I'm not going to say that we should lower the walls and let everyone in - to do so would be self-harming in the end - That's why we need boundaries. Not everyone deserves to be trusted. But what do you when you WANT to let someone in and just don't know how? What do you do when you doubt your own feelings, instincts and needs/wants? Too many of us have learned through far too much experience that not only can we not trust other people, but that we can't trust ourselves.
In psychology, we have a lot of theories about how we develop as individuals. Some concern our physical development and others our cognitive (mental) development. Not surprisingly, there are theories that concern themselves with our emotional and social development as well. The point here is that there are many, many ideas about how we are able to develop as healthy human beings and function in our societies. There is one that is especially related to this discussion though.
Erik Erikson came up with a theory of development that proposed a series of stages characterized by fundamental life crises that had to be resolved before an individual was able to move on to the next. While his theory has come under more critical scrutiny in recent years, his trust vs. mistrust stage has some resonance here. According to Erikson, this is where infants learn whether or not the world and the people in it can be trusted to meet her/his needs. Developing trust means that the infant learns that basic needs are satisfied consistently and that the people around him/her are secure and safe.
And what happens if the child learns that the world is NOT a safe place? That her/his needs will be met only sporadically or conditionally? Guess what - trust doesn't develop. Whether or not you buy into Erikson's idea that this has to occur before other development is up to you, but I see many people who have not been able to develop a fundamental trust either in themselves or in the world around them. And it's impossible to trust other people if you can't trust that your needs - your basic human needs - are going to be met.
Along the way, many of us have learned that other people's needs and wants come first. The way this happens is different, but the end result is basically the same - what I want and need doesn't count; what counts is pleasing this other person who DOES count. As result, we learn that we can't trust ourselves and our sense of what is right and good for us, because it's often at odds with what this powerful other person wants and needs. We're told we're selfish, we're bad, we'll never be good enough...and on and on. And so...we grow and learn to ignore, push down, marginalize and minimize our needs and eventually ourselves because this is how we survive.
Realizing this dynamic is the first step in changing it. Because we have been so trained to consider everyone else first, it feels somehow wrong and/or bad to take care of ourselves. Frankly, we don't get a whole lot of support, either, especially if we've spent most of our time and energy taking care of everyone else first. It's a shock for others to realize that we're going to take care of ourselves and that they'll have to adjust. People who truly care for us and love us, though, will end up being supportive.
Some of us may not even KNOW what we need or want because considering ourselves is foreign to who we've become. Try an experiment with me, ok? Get a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and find a comfortable place to sit. Do this during a quiet moment when you won't be interrupted, and then close your eyes. Just sit with yourself and think about what YOU need. Not what the kids need, or your partner needs, not about the PTA cookie drive, the budget report that's due to your supervisor tomorrow, or the repairs on the van. Just what YOU need. Now, write down what you came up with. Really take some time to think, "What do *I* need?" Ok, good - and here comes the hard part. Write about what it felt like to think about yourself. Really be honest with yourself - what did it feel like to consider what you need, apart from everyone else?
For some of us, it's a very difficult thing to do. It's frightening to contradict these early and very strong messages, and it's a lot easier to think of everyone else first. I don't know about you, but I think there's a lot of grief there too - that we didn't get to consider our own needs, that we didn't learn to trust ourselves and feel that what we needed and wanted counted for something. That's a hard, hard thing to face. And yet, continuing to focus on everyone else and exclude ourselves only perpetuates the problem. So...what do you need?
One thing that occurred to me as I was thinking about and starting to write this post was that "active trust" (see previous post) is something that may be a useful tool here. Our hearts have learned over time that we can't trust ourselves, and so we feel that it's dangerous, selfish, wrong, or bad to do that. This is a time when it's perfectly appropriate and in our best interest to let our heads overrule our hearts - we DO deserve to pay as much attention to and consider as lovingly our own needs and wants as much as we do other peoples'. Use active trust to help you here - active trust is as much for you as it is for other situations.
I read an interesting quote the other day, which spurred me to think and write about this topic. It was posted on Facebook (the group is called Women Shifting Consciousness and the author is Beverlee Garb) and read:
"Trust yourself, and you will be able to trust others."
Trust starts internally. Trusting that you know what's best for you, trusting your inner radar for what is acceptable and not acceptable, trust who you want as part of your inner circle of support and who you do not...Once you trust yourself, it is easy to trust others because they cannot disturb your inner friendship with yourself.
I don't know about inner friendship, but I do know that trust has to start someplace. Fear, anxiety, tension - all these are related to having learned to deny your basic self in order to survive. We feel these emotions when there is a disconnect between what we deeply know we need and what we have to do to survive. Try one thing - think of one way you can first know what you need and then trust yourself that it's real and that you can do it. Use active trust, and do one thing...just do it.
Please Note: The content on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. This is not therapy, and if you wish to work in therapy, please contact your local mental health agency or your physician for a referral.
If you are in crisis or danger, or are thinking about hurting yourself, please call 911 for immediate help. Please, again, realize that seeking out help really IS a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness. You don’t have to be alone in facing these things – there are people who care and who will help. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (970) 776-6043.