A few days ago Karin wrote a wonderful blog on trust, that started me thinking about the construction of trust as well.
What is trust, do we ever stop to think of what the word actually represents ? I mean what does it contain, beyond the word-symbol ? Trust is a composite feeling that we experience when someone we know behaves predictably. Inconsistency feels mistrustful. Our ability to ground ourself and feel safe comes from our ability to predict the immediate or foreseeable future. Perceiving the future as predictable reduces our existential anxiety. We can take it for granted that we will live through it, and our struggle for survival becomes less intense. When we are not able to predict the environment, our survival fears are paramount. When the other person fails to be consistent, or is erratic, we lose our trust in them because we no longer can predict our future with them. Our sense of personal safety is threatened. In the absence of this predictive validity there is chaos, there is no trust.
Another component of our trust is generated when that we experience – not just believe – that the other has our best interest in mind. Hence our trust in god, and a deep mistrust in satan. When someone tries to harm us, we lose trust in them.
Honesty seems to be yet another component of trust. When someone we know is dishonest to us, or in the relationship, then we cannot trust them, and we cannot trust the relationship. Disrespect for someone doesn’t engender trust either.
Further, it isn’t necessary to be just honest, the person should also possess integrity – they should also have the conviction to act on that honesty – ethically and morally – even when no one is watching. It is absolutely useless to be honest and have no integrity.
Responsibility is another component of trust. To be experienced as trustworthy, one should accept responsibility for one’s behavior. All of these are necessary to engender trust. Should any of them fail, the construct of trust is revealed to be hollow in that relationship.
There are people who spend years trying to build a facade of being trustworthy. They lie to themselves, they lie to the other. Their relationships are a farce. Such people may command trust from others thru their sheer effort for a while, but such trust is not real, it is a mirage. They work too hard. When they don’t reveal themselves fully, and are dishonest to themselves or the other over a prolonged period, they become passive aggressive. They have had to pretend to be nice when they did not actually feel nice. This leads to tremendous amount of violence becoming trapped within. Their shadow is much more lethal than the shadow of the person who has a well integrated shadow that is used to shape and control and adapt to the environment. Their aggression builds up over the years, and is discharged in a different way – it is usually disguised as excessive sweetness that can only be transient. Anything in excess is unbalanced and cannot be sustained. Hence the other side of excessive sweetness if often sadism or sadomasochism – conscious or unconscious. In these people thoughts, become prominent, acquiring an obsessive quality. This makes guilt and shame very powerful. What people will think of them, is more important to them then what their own ethical compass dictates. Their life wears many masks.
On the other end of the spectrum are people who are ruthlessly honest. The world may not agree with them,but they sleep well at night. Their ability to tolerate guilt and shame is practically non existent because they rarely do things that go against the grain of existence, against their dharma. There is no inner space to maintain a facade. A person can only be honest to another if he has learnt to be honest to themselves, and have integrity towards themselves. Self is a training ground that we use to hone our relationship with others. And a self is created by our early environment. If one has been demeaned and abused as a child, one will demeans and abuse the self, and one will be bound to demean an abuse the other. Demeaning of the self is a consequence of some developmental trauma which needs to be resolved – through therapy, through religion, through self awareness and realization – before one can become a whole, before one can be at peace with themselves. Before one can allow themselves to be honest with themselves. Fear, shame, guilt are alien to a person who is honest, ethical and moral towards themselves. And such people can discharge any residual toxic energy safely, without affecting others. Since no energies are used to repress these feelings, the psychic energies of such people can be diverted to other creative endeavors. Artists, writers etc, for example, are honest in their work, being rarely deceitful. They would not be able to create if they were dishonest.
Trust – I believe – does not have to be created, but comes effortlessly in a relationship, if one adheres to the virtues that we discussed above. So if a person is consistent, acts in the best interest of self and others, is honest, has integrity and takes responsibilities for their own actions – all of which, by the way, cannot be fudged – then they don’t have to work to win trust. It is an intangible, elusive consequence of good dharma.
What is Dharma really? Dharma is basically all that which constitutes our ethical obligation in the universe. The dharma of the kidney cells is to work tirelessly the way it does. The kidneys are supported in these ways of the cell. The dharma of the heart cells is to work tirelessly the way it was meant to work. It does not have to do anything special to support the heart, but the heart – and the body – are supported as a consequence of its mundane, tireless work. Both kind of cells have to be true to their nature. We humans too are required to be true to our nature. The universe is supported by our truthfulness. The dharma of the scorpion is to sting. The scorpion serves a certain purpose in the universe, or else it would have not existed, or would have become extinct. In a similar way, evil too is a necessity in the universe. It highlights the good into our awareness.
When we perform our dharma, without being desirous of rewards for our work, or looking for any particular outcome – the kidney cells do not ask for rewards, nor do they know why they do what they do and that is why we trust them absolutely – it leads to optimal functioning of the universe, which is all one is required to work towards. It leads to good karma , just like good kidneys are a consequences of good dharma of the kidney cells and lead to health ! This is how I understand the law of dharma and karma. Do your duty to the best of your ability, and let the universe take care of other things. The problem arises when we try to mind everyone’s business but our own. I said to someone a few days ago – imagine if kidney cells started telling the heart cells what to do ! Horrors !!! When one does one’s own work, to the best of one’s ability, with honesty, integrity and responsibility, the universe takes care of the toxicity that arises outside of that person, and that work. It is not my job to clear that toxicity, the universe will take care of it..
So trust can also be defined as an experience – not a faith but an experience – of the other taking their dharma seriously. When we experience a break in other person’s dharma – when the person is inconsistent (kidney cells are never inconsistent) – we lose trust. When any person harms us, or is dishonest, or we perceive that they lack integrity, or if they refuse to take responsibility for their actions, they are not following their dharma, and we lose trust in them.
The construction of trust is what gets broken in PTSD also. An external trauma is exactly like having ones trust broken. In this instance, the environment, and the universe is the other. In PTSD we lost trust in the beneficence of the universe. The universe is perceived to be inconsistent, it doesn’t act in our best interest, we understand we believed in a lie when we took the goodness of the universe for granted, so there has been dishonesty, lack of integrity and responsibility on the part of the universe which actually is amoral, inconsistent, and chaotic. The latent fears of survival return, and with it, the existential anxiety. We defend against annhilation. Though the left brain can make out the difference between the two, the right brain – the instinctual brain – doesn’t distinguish between the two situations – betrayal of trust *is* trauma, which causes PTSD. Hence when the trust is broken, the symptoms that may appear have much in common with the symptoms of PTSD. (How the heck do Cognitive Behaviorists, and DSM worshippers separate these two? And why would they separate the two anyway?).
The treatment of betrayal thus has a lot in common with the treatment of PTSD.
Who would have thought trust needed to be such fundamental component in the fabric of our being. Absolutely necessary for our survival.
Can trust betrayed be regained? This in itself is a topic for a separate blog, requiring significant contemplation, but briefly, break in trust is like a basic fault. The fault is always there, threateningly menacing. It rumbles, and shakes the structure of relationship, causing occasional earthquakes. One may choose to live in the quake infected areas, or one may leave the area. There is no getting away from the basic fault.
However, in my opinion, the more intensely one follows the policy of non attachment, the more possible it becomes to overcome betrayals, because one is not invested inany outcome. However it takes two to tango, which is very rare. Hence in my opinion, and despite all the couples therapists may say, the memories of betrayal are forever. One may choose to live with it, or the person, but the PTSD is forever…affecting the core of a person’s psyche. There is a wound, a complex, that has stained the fabric of a person’s being.
A lot of people think they deserve to be trusted. They demand trust and will get mad if we don’t trust them, or if we withdraw our trust in them based on their behaviors. However, trust can only be earned. To give your trust to someone is a privilege that they must deserve and earn. To be trustworthy is an ethical obligation that the universe demands of us.