The fluid nature of trust

One of my clearest memories from childhood is walking barefoot on the gravel driveway at the farm I lived at until I was five. I remember the way I had to step slowly so that the gravel wasn’t painful on bare feet.  I had gotten out of the car and was walking around it to go up towards the house, and one of my parents was still in the car.  I remember distinctly as I walked in front of the car, making sure I had my hand on the hood the whole way around. It wasn’t for balance, it was because I rationalized that if I had my hand on the hood, they couldn’t run me over.

Now my parents have never been abusive.  In fact, they have never so much as hit me, my household was one where spanking was never an option and I’m glad for it.  I had absolutely no reason to fear that my parents would out-of-the-blue decide to run over their small child, but for some reason that was a fear of mine at that young age.  Not even a fear really, I don’t think I really felt a fear of anything at that age, it was just a vague concern that I wanted to prevent by having my hand out to steady the car at all times.  Aside from the fact that this indicates to me that my young child brain was not as good at being rational as I thought (because how the hell is my hand on the hood going to in any way prevent someone from running me over if they wanted too?), this is something I have thought about often and wondered if I had trust issues.

As a preteen and then young teen, I liked to say that I was very un-trusting.  That someone had to work hard to earn my trust, and if they done fucked up then that was it, trust wasn’t coming back.  Honestly though, that didn’t mess up with my experiences.  I often depended on people in ways that left me disappointed, and my intense heartbreak when people I was close to didn’t measure up to my expectations, shows me that by that point I had started investing a lot of trust in the few people I was close to.  But I didn’t want to be seen as someone trusting.  Was that just edgy teen angst, or did it reflect back on my strange childhood relationship with trust and unrealistic concerns about being hurt?

Thus followed a good many dysfunctional relationships, I was a bit of a hot mess, and not very self aware.  I thought I was self aware, because honestly compared to my peers I certainly did more introspection.  I would ask acquaintances and strangers in high school about things like what they thought of themselves, how they would describe themselves, their passions and dreams, what motivated them, what they would change about themselves if they could, and so on.  Many were unable to answer and admitted they had never thought about any of that, they were just living day to day.  Thinking back, maybe they weren’t comfortable giving those kind of answers to a quirky quiet kid who was suddenly badgering them with personal questions.  A lot of folks I accosted did seem genuinely confused that these were even topics to think about though, and I was left feeling like I was clearly so much more self aware and far beyond my years in philosophical thought.  So, I represented myself as such, and fucked up a few close relationships because of how much I did not know that I did not know.  I was good at seeming wise, but I barely knew myself, I had only scratched the surface of what I thought on a regular basis, and was not good at understanding and dissecting my motivations, or working through what I felt.

Fast forward through trauma, abuse, and the drunk years, and you have who I’ve become in the past four years or so.  I pause often before I speak, and try to really dig deep into my own thoughts and history and motivations.  I still have not figured out if I have trust issues, either in being too trusting, or not trusting enough. I know that the way I trust has adapted and become much more healthy, I feel, through my exploration of polyamory and relationship anarchy.  When you have multiple relationships and no one person carries the burden of being expected to meet all your needs, you trust different people for different things.  When relationships do not need to check off specific boxes of all being romantic, sexual, etc, you can tailor what you expect and depend on folks for even more to the specific individual.  With labels and prioritization of relationships mostly off the table at least as a standard, I find it is much simpler to base trust on the unique dynamic I have shaped with someone, rather then on an idea of what trust should be as an all encompassing thing.

The way I trust now is a circumstantial thing, it is adaptable, it is fluid.  I base expectations on what people tell me they can do, and what they show me they can do.  If someone tells me I can trust them to be supportive, but they consistently disregard my feelings and are not present to listen when I need help, I try not to react with anger or betrayal.  Instead I re-evaluate my trust in their ability to do what they say.  They are no longer categorized in my mind as someone who can be supportive, instead they are someone who wants to be supportive but often falls short, and my expectations change.  I also may be less trusting about other things they say they can do, but it is not a judgement meant to disparage them, it is an awareness that they are probably not quite aware of their abilities and limits when they communicate what can be expected of them.  There is no concept in my mind anymore of absolute trust, there is just a continued assessment and re-assessment of what the people in my life say they are capable of, how that matched up with what they show in their actions.  I do need a baseline level of trust in key needs, security that I am physically safe with someone, that they strive for honesty in their communication and are often successful, that they make every effort to take commitments seriously and don’t make them casually and with a disregard for their abilities.  But what I can trust people to do and be is variable.  I don’t think I have trust issues now, though I don’t buy into having the faith in people, the magical “complete and absolute trust” that I hear lauded as an ideal.  Trust is given in equal measure for what is provided in return, and those things need not be great or numerous for me to be content, it is just a descriptive for what I can expect and what I cannot.


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