I’ve been thinking about trust the last few days— what it means and what it feels like. Do you have people in your life that you trust completely? Why? Did you trust them immediately or did you build that trust over time? What does being with them feel like in your body?
Have you had your trust betrayed before? Did that change the way you think about trust?
One of the primary motivators for me in pursuing my integrity practice is wanting to be trustworthy. I want folks in my life to be utterly confident that I will be honest, reliable, and steadfast. If I say I’m going to do something, I’ll do it (or I’ll have a damn good reason why not). If I make a mistake, I’ll own it. If they need me, they can count on me to come through in some kind of way. No one I care about will ever have to watch their back with me because I will be watching it for them.
In his book, Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, Dr. Henry Cloud defines trust as the ability to be careless with someone, as opposed to careful. He writes:
It means that you do not have to worry about how to “take care” of yourself with that person, because he is going to be worried about that too. It means that you do not have to “guard” yourself with her, because she is going to be concerned with what is good for you and what is not good for you. You do not have to “watch your back” with him, because he is going to be watching it for you.
This seems so simple to me— care for people, watch out for them, be honest with them— but it so often isn’t. We juggle competing priorities. We struggle to know what we want or who we are. We fear vulnerability, discomfort, and conflict.
Having someone’s back can mean standing up for them to someone else. Having someone’s back can mean calling them out lovingly on their shit. It always means being honest, but also kind. It means being unwavering, but also flexible. It means being strong, but also tender. It means listening and paying attention and showing up.
This past Friday I got an unexpected lesson in trust. I was out with my partner, meeting some of his friends for the first time, and I fainted. Like, dead away, unresponsive for about 10 seconds. This was, understandably, very stressful for everyone, and deeply embarrassing for me, honestly. Especially because, out of an abundance of caution, they called an ambulance, which proceeded to take me to the hospital. At the hospital, they took all my clothes off, ran tests, and determined that I was totally fine. I just had a dip in blood pressure and we know why and it shouldn’t happen again.
There was a point, though, when I was in the ambulance and I was overwhelmed by the most unexpected feeling. Three different people were bustling around me, placing things and attaching things, all very solicitously. I trusted I was safe, and I felt so deeply and completely cared for. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt that way.
When we got to the hospital, there was my partner, waiting when the ambulance doors opened. He sat with me through it all, even though he hates hospitals. He looked discreetly away when they had to strip me and manhandle me to place EKG monitors; not because he hasn’t seen it all before, but simply because he knew I felt vulnerable and exposed enough already. He held my hand, hugged me, and cracked silly jokes that made me laugh while we waited to be released. Despite the number of times I insisted that he should break up with me because I had completely tanked Game Night and the first meeting with his friends, he told me he wasn’t leaving. Again, and at a terribly vulnerable moment, I felt deeply and completely cared for.
I am not generally careless, in the sense of not giving sufficient attention to avoiding harm or errors, but I am even less often careless, as in not watching my back with other people. Often that mistrust is warranted. I have not always chosen wisely, whether it was friends or lovers. But the thing I’m coming to appreciate for the first time is how that lack of trust in others, and that choosing of the untrustworthy, is born out of deep mistrust of myself.
I don’t always trust my instincts. I don’t always have my own back. I farm that need out to other people instead of always depending on myself first and foremost.
I’m not talking about never needing anyone. We are social creatures. We need community and connection and interdependence. Rabid self-reliance is generally a coping strategy in response to trauma. Coping strategies are never long-term, healthy life strategies. But it is also true that no one knows us as we know ourselves. No one else knows what we most truly need and when those needs aren’t being met. No one else knows when things feel off, or when we are pulled too far outside of ourselves. No one else knows when the ground beneath our feet feels unstable and treacherous.
If we cannot trust ourselves to be steadfast on our own behalf then there is an essential piece of our integrity that is missing. We deserve our integrity as much as anyone else does. We need it.
I have not always chosen poorly. I have within my circles some of the most trustworthy and integrous people. Maybe I have been very, very lucky, and maybe the best, truest parts of me have often led the way. But I know for sure that when I am with them I am able to be all of myself. My shoulders release from the attempts to make earrings of themselves. My guts unclench and I actually hear my stomach gurgle delightedly.
My people, my dear, trustworthy people, hold me so faithfully and so tenderly. They believe in me so utterly that I am forced to consider that maybe they are right, and maybe the only really important person who has ever betrayed me is me.
What happens from here then is largely up to me, is it not?