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Soldiers in LockstepThere has been so much written and expressed about beliefs. We often find ourselves talking about unshakable beliefs or that someone’s belief has carried them through their hard times. We use the word excessively when defending our position or trying to make a point. It’s also almost always at the root of how we describe ourselves to others second only to our career and the functional capacity others see us in. But are beliefs truly cast in stone? Are they something that are unshakable? Are they truly something we can say that we’d die for? Or is that just lip service spoken to stay in line with what’s expected of us echoing all the way back to when our parents made us swear to keep the rules or promise to behave in a way that would earn and keep their love and respect? And even after all those commitments and dedications to what we’ve been taught to believe, do we even know what the word means let alone where it actually comes from? I think not. Most of us are just parroting what we’ve been told is true and have been blackmailed into aligning ourselves with what we’re told to accept as true and swear to uphold. We say our deepest wish is to “do right thing” and uphold our beliefs. But are they really ours or are they just something that we’re trained into accepting as true by others under threat of losing their emotional and physical support? Is our need to belong so much stronger than our wish to grow and express ourselves and what we believe? Truly, what IS a belief? Where does it come from? And why would we swear to uphold it? The word and its meanings are entwined in an internal dance between our need to belong and our desire to express ourselves combined with our perceived personal accountability underlying any choice we make relative to which way we lean.

EinsteinWhen most of us speak of a belief, we hold an underlying assumption that something is true. But what does that actually mean? How does it relate to how we see and live our lives? For some of us our acceptance of what we consider to be true is based on the assumptions the groups we belong to hold. For others, it’s what we’ve been told by someone whom we’ve either trusted or feared. For others of us, it is what scientists qualify as being true by tangible methods of testing. For others of us, it’s based on our own personal experience. What confuses the issue even more is that we can hold a varied combination of these validations based on the situations we find ourselves in and the level of confidence we have in our own ability to assess what is true and our truth concerning others. Yet we’re still no closer to clarifying what a belief actually is. Bottom line is that we choose what we accept as being true for us and for others. We only have two ways of validating what can be accepted as being true. We personally experience something for ourselves or we accept something as being true because we’ve been told by someone we trust and/or fear. Simply put, we base our decision on what comes from within us or from outside of us. In our culture we have been taught, almost exclusively, that the validity of what is true comes from outside of ourselves. Generally, in order to remain in the good graces of any group we belong to, we must acquiesce to the general consensus. But to assume this does massive harm to our trust in our own experiences. We now come back to the idea that a belief is one of choice. Do we accept what we feel, have experienced and seen, felt and tasted or do we rely on what we’re told by others who most influence the groups we belong to and who will either boycott, excommunicate, eject or withhold support from us if we disagree with them, essentially, weakening or even disarming their influence over the group? It is because of this second scenario why I’ve included those whom we fear with those whom we trust.

Monkey & TigerOur ability to choose comes simply from living in a mostly tangible polarized world where everything is arranged in terms of pairs of opposites offering contrast which is needed for any choice. We all have the ability to choose.Imagine two monkeys who could rationalize. Does a monkey in the grass go for a tasty morsel while a tiger is stalking him or does he climb a tree to prevent being eaten? If he climbs the tree, he many never know of the danger of the tiger, unless he’s told by the second monkey in the tree, whom he trusts and who has personally had a life threatening experience with the tiger and escaped. If the first monkey runs after hearing from the second monkey, they’d both be in the tree; one because of his personal experience and one because he’s been told. Which reason is more valid for now being in the tree? Does the first monkey who climbed the tree now have a belief that he’d be eaten by the tiger if he didn’t climb? Or is that just hearsay? Does the second monkey in the tree have the belief that the tiger would eat him because of his own experience? That’s his assumption based on his own experience. What if the second monkey told the first monkey not to worry because he wanted to eliminate the second monkey as competition from pursuing his possible mate? What if the first monkey on the ground trusted him and then was eaten by the tiger? Now, what is really true? What is now believed? We human monkeys do this all the time to each other. Each of our truths are personal, subjective and experiential. There is no “absolute” truth. The validity of it is assigned from within the perceiver. Trusting ourselves will always be true for us. Trusting what others tell us is sometimes true and sometimes dubious. We can’t always know the difference. Our choice is most securely based when our own experience is the basis for choosing rather than the hearsay of others or even from a large group; even science. On some level we always know our own motivation. Not always so for knowing others. So let’s refine our definition. A belief is our choice based on either whom we trust, our own experience or simply the accepted hearsay of others. Which validation we use for what we accept as being true depends on whom we were trained by to trust more in our childhood; ourselves or our parents. We Book Burningwould expect that in growing up that we would learn to trust ourselves exclusively. We can see that our contemporary culture teaches and purports that we trust ourselves but in reality only accepts and expects our trusting of the status quo if only for the validation, security and the “good of the group.”This usually unperceived double standard has caused tremendous confusion in issues between personal and group accountability.

Once we choose to accept something as true, will it always be so? If we’re always having new experiences and adding to or reframing our beliefs after each new experience, how could it be so?If others are also having new experiences and changing their beliefs and what they tell us based on their new assessments and awareness of themselves and us, how could they not change? Beliefs are fluid. They move and change within us as we grow more aware broadening our own experience and awareness. They establish a constantly expanding framework of reference points for our understanding of the world and for us to operate within it while assessing who we are and how far we’ve come. Now we are faced with the uncomfortable Chess pawnquestion of what happens when people are “unable” or refuse to change their beliefs even in the face of the overwhelming evidence of their own experience? Since expanding our awareness almost always leads to changing our beliefs we must conclude that unalterable beliefs suspend awareness. Think about this for a moment and just let that sink in…

Let’s look a little deeper at an added dimension. This comes, not so much from familial training, but from how we perceive our inner and outer world and when awareness is active.

When we’re having an experience, we’re in the moment. When we think about an experience, we’re no longer having it or, at the least, we’re unaware of its continuing movement. The same is true of beliefs. Beliefs are made up of thoughts and the memory of decisions we’ve made about our prior experiences. When we’re using our thinking (introverted activity), our awareness of the outside world is switched off. We’re often “lost in our thoughts” or in daydream mode so we’re often unaware as to what’s going on around us. The same is true when we’re expressing (extroverted activity) our beliefs. We can become so involved in what we want to say that we may become oblivious to the reactions of others. So, our awareness of the outer world is switched off while we’re thinking or expressing much like the flow in a fire hose. If water is Cell phone distractionshooting out, nothing can track back in unless the flow of moving water is shut off. Based on this we can say that when we’re thinking or expressing our beliefs, we are NOT in the moment. We’re self-absorbed and unaware. Conversely, we can say that when we are in the moment, the mind is quiet. Hence, meditation is being in the moment.

So when we say that someone is “closed minded,” what we mean is that someone is totally absorbed with thinking about or expressing their beliefs based on their prior experiences and the decisions they’ve made concerning them. They are neither open nor listening to you or anyone else. While they’re thinking or expressing, they’re unaware.

So let’s return to our title. Absolute beliefs corrupt absolutely. When someone is solid or unchangeable in their beliefs there is one perceived advantage to those of us who are relating to them. If we know their beliefs, we know where they stand and where we stand concerning the subject of those beliefs. We feel relatively secure and generally know what to expect of them. Bottom line; both of us feel in control. They adhere to their beliefs and we know what to expect in relating to them. But when we both need to be in control, we are not allowing ourselves to open to new experiences related to those beliefs. We also actively work at recreating the prior experiences involved in creating them. For many of us who don’t attempt to control the world based on our beliefs, we find those people who do a danger to themselves and, often, to others not to mention the frustration created in our dealing with them. These Crusades-2type of people dedicated to controlling their environment and others are most often found in disciplines of a religious nature based on scripture written ages ago by others who have chosen beliefs that resonate to an archaic time in our social development. We call these people “true believers.” The danger exists in the fact that unchangeable beliefs cuts them, and sometimes us, off from the universal current. Then, our emotional and spiritual growth becomes severely impaired if not halted.

It’s not just “true believers” that cut off this flow. We also do it to ourselves when we accept truths about ourselves that are essentially only the opinions and perceptions of those who raised us that might be contrary to what we innately feel about ourselves. It’s imperative that changing from accepting the truths and beliefs of our parents and elders must change toward establishing beliefs about ourselves based on our own experiences if we are to emotionally and spiritually mature and broaden our awareness. There are no conclusions about our growth; only our current arrivals at stages of awareness destined to move on to broader perspectives. Absolute beliefs are a poison to our well-being. The beliefs we establish operate best when fluid and changeable based on our own individual experience and are dropped when they no longer serve our higher nature.

Relationships-2Before talking about what destroys a relationship, perhaps we should talk about what a relationship is and what makes to a good one. I think it’s safe to say that as we grow into childhood we all want love, acceptance and nurturance. As we grow into adulthood, acknowledgement, approval, respect and to be listened to are added to the mix. Of course we know that many of us grow up missing some of those qualities in the way we’re raised whether our parents neglected to use or teach them to us or whether they never experienced them or knew enough themselves to realize that they, let alone we, needed to use and learn them too. So it’s safe to say that most of us grow up with “gaps” in what we can use to respond well within a relationship. These gaps are probably what are responsible for us have difficulty in “relating.” I think it’s also safe to say that at least 99% of us want at least one “meaningful” relationship if not many.

So, what is a relationship? It’s just that; someone we can relate to. As the risk of being dry, Etymonline.com quotes the word “relate” as coming from the Latin relatus in the 14th century meaning to “bring back” or “hear back” and Middle French in the 16th century relater meaning to “refer or report.” This makes sense in light of the fact that we get the best understanding of how we appear to the world from the people that are the closest to us. The more intimate or revealing we are with them, and I’m including sex, the more depth and fidelity we can assume about their “report” to us and others of what they sense and know about us…provided our relationship with them is an honest and thriving one. Additionally, the more intimate and revealing they are to us about themselves, the more we contribute to how they identify themselves. You can easily see that if one person is more revealing about themselves than another, this can cause problems in trust issues. I’ll explain more later.

So essentially, a relationship is another person whom we use as a reflection to establish our identity in the world. That being said, what qualities and dimensions make that goal workable between partners?

Relationships-1What does a good relationship include? One of the main ingredients that determines how close we become in a relationship is vulnerability. The more comfortable and trusting we feel with the other person, the more forthcoming and open we’ll be with them about our more private matters. The more intimate we are with that person, the more personal characteristics, qualities and experiences we know about each other. Obviously, this includes sex, however how unfortunately, this is what many younger people think is intimacy. This is understandable in light of the fact that the gradual dissolving of generational family living arrangements where most children, necessarily living in close proximity to other members in the household, would have learned some of the most private secrets and circumstances surrounding each family member if only because of living in such closely forced proximity. Feeling different levels of vulnerability with each other will dictate different levels of trust and comfort we allow with each other. So, suffice it to say, relationships involving older with younger partners would have very different levels of intimacy to reconcile if the relationship were to become and remain healthy.

Shared interest-1Another dimension that is necessary for a thriving relationship is to be supportive of each other. That also requires both partners to listen to and become aware of the each other’s wants, needs and desires. With that support would also come a need for there to be common interests and common goals for the relationship to work toward together. This support and common involvement gives understanding and insight as to how each of them works, processes and plans their future if only because they’re familiar with each other’s field of endeavor. This helps each partner to know where and how to apply their support.

Disrespect-1A third dimension is one involving respect. The implications of respect might not quite be what you expect. Yes, it means acknowledging the other person’s point of view and efforts but what’s more important is that it requires not only acknowledgement of their chosen path but supporting their efforts on that path even if it disagrees with the values or awareness of the person offering the support. When we raise children we often call this tough love because it requires us to allow our children to do things when we know that their end result will not be to their benefit or liking. We then would only interfere if it actually threatened their safety.

A fourth dimension which often signifies a thriving relationship is when we both feel that we can be ourselves in the relationship without fear of unfair criticism, inhibition or diminishing by our partners. Underlying this dimension is a not so obvious freedom from control issues.

Perspective-2The last dimension I’ll cite is honesty. I’ve left this for last because its absence collapses the effectiveness of every other quality and dimension I’ve mentioned previously. I don’t think I can overemphasize the importance of this quality.

I have not mentioned love because for as many people there are in the world are as many definitions there are of the concept. Each of us must define for ourselves what love means to us depending on our maturity, experience and attitude in dealing with other people. So let’s move on to specific qualities that presage the eventual death of a relationship.

5 Things That Will Destroy a Relationship:
broken-promises-11. Broken trust. For most people this is probably the number one factor contributing to the collapse of a relationship. What we expect from or assume about the other person constitutes how we validate why we trust them. Ensuing experience with them only serves to confirm or deny that trust. If we expect them to be monogamous and they’re not, we feel betrayed. If we expect them to share their time, money and support with us and they don’t, we feel taken advantage of. If we believe that they are listening to us and we find that they haven’t, we feel insulted and disrespected. I think you get the idea. If what we expect of them doesn’t materialize, we lose our trust in them.

blindmen-elephant-22. Unspoken expectations or assumptions. This factor works very closely with broken trust. This is probably one of the hardest things for us to see occurring in our relationships. Remember included or omitted qualities taught us by our parents? Whatever we are brought up with, or without, we naturally assume that our significant other will have in their characteristic makeup. So to illustrate a point, if we were raised in a family where monogamy was expected and practiced and our significant other wasn’t, their casual transgressions will not seem as important to them as they would to us and trust and intimacy issues will plummet through the floor. We won’t be able to understand how they can treat it so lightly and they won’t understand why we take it so seriously. The key is that if it was never discussed before, it would be a powder keg just waiting for a spark. So, our best policy for any relationship is to discuss what it is that we expect from each other so there are no surprises. We could also include cultural and religious differences as contributing to unseen expectations.

Blaming-13. One sided blame for shared events. Being accountable for our own behavior in a relationship is something that we learn in our early childhood. If blame was our parental method of choice for keeping us hopping and performing for them, we will tend to do the same thing in our own intimate relationships, especially, when the majority of us seek to repeat the rapport we had with our opposite sexed parent when growing up if only to feel familiar and comfortable in the new relationship. But what if our significant other was raised being taught to be accountable for their own actions and their parents also honestly and fairly admitted their culpability in challenging shared circumstances? What would that do to the willingness of our significant other to divulge their involvement in circumstances if they were to only expect blame and derision from us when they did? Would they continue to be forthcoming in becoming vulnerable to us? I think not. They would begin to shut down. Accountability is a major factor in the death of many immature relationships. If we can’t be honest about our involvement in difficult situations, especially if they’re shared, how can a relationship develop any openness in each other’s space? Most people who are solely blamed for all relationship difficulties usually refrain from ever again talking about circumstances that draw blame. Another death null for the relationship through decreasing vulnerability, intimacy and trust.

mine-all-mine-14. Selfishness. There are two reasons why selfishness can be expressed in a relationship. The first one and least toxic is when one of the partners was simply never trained by their parents or teachers to put themselves in the shoes of another person. Be aware that compassion is learned not innate. As the child grows into an adult this will also show itself more subtlety as insensitivity and lack of consideration. It’s not that the person is intentionally selfish but that they had just never been made acquainted with how anyone else might feel when others experienced them. This type is usually fairly easy to “fix” provided the person who wasn’t trained is open toward learning in order to make the relationship better. The second is more toxic and hurtful to the relationship. This is where the person did learn the sensitivities another might feel but decided to ignore or abuse these qualities. This would also include being unsupportive unless the support could be used for personal advantage. The reasons that would have made the person use them this way range anywhere from experiencing a trauma to simply receiving abuse themselves thereby contributing to a severely low self-image making them think that they don’t deserve and won’t receive compassion or consideration. Then, since they didn’t receive it themselves and feel they don’t deserve it, they would assume that that permitted them to abuse the qualities in others “evening the score.” To “fix” this would probably require extensive therapy of some sort. This type of circumstance would certainly produce a lopsided relationship in terms of mutual rapport. Often times the “user” is not discovered until the relationship has progressed well into the future due to the fact that most compassionate people are more likely to give others the benefit of the doubt.

Bad Dog5. Evasiveness. When someone is non-committal or won’t be accountable in shared circumstances, our faith in their ability to be trusted with our secrets and vulnerability suffers. If they were raised in an environment where whenever they admitted or agreed to having done something or were coerced into an unwanted commitment and were criticized or diminished when they did, they would tend to adapt a persona of “non-involvement” and simply opt out of any emotional involvement. This is probably not a relationship killer but it would certainly make dependability between partners strained if not impossible. This would be a simple “fix” over a long period of time if the committed partner was willing to work with them long enough to “prove” that they could be trusted more than their parents or siblings not to attack or diminish the “damaged” partner. If the committed partner did not have the patience or enough caring for the “damaged” partner, this would lead them to terminate the relationship.

Work together-1Based on the fact that many of these perspectives are still held by a great many people, we can see how it certainly takes work and effort to build and then maintain a thriving and successful relationship. The sins of the father and mother certainly appear as the sins of the sons and daughters and provide a plethora of opportunities for therapeutic disciplines to correct our basic and historical “omissions” and abuses encountered in our childhoods. As much as we think that “All we need is love,” there are definitely other factors that must be considered and dealt with if we are to have the safe, comfortable and secure relationships we all have fantasized about. We can only hope that our desire and emotional capabilities have enough inertia and passion to overcome many of the pitfalls described here. In light of these issues, a good relationship is a prize worth being thankful for.

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