memoir · mental illness · personal

Radical Trust Part 1

There’s nothing quite like laying on the floor curled in the fetal position and weeping in a room full of strangers and receiving kindness and acceptance to help build your trust in people.

I have to back up a bit.

Calling them strangers reduces what they were to me, what they came to mean to me, in eight weeks. This was the third week, maybe the fourth. I can’t really remember.

I have to back up again.

My therapist wanted me to take part in group therapy–yoga therapy, to be more precise. I was reluctant, but willing to take her advice because she hadn’t sent me in a bad direction during my time with her. I didn’t want to do this, though. I didn’t want to share my issues with a roomful of people.

See, I’m an extremely open person. I share a lot about myself, and then often regret it because I seem to share too much too soon. I only do this when I feel a connection to people, which I usually feel instantly or not at all. I’m so enthusiastic when I feel this connection, that I overflow with information. Then I’m hurt when the sharing and trust are not returned. I’ve started to limit the opportunity for that kind of exposure, to distance myself from people I share with. Or, on the flip side, I latch onto the people I have shared with, perhaps to make sure that the connection remains, that it was real and not imagined, to ensure that it didn’t come from some desperate need to feel (at the expense of being redundant) connected.

I don’t have the “appropriate” social filters. I often feel as if I embarrass people with my frankness. The last thing I wanted was another situation where I would share my vulnerabilities and watch faces mold themselves into guarded expressions or awkward smiles or, perhaps the worst, openly showing horror or sympathy or pity or sometimes fascination, as if my life is a story they’re reading instead of something that belongs to the person sitting before them.

I started to loathe these reactions while I was married, and two years in he wanted a divorce. I had no friends that lived nearby and none of my friends back in Washington seemed interested in my life unless I was happy. And to be honest, I was embarrassed by my situation. I started talking to people I only slightly knew, people in my college classes, people at work at Home Depot. The reactions from some were genuine kindness. From others, just pure discomfort, and then a range of emotions and reactions in between.

Then, two years later, when the divorce finally happened, I ended up talking about it again, at work, with classmates, and, once, in a small group independent study. I sometimes felt awkward or embarrassed when this happened, but needed to share so I forgave myself.

I learned later that peers talked about me behind my back, sketched me out in their conversations as overly dramatic, unintelligent, making grabs for sympathy in hopes of getting grades I didn’t deserve. Hurt, shocked, and deeply shamed, I started acting like everything was okay, and also assumed that, from that point on, everything I said would be used against me.

Imagine, then, my anxiety at attending group therapy, where I would be required to share. I would be required to invite judgment, mandated to shame myself in what others perceived as pathetic grabs at sympathy and pity.

I realized through this experience that I had trust issues. (well, so does everyone, right? bear with me). I always knew I did, but I thought it had to do with existing relationships, with all the people who had earned my trust, but to whom I could not fully give that trust.

But the real problem was in not trusting people who had not yet earned it.

This doesn’t sound like a problem, right? You shouldn’t trust people you don’t know. They might be bad, they might hurt you, trick you, cheat you. Trusting people who haven’t earned it is what gets you featured in a news story, used as an example of naivety, presented as someone who should have known better. A tragedy on the evening news for people to shake their heads over and use to prove their own savvy. “I never would have done that, so I will be okay.”

But that’s the thing. I’ve been hurt, physically and emotionally, more often by the people I do know than by strangers and acquaintances. So why am I supposed to trust them more?

Trusting strangers. Trusting acquaintances. Trusting people who haven’t yet earned it.

This concept would be one of radical trust.

What would this kind of radical trust do for the world?

That brings me back to the beginning of my story.

I did not expect to develop trust for people I did not know by the end of an eight week therapy session. But then, I did not expect them to accept me without judgment. I did not expect to share my traumas and receive kindness. I did not expect them to trust me with their traumas.

I didn’t leave the group miraculously trusting everyone–this isn’t a TV show. I still have a ways to go, building trust. But this did help me identify a major problem, this general mistrust. It closes me off to new experiences and new people. It keeps me from growing.

And outside of myself, mistrust generates a lot of tumult in our world. Hatred and fear and violence develop out of mistrust. We don’t trust the people we don’t know.

So, I ask again, what kind of change could come from radical trust?

To be continued in future posts.

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