The Aftermath of Loss & Betrayal
Trust is an essential ingredient in our lives as it lays the inner foundation for taking risks, trying new things, meeting new people and generally being open to new life experiences. Without trust we close our hearts and our minds and crawl into a hole, hoping to avoid any more pain. However trust is easily broken on many levels, and when major breaches of trust occur, we not only learn not to trust other people, but also ourselves and life. Rebuilding trust is a healing process, whether it is within an intimate relationship, a family or after a series of harrowing life experiences.
When we lose trust in life or in significant relationships, we lose trust in ourselves. In significant relationships such as couple’s relationships or family relationships, this can happen following sexual, physical and emotional abuse, personal violations, abandonment, or prolonged destructive patterns. In terms of general life events, loss of trust can follow trauma such as a plane crash, a serious car crash or natural disasters. These all lead to a loss of trust in our ability to protect ourselves and ensure safety and security. A loss of trust in ourselves and life is disorientating and feeds anxiety and depression. If the loss of trust is pervasive in life then we can start to heal by learning to trust ourselves.
Re-Building Trust in Perceptions & Emotions
The healing process to re-build trust in ourselves involves learning to reconnect to adaptive emotions, as part of the loss of trust is in our emotional guidance mechanism. Generally, after experiencing emotionally painful circumstances that rock our world and faith in life, our emotions become distorted. We can become very distressed and susceptible to depression and anxiety. Extreme circumstances lead to extreme emotions, which can mislead us if we do not understand the nature of emotions. Relearning to accurately listen to our emotions can result in re-engaging in self-trust.
When we do not trust our emotions, it is disorientating, confusing and impairs decision making. We do not believe that we will know how to cope with new situations. This is especially hard if the lack of trust of emotions resulted from childhood abuse, as there was never trust in emotions. If the abuse has been severe, it may be the case that the person also needs to learn to trust their own thoughts and perceptions as well as emotions. So learning to read emotions and distinguish between what are adaptive emotions as opposed to trauma emotions is vital to learning to trust ourselves.
Another important aspect of learning to trust ourselves is knowing how to establish and maintain healthy boundaries. Interpersonal boundaries are our ability to let in good, healthy experiences and keep out the destructive and painful experiences. Boundaries are about or ability to say “yes” and “no”.
When there have been interpersonal breaches of trust, abuse or personal violations, then trust can be difficult to maintain. We often question ourselves, such as “could /I have seen it in advance”, “why did they do this to me”, “what was so bad about me that they could have done this to me” etc. However, if someone has broken another person’s trust deliberately then they are responsible for their actions. Our only say in the situation is to stay or leave, and if the choice is to stay, then under what circumstances. For example, the criteria that may be put to a person who has abused the other that they seek therapy and that the relationship can only continue under safe circumstances. So establishing and maintaining safe and secure boundaries leads to increased trust in ourselves.
Trusting in Life
The final important aspect of re-building trust in ourselves that I will mention today is re-building trust in life. This can be very difficult after prolonged and severe abusive circumstances or a natural disaster. A counsellor once said to me “most of us live life under the illusion of safety” … of course, until it is devastated by traumatic experiences. The hard thing is that without trust there is a general foreshortened sense of future, disconnection with happiness and increased stress and anxiety. This is some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. So re-building trust under these circumstances is about creating new meaning of safety, security or purpose in life or even death.
It is interesting that one population that is particularly resilient to post-traumatic stress disorder is the Buddhist monks. Psychologist found that even after the atrocities that the Chinese Government inflicted on the Buddhist monk population in Tibet, which included torture and murder, most monks who survived were not traumatised.
When we look at the reasons behind the monk’s resilience, we find that their meaning of life and death is quite unique. Death is something they work towards their whole lives. A deep practice in meditation and mindfulness combined with a lifelong goal of reaching enlightenment buffers them from fearing death. Therefore they have a deep trust in life and death that many of us struggle with. Their trust is also not associated with physical safety and security. Rather they learn to detach from desire, including the desire to stay alive. In their detachment from the desire to live, they also lose their attachment to the emotions anxiety or fear that are usually associated with dying. Finally, with a loss of anxiety related to dying and powerful meanings about death that are positive, they also would not experience a loss of control in their lives or a sense of not coping. They are likely to experience some emotions, however they would not be consumed in the emotion nor would they hold on to the emotion in their bodies. So the Buddhist monks give us some interesting insights into trusting life, even in the face of trauma or adversity.
So whether rebuilding trust is following natural disaster or inflicted by other people, learning to trust ourselves again is vital to embracing life again. This could be done through reconnecting with ourselves and learning to trust our own thoughts, feelings and actions, or it may be through learning to establish healthy boundaries in interpersonal relationships. Finally, the meanings we make of life and death and the practice of mindfulness and meditation all contribute to establishing trust in life.
When has your trust been tested?
How did you overcome the challenge and re-build trust again?