Monday, July 18, 2011

Trusting Others, Part Deux

This post is a follow up to this post.

Doesn't trust also require us to "assume that the same pattern will repeat itself indefinitely”? What makes trust any less presumptuous than mistrust?

One could argue that adopting a template of trust is more irrational and more presumptuous than one of mistrust, since mistrust only requires that we accept the fallibility of other humans and the potential for that fallibility to cause us harm. The outcomes of being wrong in any particular instance are far less hazardous with that model.

In fact, whether rational or not, expecting future outcomes to be like past ones is how we learn about the world. If we didn’t make (accurate) predictions based on past experiences we couldn’t navigate our way through the world at all: it’s the foundation of knowledge and intelligence. Isn't it the definition of insanity to expect different outcomes from the same behavior?

Philosophical nit-picking aside, I don’t know if I really expressed what I meant. I’m not talking about a “breach of trust” – which presupposes that one already trusts the person and they have done something to dishonor that trust. In that case, I agree, talking with the person is the right thing to do (depending on how serious the breach was and whether you want to salvage the relationship).

I’m talking about mistrusting someone from the start. Something just seems “off”. You feel it in your gut. Maybe you can find some rationalizations, but nothing definitive. It’s not worth talking to the person about, because you will likely alienate them, besides which, you don’t trust them, so why would you trust their reassurances? Opening yourself up like that makes you vulnerable, which is the last thing you want to be around someone who wants to hurt you. And that’s what I mean when I say I don’t trust someone – I don’t trust their motives. I don’t trust them not to harm me/people I care about.

How do you learn to trust your gut in those circumstances? I second guess myself all the time. I give people the benefit of the doubt over and over, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that I don’t consider myself to be a trusting person - the issue is that I don’t even trust *myself* to assess the trustworthiness of others. And yet, I think I should, because I’m usually right. But am I right because everyone slips up from time to time? Am I right because I create self-fulfilling prophecies? And is it more important to have faith in others than to be right? I don’t know. It’s a big issue for me and I don’t have any answers.

I wrote a whole bunch and forgot to elucidate the problem: which is the torturous uncertainty of having misjudged someone/written them off unfairly. I find that very painful to deal with.You're probably going to say that's not the real problem, but it is from my perspective.

SOME PEOPLE ARE VERY sensitive to rejection. I'm one of those people. I've noticed a few things about people sensitive to rejection. First, they have a high need for quality intimacy even if the quantity is modest. Two, they are very concerned with hurting other people and that becomes a big reason not to get involved with them. Three, the fear of rejection hurts much more than the actual rejection itself. Four, they are actually quite strong, and when they face the fear of rejection/abandonment/being forgotten, they become immediately empowered. Five, they are very good at reading people, but poor at reading themselves. Sound somewhat accurate?

The fear of rejection (I like to think of it as a fear of isolation) is innate of course, but certain circumstances can heighten people's sensitivity. One is a rough childhood in which the child gets hurt by an abandonment and doesn't have the tools (often secure family members) to help them bounce back. Another source--and this is my own theory--is that kids can inherit fears of isolation from their environment. If a mother of father has a fear of abandonment, the kid can absorb it through interesting ways. The kid might mirror the parent's emotional panic or avoidance of close relationships or engage in inauthentic role-playing to appease others (for fear of rejection). A lot of that, I suspect, is subconscious.

When you have a strong fear of isolation, you tend to see the world as it relates to that fear. One thing that happens is you develop a script. That script might say "I will meet people, but they will always be in the process of leaving me." Then everything becomes connected to that expectation, monitoring it, consciously trying to avoid and unconsciously trying to confirm it. Your mind is always busy. You split up the world into categories of people like "trustable" and "unstrustable." You become preoccupied with evaluating others and yes, like you said, you run a very serious risk of pushing others away both accidentally and intentionally, to confirm your hypothesis that people cannot be trusted (the script).

I think I get the dilemma you're in, because I get into similar dilemmas, where I feel anxious (non-trusting) around someone but know that I'm biased and question the accuracy of my interpretations. I also understand your dilemma also has to do with unfairly disqualifying others.

The good news is that I think there are ways to get out of this dilemma which I'll divide into 3 categories: surrender, distraction/humor, and confrontation. Understanding might be another option, but it doesn't quite work for me. 
  1. Surrender. Do nothing. The situation is complex, and trying to manage your thoughts and feelings and put them all in their proper place is hopeless. The problem is incredibly complex and it may not even be something you could ever solve with proper understanding and control. Acknowledge the full fucked-upedness of the situation and just wait. Let it remain confusing for a while. Maybe something will loosen up and a new option will present itself.
  2. Distraction/humor. Laugh at something related to your predicament. Yes, we know it's very serious and complicated, but in the end, what is it you're worried about? Reduce it to something so fundamental (like atoms avoiding atoms) that it becomes absurd and takes some of the edge off. Now wait. See if things feel as heavy as they did before.
  3. Confrontation. What is it that you're ultimately afraid of? Picture it happening and just wait. I believe that people who are sensitive to rejection are some of the strongest people you'll ever meet when they confront their fears and find courage. Are you afraid people will leave you? Hurt you? Look down upon you? Afraid you'll hurt them? Picture it and confront it.
Try them out and see what works. None of these are really solutions, they're just approaches to help your mind settle so you can decide with greater clarity and confidence. When your emotions aren't stewing around and making the waters choppy, you can look clearly and see what's at the bottom of the pool. Or swamp, depending on how screwed up you are. :) You're still going to have to figure out how to respond to the situation. Maybe you're right not to trust them, maybe you were worried about nothing, maybe something else entirely.

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