she ultimately felt “fucked over.” She was blaming herself, stating she shouldn’t have gotten attached. She’d been warned. She should have known. She didn’t have a right to be upset because it was her fault. She felt hurt, humiliated, and ashamed. But through exploration of how it made total sense as to why she’d attached to him in spite of the warnings (come on, we’ve all been there), she couldn’t have known things were going to end as they did, and it she has every right to feel broken up about it, the humiliation and shame lessened. Yes, the hurt was still there, but it was validated and supported, and she could then move on to comforting herself and coping, rather than beating herself up. So, relate to yourself with compassion and you’ll feel more equipped to deal with hurt and/or betrayal should you encounter it.
3) Mindfulness/Being present: Stay present in your relationship and it will help alleviate some of the “trust issues.” It’s natural for “what ifs” to seep in, but as I said before, we just can’t predict and control; so give up the need to calculate every move to prepare for some possible future catastrophe, and focus on what it’s like to be in relation to your partner (or a potential partner) now. You’ll find you actually enjoy your time together rather than being distracted by fear of an ultimate betrayal.
So, to summarize: “Trust issues” are normal. They mean you don’t want to get hurt and you value your relationship (if you’re in one). In order to prevent this natural fear from sabotaging your connections, practise self-compassion and staying present. The outcome? Ability to risk hurt (aka trust).
As a final note, “courage” means heart, innermost feelings, temper, and is derived from the latin “cor” which means heart. To be vulnerable is to be courageous, and to be courageous is to be vulnerable. So the next time you find yourself demanding promises from your partner or looking for the right person to trust to help you get over your “issues,” instead turn you awareness inward: Be courageous, practise self-compassion and mindfulness, and allow yourself to be vulnerable :).