Trust: Necessary for Satisfying Relationships

Trust is necessary for satisfying relationships.  Trust includes our abilities to be open, honest, and kind with one another. These trusting abilities depend on our current levels of emotional and physical wellness, our armor of “defense mechanisms,” our tool box of “coping skills,” and our “habits of spiritual life.”  We build these abilities and capabilities upon our early childhood experiences, our experiences while growing up, and our ongoing experiences in the present.
I recall an incident when I was about eight years old that affected my ability to trust others.  I lived in a small town with very few children near my age.  Except for me, a cousin two years younger, and my one-year old baby sister, there were no girls.
My boy cousin, a year older, was in the hospital recovering from infantile paralysis.  With no immunizations for childhood diseases and no antibiotics to treat infectious diseases, my parents restricted my contacts with the public and with neighboring children much of the time.  Most of my contacts were with my two sets of grandparents and occasional adults who came to our house on business.  And, at my age, I didn’t realize why my Dad didn’t want me to play with boys.
I had been forbidden to play with my girl cousin.  We had had a “fight” while playing in the sandbox over who was to be boss.  I was oldest and said she should do what I told her.  She was youngest and said she should have her way.  I said I was company and company goes first.  The sand flew.  My Aunt said I couldn’t come back.  I turned to dolls for companions until I heard Mother laugh at what I was doing and saying.  I stopped playing with dolls.  I was lonely.
It was summertime.  Mother was busy with the house and my baby sister.  Dad was working in the garage and didn’t want any help.
Two older boys lived down the road.  I didn’t know them very well, but we attended the same rural school.  Occasionally I saw them walking barefoot on the gravel road past our house on their way to the country store.    None of the children in our community attended the church, almost next door, where I attended Sunday School with my two grandmothers.  The people in Sunday School were all near my grandmothers in age, except me.  They treated me like a regular grown-up person, a member of the class, asking me questions and listening to my answers just like one of them.  They even asked me if I would like a turn teaching, but I said, “No, I can’t read well enough.”  The way they treated me made me feel very good, but I wanted to play and talk with someone my age, too.
On this day, I rode my pony along the fence in the small pasture behind our house hoping to see the ten and twelve-year-old boys whose backyard adjoined the fence of our pasture.  On the way, just past the churchyard, I heard a loud crash followed by metal pounding on metal that split the air and hurt my ears.  Both my pony and I jumped.  With my heart racing, I pulled up my pony to look and listen.  I heard voices and laughter.  I eased my reluctant pony closer to the fence and saw some young men bending over, working on a car.  They noticed me and asked what I was doing there.  I recognized two of them as a neighbor’s sons recently out of high school.  One had spoken kindly to me before.  I was a little embarrassed, like I’d been caught eaves-dropping and said,
“Well, if you’re not doing anything, go ask your Dad for a left-handed monkey wrench.”
“Why?  Don’t you have one?”  I asked.
“I need to borrow it.”
I hesitated, not sure they were serious.
“Go on!  Git!  Do what I say!!”
I felt scared, and decided in a flash to go get the wrench.  I said to myself, “It’s nice to be needed; trusted to go get something, instead of being scolded and sent away.”   I felt happy as I wheeled my old pony around, kicked him in the ribs and galloped back to our garage where Dad was working.
“Wilbert needs a left-handed monkey wrench and asked me to bring him one.”
“There ain’t no such thing!  They’re just joshin’ you!  What were you doing down there anyway?!”
“Nothin!  They just asked me to bring them a wrench.”
“You stay away from them boys!”
“But Daddy, they asked me to bring them a left-handed monkey wrench!  What should I do?”  (I didn’t want to give up the chance to be part of the fun and laughter.)
“You go back and tell that bunch, ‘There ain’t no such thing and for them to stop making fun of you!’  You’re just the butt of their joke!”
Very serious, confused, and yet, because of Dad’s anger, feeling like I had a right to be angry, I dashed my pony to their backyard fence.  I yanked Old Bally to a stop and stood up on my knees over his withers so I could see better over the weeds and fence.  Sternly I yelled,
“My Dad said to tell you there ain’t no such thing and for you to stop making me the butt of your jokes!!”
Their laughter was uproarious.  My face felt hot as I heard them repeat my words.  I spun my horse the other direction, and went back to the garage.
Yes, it was funny, and I can almost laugh as I write this and see the humor.  Yet as a child, I felt tricked and betrayed.  (It was years later that tool-makers began to adapt tools especially for left-handed people.)
If we were “tricked” once too often by the people we trusted when we were children, we will be wary of any requests or directions we get from other people now.  We question their sincerity.  “Are they trustworthy?”  “What do they, he or she, want out of this?”  “What are they not telling me?”
This lack of trust helps make great lawyers, spies, and military strategists, but if we are unable to trust we make poor lovers, husbands, wives, ministers, and “helper” careerists.  Nevertheless, a healthy amount of skepticism will tend to keep us from being “run over, railroaded, taken advantage of, and ignored.”  The degree of trust/distrust in any situation must be adjusted appropriately.
Those among us who are distrustful, who need to develop trust and the abilities to be open, honest, and kind, will need to  carefully select friends, family, and therapists for their abilities to be supportive and nurturing.  When we do find capable, caring, dependable people, we may find it hard to believe them.  We test them just as our children test us.  Often, we avoid people and situations that in any way remind us of old, painful memories.
We may have felt tricked when we learned different “truths,” or learned “the truth,” or were let down, teased, or ridiculed by somebody we trusted.  When that somebody was one of our parents, friends, brothers, sisters, teachers, or preachers, we were hurt all the more.
The “tricks” may have been relatively harmless, such as stories about tooth fairies, needles that don’t hurt, kisses that stop the “ouchies,” Santa and the chimney, or Easter bunnies and eggs.  The “tricks” may have been horrifying “secrets,” violations of the sanctity of the body, such as molestation, rape, incest, or open violations of the sanctity of the mind, such as incessant belittling and sarcasm.
Probably all of us have let others down sometimes, perhaps without intending to do so.  Sometimes, we may have been downright mean to others.  Are we sorry?  Do we apologize, ask for forgiveness, and try to do better?  Forgiveness can be sought and mercy received.  We can learn new ways of relating and receive the power to change.
Openness and honesty are essential to acquiring those deeply desired feelings of love and intimacy.  Yet openness and honesty make us highly vulnerable to others’ responses.  Some people just are not interested in us.  They don’t care to listen to us.  How much can we trust them if they don’t care enough to listen?  Or to look at us? Or if they laugh at us?  Or if they joke about us to their friends?  Or embellish our stories with false assumptions and additions of their own to become part of the town gossip?
Not every one deserves our trust.  For best friends, sexual partners, physicians and therapists, we must choose carefully, then dare to trust.  We must feel secure in their confidentiality and their respect.  We must feel secure enough in their kindness to be open and honest.


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