Aaaah, trust. That ever elusive concept of human relationships… Trust I think -maybe more than anything- is something that survivors struggle with. Whether they trust too easily or not at all, building healthy relationships requires some skill in trusting. Although I understand that everyone – survivor or not – will at some point in their lives trust someone they shouldn’t, it seems to me that the experience of abuse makes our trust meter go haywire.
To Trust Or Not To Trust
It struck me this week that there really are two opposite responses to trust after recovering from abuse. Either you are so conditioned to trust your abuser, even with all your inner alarm bells going off, that you trust anyone. Even if (maybe even especially so) when your inner alarm bells are screaming at you to run. The other extreme response is to trust no-one and nothing. The realization that someone you were close to abused you, can leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable to the extent where you simply don’t trust yourself to trust the right people.
A few years ago, I realized that dealing with the emotional gameplay of my toxic parents had left me and my husband at opposites of this extreme scale. It may sound like we balanced each other out, but in reality, it led to a lot of over-trusting and then running away. We trusted people 100 or 0%, there was no middle ground.
The Survivor Learning to Trust
Learning to trust those around us and build healthy meaningful relationships, but also – and maybe even more so – learn to trust ourselves…it’s an important aspect of our healing. Melissa Schenker has some interesting thoughts about Trust that she shares in her blog on The Huffington Post. She describes trust not so much as something we bestow on others, and leave for them to gain, keep or lose. She argues that trust is something we keep inside ourselves, it is our own judgment about our safety and well-being in a relationship that should be the gage of whether we are in a good or bad relationship. This means that the indication for trusting someone is not their behavior, but how their behavior makes us feel. This, of course, makes learning to trust exceptionally hard for survivors. We have had our inner-voices jammed so much by our abuser, that we can sometimes barely hear it.
Trusting the Healing Journey
However, I did not want to talk about the effects of (emotional) abuse on trust issues. I wanted to talk about the healing journey. There too, trust has been a recurring theme. As a matter of fact, it is at the basis of everything the SwanWaters team and I have built. When the Founding Members first met in virtual communities, what they built was a trusting relationship. After some time, there was enough trust to exchange email addresses, Skype handles and later real names, street addresses, you name it. Along the way, we have lost survivors that were not ready for this commitment because with trust comes vulnerability. Luckily we also gained new survivors, people we met online or in real life who related to our story and wanted to be part of it.
A Community of Trust
So here we are some years later and we have built and are building a virtual community. A community where we all share certain experiences, but we approach them all very differently. We all have our own coping mechanisms, support networks and theories about how we can best heal and deal with the bumps we face in the road ahead. We may never have seen each other, but we trust that those in this community are here with an understanding of our background and a genuine desire to connect with us and help us. There is trust here, and everyone in this community can feel it and is willing to protect it.
What we have created in fact is an online family (an actual one, no Toxic Folk ;-)). We learn to trust each other, and ourselves. When in doubt we ask the others to amplify our inner-voices so we can begin to hear them again.