"As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live."
Trust is a tricky subject. Trusting yourself, trusting others, and even distinguishing who is trustworthy can be beyond challenging. Often times we find ourselves disappointed by people, let down again and again, when it actually stems from you placing your trust in someone that doesn't deserve it. Or at least expecting something from someone who has given you no reason to expect that.
My Mom often says "People tell you who they are. It's up to you to listen to them", and I believe that unquestioningly. It gets hard, however, when what the person is telling you – in words or actions – is something unsavory. Something unflattering. Something unhealthy. It's then when we begin to make excuses, trying to justify or rationalize their bad behavior or actions or traits into something acceptable. In essence, you're repainting the picture, creating a new mental image of them instead of accepting the reality of their being, flaws and all. This is when we get into trouble.
We begin viewing the person as we wish them to be, instead of who they are. We may not be doing this consciously, but it affects our relationship with them because our expectations no longer meet the reality. This only leads to disappointment.
As with most of us, I've had this experience in the past. Hell, in my present. I've wanted so much for people to be their best – looking at their potential and translating that into their false reality – that I ask more than they are prepared (or are willing) to give instead of accepting them for their faults and adjusting my behavior accordingly. Basically, I am not trusting them enough to let them behave authentically to themselves. I need to let people be who they are, however unflattering that is.
My friend Maggie linked to a great article in Oprah Magazine (DON'T JUDGE US!) about trust. It asks you to think of someone important to you and then answer the following questions about them. I'm not going to try and paraphrase; here's a snippet from the article (written by Martha Beck):
Here are a few obvious questions I've found very helpful in quantifying the trustworthiness of people in my own life. The first three are the "yes" questions; if Person X is completely trustworthy, you'll answer yes to all three. The second three are the "no" questions—if Person X deserves your trust, the answer to all three will be negative.
The "yes" questions:
1. Does Person X usually show up on time?
2. When Person X says something is going to happen, does it usually happen?
3. When you hear Person X describing an event and then get more information about that event, does the new information usually match Person X's description?
The "no" questions:
4. Have you ever witnessed Person X lying to someone or assuming you'll help deceive a third person?
5. Does Person X sometimes withhold information in order to make things go more smoothly or to avoid conflict?
6. Have you ever witnessed Person X doing something (lying, cheating, being unkind) that he or she would condemn if another person did it?
These questions might seem trivial. They're not. As the saying goes, "the way we do anything is the way we do everything." I'm not saying we have the ultimate power or right to judge others. But if you trust someone whose behavior doesn't pass the six screening questions above, your trust-o-meter may well be misaligned. If Person X rated more than one "no" on the first three questions, and more than one "yes" on the second three, they don't warrant total trust at present. If you trust someone who blew all six questions, you need some readjustments. You don't have to change Person X (you can't), but you do need to take a hard look at your own patterns of trust.
By the way, if you're now rationalizing Person X's behavior with arguments like "But he means well" or "It's not her fault; she had a terrible childhood," your trust-o-meter is definitely on the fritz. These are the small lies we use to tell ourselves we're comfortable when we aren't. It's not the end of the world if Person X lies to you. Lying to yourself, on the other hand, can make your life so miserable, the end of the world might be a relief.
Thinking of someone who was often hurting my feelings or letting me down, I completed this exercise with him/her in mind. I answered 'yes' to two questions in the first set, and answered 'no' to two in the second. According to the article, they don't "warrant total trust at present." I started to defend them, started to list all of the amazing things they do for me and the traits they have and then…I stopped. It was pretty clear there that the issues I was having stemmed from me just simply not being able to trust them. Or, put more accurately, them not warranting my trust.
Even in realizing that someone is untrustworthy, we're stuck in a tricky situation. Initiating a conversation with someone where the message is, in essence, that you don't trust them, is uncomfortable. Painful, even. And often causes them to be defensive. I don't really have a solution for this – at least not a "one-size-fits-all" one, since this should be addressed on a case-by-case basis – but advocate two things: Trust the person to be who they are, however disappointing that reality may be for you. And while you're doing so, trust yourself that in doing so, you're actually changing your expectations, and helping your relationship with them in the long run. And then, my friend, as Goethe says, you're living.