Part of our awakening as grownups is the realization that people we have trusted, have not always deserved it. Perhaps it comes as a hurtful surprise. We want to believe that others have warm thoughts and benign intentions toward us. Then we get a nasty jolt. It’s happened to us all, in one form or another: the friend who says one thing to your face, and another thing behind your back. The sabotaged job opportunity. The partner with entanglements. The sarcastic parent. The fluent teller of tales. Our hearts are wounded, and we vow to never be vulnerable again. Yet the desire for trust, for relationships you can count on in the dark, never goes away.
What do we do with our disappointment, in order to protect ourselves from harm, and yet manage to avoid becoming cynical or chronically depressed, expecting the worst from people all the time, and feeling doomed to recurring hurt or isolation? One thing we really can’t afford to do is to ignore the violation, even if asked nicely. Second chances are not first chances; we can’t forget it ever happened. That is not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is the willingness to separate the deed from the doer, and to imagine a better outcome, as if there could be a do over, in an alternate universe. It may not be possible in this one. The seeds of change may not be present. If a door opens, it leads to somewhere new.
Those who violate our trust cannot return to the same relationship, because it no longer exists. What replaces it is bound to be more complicated. We are probably more mindful of the signs of trouble, small betrayals of trust that may be early warnings. When we trust our own wisdom about when we are at peace in the company of another person, we can avoid situations in which we feel powerless. This is good, because depression lies down that road. Cynical mistrust is no more reliable a screening tool than naïve trust of everyone who breathes. We can allow people to carefully earn the chance to get close, without allowing our entire wellbeing to depend upon them. What may emerge is a more mature form of love that allows us to respect and care for one another, with our eyes open.
As one of my clients put it so vividly, we can love them with a long handled spoon.