For anyone who has ever been in an emotionally abusive relationship, the issue of trust looms large. The reason for this is simple – longer you stay in that relationship, the more systematically the abusive partner desecrates your trust.
Emotional abuse and the desecration of trust
Admittedly, “desecrates” is a big word to choose. Yet “desecration” conveys the reality of an emotionally abusive relationship more effectively than any other word I could choose. The relationship with an abuser or narcissist engenders the desecration of everything that you deem most precious. That is what makes the experience SO traumatic and so hard to recover from.
Babies come into the world with little alternative but to trust their caregivers. On the plus side, babies are programmed to enchant by their smiles, their irresistible appearance and – hopefully – their prowess in navigating key developmental stages.
If babies are lucky with their caregivers, then they learn the joy of growing up in an emotionally safe environment where their trust is justified. If they are less fortunate, they learn how to manage emotional deprivation. Not that anyone should have to manage emotional deprivation. But let’s give children – including, perhaps, our younger selves – credit for making the best we could of a bad job.
By teenagehood you may, or may not, have become a dab hand at shutting down, at not asking for what you most need and want. Still, the desire to be safe, loved, and validated remains undimmed.
Sooner or later, you meet someone who assures you that he can fill up that chasm of deprivation for you. He assures you that your trust in him will be richly rewarded.
How could you possibly look that Trust Horse (or, if you prefer, Love Horse) in the mouth?
The Deprivation Years and the Trust Horse
Not that you ever sit back and just attempt to bask in the sunlight of that Trust Horse’s love. Sure, he never gives you the chance. But, equally, that is not your style. Over the Deprivation Years, you have learned to work hard for every (promised) crumb of validation. You – more or less automatically – continue to do so.
Unfortunately, nothing you can do proves effective. Once the Trust Horse has you in his claws, he morphs into a true, four-pawed wolverine. Unfortunately, he totally lacks the appeal of the Hugh Jackman “Wolverine”.)
How could you not feel devastated? And how could you not blame yourself? After all, the very people who deprived you of what you most needed, blamed you for their behavior. Their argument/rationalization runs, roughly speaking, along these lines,
“It’s entirely your fault that I deprived you of love and emotional safety because you were scared, vulnerable and you dared to remind me that I hadn’t given you what you needed. How dare you suggest that you should be able to trust me. Who do you think you are?”
Does that make sense when you read it on the screen? It certainly shouldn’t.
So, who should you trust anyone after the experience that you have had?
“Anyone” is a bit of a big statement. So, let’s break it down a bit.
Who NOT to trust
Let’s start by looking at who you should not trust.
People who you would do better not to trust include,
- Anyone who has repeatedly let you down and blamed their bad behavior on you. (NOTE: This unconditionally excludes The Abuser Who Has Had The Proverbial Light-Bulb Moment. He – or she – can make a pretty promise. But they have no intention of delivering on that promise.)
- People of known bad character. If your friends all tell you that someone is a jerk, save yourself a LOT of emotional damage and believe them, first off.
- People who you sense have a red flag or two. Don’t rationalize it away. That never works.
Next question is,
What does experiencing trust mean to you – in the sense of how would it make you feel?
The feeling you get from trust
Answers to the question, “What does experiencing trust mean to you?” might read, “seen”, “heard”, “respected”, “cared for”, “validated”,” accepted”, “valuable”, “lovable”, “worthy”,” and precious”.
Would there be room for blame, criticism, rejection, accusations, hostility, attention-seeking, put downs, self-jealousy and sulking on the part of that trust-worthy other?
Would, in other words, their middle name be “Jerk”?
No. Trust should never be a zero hours contract affair.
That brings us back to the original question, “Who should I trust?” The answer is, of course,
The person you are actually least likely to trust. Although who, except someone whose middle name is “Jerk” could possibly blame you?
You have been trained to listen to abusers’ stories about you. In fact, you have likely been carrying them around all your life.
The abuser’s basic storyline
The basic storyline goes something like this,
“Once upon the time there was a little girl who was not good enough to be lovable. The people around her fixated on everything that they perceived to be wrong with her. They set themselves the task of punishing her into being good enough in their eyes. They committed to finding every last fault in her and bringing it to her attention. Over and over again. Her job was to strive for their kind of perfection and (love and) serve them no matter what. Her best efforts were always doomed to failure. The little girl grew to womanhood but nothing much really changed. She suffered horribly with the status quo but the people around her were too interested in their own agenda to care.”
That story has two possible endings,
- “One day the little girl, who was now an old lady, became so ill and exhausted with all that she had been through that she laid down and died.”
- “One day the little girl, who was by now a grown woman, became so sick of it all that she scraped up the courage to leave. Her fears that she could be making the worst mistake of her life proved to be unfounded. She discovered that her abuser(s) had always lied to her about how worthless she was. To her amazement, she found that was she a thoroughly lovable, gifted person. Plus, there were some really nice, interesting people around who she could actually enjoy spending time with. She never again trusted anyone whose middle name was “Jerk”. She lived happily ever after”.
The second version gets my vote. It also reflects the reality of women who leave, like K. who recently wrote to say,
“I didn’t know I could be so happy.”
“I am so glad I am no longer in his hold. Just over two years since he left the marriage, and I am a different person. I didn’t know I could be so happy, and the reason is not because I have found someone else. It has been just wonderful to rediscover myself and be able to rebuild who I am after so many ‘lost’ years where I came to doubt everything about myself, including my mental facility.
I feel like I am in a wide open, warm, sunny field, with room to grow and blossom once again.”
So, who should you trust?
Once again there are a few NOT’s around this. You should trust your gut (aka instinct) – but not your sense of deprivation, your anxiety, or you fantasies. You should trust your gut – but NOT your story. Other people wrote your story for you and they wrote to for their own satisfaction. You should trust your gut – but not your Hopium Addiction, your Comparisonitis, or your Impostor Syndrome.
Your gut is hardline. It doesn’t make excuses for other people and it doesn’t try to frighten you with talk of being in The Last Chance Saloon. It doesn’t like be rushed, pressured, or overlooked.
Actually, your gut is a whole lot smarter than your fears, your trauma, or your rational brain. Learn to listen to it and you will do just fine. Your gut doesn’t do pessimism and neither should you.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
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