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What does it mean to trust someone?

I hear it from friends and clients all the time, "I'm not sure if I can trust him/her?" We are so fixated on a black and white reality that we take a concept as complex as trust and we try to make it simple. It is like we have a ledger with have 2 categories: Trustworthy or Untrustworthy.

The truth is, in order to trust someone else, you need to be able to trust yourself. No one is trustworthy in every scenario. We have to trust our ability to look at someone in context. We have to trust ourselves to actually see the other person. We have to know ourselves well enough to know how much space and how much closeness we need from other people in order for the relationship to function well and be fulfilling.

We all have close friends who we are able to say we trust because our measuring stick is very intimate: we trust them to create a safe environment for us to be vulnerable and share our emotions and hopes and dreams. We trust that when we tell them something in confidence that they hold it in confidence. But is this the only way to measure trust? What if the same friend who can support me emotionally is always late? Or is someone who often forgets our dates to meet up? How does that affect trust? For me, it doesn't come down to "can I trust her or not?" The question is "what can I trust in her?" Seeing that trust isn't black and white, I usually make a "plan B" when we make a plan to meet up. In this way, I am not making myself dependent on her. I have my own back. I trust myself.

I have a good friend who's care for me is palpable, however, she is not someone I trust with holding my vulnerable parts. She is judgmental, and when I have tried to speak intimately with her, I always end up feeling bad about myself. She is not a safe person for that type of connection. I trust MYSELF enough to see that she really loves and cares about me. Her life is busy with several young children and it's hard for her to find the time and emotional bandwidth to understand what I'm going through. So, instead, she judges. I can trust her to do exactly that. In this friendship, I know I can count on her for other things. She will be the first to recognize and celebrate my successes. She is the most thoughtful and generous gift giver I know. If I need a favor like a ride to the airport or someone to watch my child, she always says yes. I can trust her to do exactly all those things. Seeing these things in her allows me to relate to her in a way that I can trust, because again, I trust myself to not open up to her deeply but still experience the warmth of her friendship and her love for me.

We are so "other oriented" in the way we are taught to think about relationship that it is really difficult to stop pointing our fingers towards another when we talk about Trust. Of course there are breaches of trust when a partner betrays us by having an affair, or a friend shares something we told them in confidence. I'm not speaking about those extreme examples. I am talking about how we often make a bad choice in trusting someone we know who has shown us they can't live up to our requests or their promises. There is a story about a man who is trying to cross a forest path but a snake is lying in the middle of the path. The snake tells the man, "You can cross, I won't bite." The man thinks about it for a minute and slowly begins to cross the path. All of the sudden the snake bites him. The man says, "You promised you wouldn't bite me! What gives?" and the snake replies, "But I'm a snake, that's what snakes do."

Consider your closest relationships. What are the things you can trust in the people around you? Who can you count on them to be? What boundaries do you need to put into place in order to have your own back? What do you trust about yourself?

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