He was a horrendous driver. I, naturally, had grown used to the idea that we might die every time we got into his car. Driving down the 405 in the rain one night, the very prospect of a lane change had me in a particularly stiff state.
“Where’s the trust??” he’d looked over and asked me, and it was such a loaded question that it stopped something inside me completely and uncoiled the tightest part of me.
“Okay,” I’d said quietly, nodding, and I’d meant it, in all the ways I could.
A few weeks prior, I’d told him that I don’t trust easily, that I can sometimes be too quick to pull back, that I’m guarded, and he’d done everything he could in that moment to show me that I should. He’d been sincere about it; then he’d made a few lighthearted jokes about it; and then he’d thought up ways to prove it to me. I had believed him – I did very much trust him – but there was still a part of me, quiet but undeniably there, with very, very high walls.
It was only after he left, and after I then discovered a lie, that I learned how trust truly works. It was only after my walls hadn’t protected me from the way our trust broke that I understood what it really means to be guarded.
Here’s the cold hard truth:
If you feel that you can’t trust others, what you really feel is that you can’t trust yourself.
If you’re afraid of your ability to trust others, who you’re really afraid to trust is yourself.
For many of us, this is because of what we put up with in the past. We’re afraid of what we tolerated – when bad experiences were so new to us that we didn’t know any better, when our self-worth hinged so much on how others saw us, when we felt desperate and alone and unsure of who we were. And it made us hardened and petrified. It made us cautious about who we could trust, whether anyone should be let in.
Whether it was physical, sexual, emotional, all of the above or something else entirely, we became guarded when years of abuse stacked up and took their toll on us.
In the wake of the end of this relationship, I wanted to close the door, hard, fast, entirely. I wanted to get back to that “protected” place that is my world inside my walls. He had started to treat me differently – in my gut, I knew this. His words were genuine and reassuring; the way he took a day to respond to my texts said something different. My therapist challenged me to be patient.
“You want to quickly exit because you’re afraid that you’ll land yourself back in a place where you experience the same kind of abuse that you’ve experienced in the past,” she offered.
“But this is the fade out!” I’d yelled in frustration and stubbornness. “This is the avoidant route! This is the say-one-thing-and-mean-another route. This is the not-having-the-balls-to-be-honest-despite-how-we-always-talked-about-how-much-we-value-honesty route.”
“That might be true,” she pointed out, “but these are also all assumptions.” And as much as I ended up being right about him, she also, in that moment, was very much right too. His words had been saying something positive, and until I knew whether his actions did or did not match up, I was purely going off of assumptions.
“Be patient for just a few more days. Then you’ll know whether it’s time to go.”
Just a few more days. In the scheme of a lifetime, that’s nothing. But when you’re terrified to trust, when you’re guarded, it can feel like holding out for just a few more days will make you pitiful and pathetic and desperate.
“What if it turns out I was wrong? Doesn’t that make me stupid?”
“Not at all,” she had told me. “All that it means was that he wasn’t impeccable with his word.”
I understood this, but I still had my reservations. I still didn’t know how to trust myself. I still wanted to quickly exit.
Here’s the thing: I was so afraid to trust myself – to trust my ability to leave, to trust that I wouldn’t go back to that place of abuse that in the past I’d let myself fall into – that I didn’t want to get any further in, any deeper into this, to lose myself any more than I already had. I was so afraid to trust myself that I was willing to make assumptions and write someone off before I had enough information to know the truth.
She had been challenging me to be more patient, yes – is that the kind of person that I want to be? Is that what I want to carry forward into all of my relationships? But what I didn’t realize was that she was also challenging me to trust myself.
Because that’s what trust really comes down to. When we’re afraid to trust others, what we’re really afraid of is how we might react should they come to be untrustworthy. Can we trust ourselves to make the right choice? Can we trust ourselves to leave when we’re being mistreated? Can we trust that we won’t beg desperately for love and respect? Can we trust that we won’t stick around after kindness is long gone?
As it turns out, I did know how to leave. For the first time in my life, I waited patiently for the truth and then I drew a line at what I wouldn’t tolerate. And thus, what I needed to learn to trust all along was that I would know how to leave. What I needed to learn to trust – despite abuse of the past; despite my fear of letting myself go back there; despite my very, very high walls – was that I have the power to set my own boundaries. What I needed to learn to trust was myself.
If you’re guarded, perhaps what you need to learn to trust is yourself too.