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Trusting in the Present When You’ve Been Hurt in the Past

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“The only way to know if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ~Ernest Hemmingway

In a world where it seems as though all we hear about and see is how one person betrayed another, how do we allow ourselves to trust someone to get close at all, let alone trust them to be near the most fragile parts of us?

Over the course of the last year, I’ve been working as an intern-counselor at a residential high school with around 70 teenagers. Many of them have come from unbelievably challenging backgrounds where they have had to learn to not trust anyone as a matter of survival.

Imagine having spent your entire life always having to watch your back literally and figuratively, not just because there are strangers who may want to harm you, but also because even those who are supposed to be close to you could turn against you in an instant.

How difficult do you think it would be to let down the defenses that kept you safe and in some cases, alive, for so long?

In my own world, I’ve struggled with allowing people to really know me because for most of my life, it felt as though I was burned every time I did.

Over time, I learned how to seem friendly but kept virtually everyone at a distance, and those who got too close I rapidly pushed away, sometimes completely out of my life.

I was already struggling to put my pieces back together after several major tragedies in my family, and allowing others in meant (the possibility of) compounding my heartbreak. I just couldn’t handle anymore at the time.

Eventually I began to open up, but each time found myself wondering why I had been so naive again.

Then there came a point where, slowly but surely, people began to enter my life who showed me what it meant to be able to trust—trust them to show up, trust them to listen, trust them with commitments, and the biggest one of all, trust them with my heart.

These people came in the form of friends who are now my family and have had my back in countless ways over the years, and the most surprising and recent of all, a man who is not only telling me, but showing me, what a man does to express his profound interest beyond just the physical.

If I wouldn’t have begun to take down my walls, I may have never found these amazing people. They didn’t appear because I had perfectly learned to trust already. They appeared because I was willing to learn to trust, even if imperfectly.

As I’ve been learning to trust and lower my defenses, I’ve been working with my students to do the same.

Their stories are different in that many of them have come from a history of abuse and/or gang related activities. But we share a similar outcome in struggling to realize that what once protected us is no longer needed, and in some cases, is actually hurting us further by isolating us from the love we need to heal and move forward.

It’s like taking too much medicine; sometimes a certain amount is necessary to get better, but beyond that it can break our systems down.

We each come to crossroads in our lives where we have to make the decision to let go of our old survival mechanisms in order to grow and make room for something better.

Sometimes what used to protect us becomes what harms us and stifles the capacity for our lives to be open and full of joy, love, and peace.

When it comes to trusting each other, we have to accept that our past is not our present. We have to be able to recognize that what hurt us before is not necessarily what is currently standing before us—even sometimes when the situation looks frighteningly similar, and sometimes even when it’s the same person.

Does this mean we won’t ever get hurt again? Nope. That’s a part of life. People will let us down, and we will let them down, but that doesn’t mean our efforts to disassemble our defense mechanisms are in vain.

If we never allow ourselves any vulnerability, we lose out on the opportunity to make incredibly deep and meaningful connections that open up our lives in ways that couldn’t happen any other way.

Those connections draw out the very best within and create a new reality—one where we learn that the only way to know if you can trust somebody is to trust them.

Photo by Damian Gadal

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About Haiku Kwon

Haiku Kwon is an avid wanderluster who has been a barista, bartender, logistics specialist, yoga instructor, and counselor in her different lives that have taken her all over the world. She has yet to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. You can follow her story at Life's A Risk... And I'm All In. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter.

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  • StrugglingToTrust

    This could not have come to my inbox at a better time. I read an awful article about betrayal this morning and was feeling very sick and anxious because of it. I started the reel of thoughts that say “how can you trust ANYONE anymore?”. So this is what I need to read, and I feel better and calmer because of it. The only way I’ll know if I can trust is to trust.

  • Jester2012

    Great article, I’ve been in the process of breaking down my own barriers with mixed results but its good to know now it can be done for the better.

  • Haiku

    It’s so hard when we’re inundated with stories of how people are all lying/betraying one another… but the problem is, those stories not ALL of the story. There are so many people out there desperately wanting to establish that connection and trust, but the only way to find them is to be open and vulnerable. There are no guarantees, but the risk is worth it.

  • Haiku

    Be patient and be gentle with yourself- I know as I work through my own it takes a lot of time and it’s easy to feel as though it’s a futile process, but it’s not. Bit by bit we’ll transform those barriers into open connections.

  • http://www.AchieveTheGreenBeretWay.com/welcome Michael Martel

    The thing about sharing our vulnerabilities is that it forms that bond between people. There is a saying in my household, “Everyone has something.” It means that there is some sort of issue, problem, illness, etc in everyone’s lives no matter how perfect it may look from the outside. You will only start connecting with others when you just “let it hang out.”

  • Pris

    WHAT A FABULOUS Post.. thank u soo much for sharing.. i definitley needed to read an article like this.. trusting is something VERY hard to build especially when you have been hurt over and over…
    .

  • Haiku

    So true. We try to hard to look like we’ve got it all together, but the vulnerability shows we’re all humans who need each other to really thrive.

  • Haiku

    Thank you for reading. :) It’s incredibly difficult… sometimes seemingly impossible, but bit by bit I’m learning to open up and risk what I wouldn’t before.

  • TheBuddhaWasRight

    I like others am currently in a life situation where my trust in people has been shattered. To make things worse, the trust was broken by an individual who I exposed all my weaknesses and vulnerabilities to. I’m left feeling ashamed and embarrassed because I exposed my vulnerabilities in a time where I trusted the individual. From early childhood, the closest people in my life (family and friends) abused me. This caused me to shut down and become very distant. I learned better to bottle up your emotions than to share them only to have someone hurt you. It became my coping mechanism. I met someone very special in my life that relieved my soul and allowed myself to open up. They made me feel safe due to their love. And then they hurt me very badly. It left me questioning if I should ever put myself in such a vulnerable position. It’s best to be closed off so they can’t hurt you.

    You’re article came at a very fitting time. Thank you. I understand in my soul that the actions of one or a few individuals doesn’t represent the goodness in people. I will open up but will remember my past and be careful on what and with whom I share my darkest weaknesses.

  • Lina

    Very well written, and precise! I struggle with this trust issue, for like you expressed it ” I was burned every time I did” most recent just now, Mid june!

    It really is not easy to be open and vulnerable, even if you decide to be, for its like your whole being/body is unwilling to, and faces each new situation with cynicism, before I even can think of my reaction.. I hope, i can steer myself, to trusting again, as being constantly on my own in fear of opening up is not a life I want to lead.

    Thanks for the article ;-)

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Heart-felt post you wrote here Haiku! Taking down those walls is hard work! I think a lot of us can relate to this situation because we’ve all been let down, heart-broken, and hurt. But trusting again is so much easier in theory than practice LOL

    Especially when the people who hurt us are loved ones and family. If the people closest to us can hurt us then why give others a chance? But your post makes a good point in that we can try to trust (again) even if it’s imperfect. I guess setting the intention to trust again might be the first step? Thank you for writing this and sharing your experience.

  • Haiku

    I think we share some similar experiences and fears. The hard part is there is no guarantee and the reality is, we will likely be hurt again. But, I’ve learned we can’t shut everyone out because we’re too afraid to be hurt because if we’re too afraid of scars, we’ll never find the love and connection we all so desperately want to experience. It takes a lot of time, patience and gentility with ourselves- but there are amazing people out there who want to build that trust as much as we do. The only way to find them is to put ourselves out there and trust even though it’s a risk. That said, it is important to choose as wisely as possible- not everyone can handle the weight of our stories so we have to let people in slowly and as we build the relationship, we learn who we can trust and who we cannot.

  • Haiku

    It’s insanely hard! I’ve been struggling with it a ton now that there’s someone in my life who is (in a good way) challenging all I thought I knew. I had never really had to examine the walls I put up and question their purpose before now, and it’s TERRIFYING to even think of letting them down. But slowly, bit by bit, I’m learning how much I’ve been missing out on by trying to guard myself from any heartache. Be patient- it will take time to learn how and who to trust, but when you find those safe spaces, it makes every heartache worthwhile.

  • Haiku

    You’re right- setting the intention is an important first step… and it will be imperfect,and we will get hurt again, but the really vital part is to not let a few people make us believe everyone is the same. It is particularly difficult when it’s people who are supposed to love us the most who betray us, but the beauty is we get to choose new paths through the lessons we learn and find meaning in ways we may have never found otherwise.

  • lv2terp

    Great message!!! It is hard to identify those defense mechanisms when it isn’t a specific event/circumstance, I think that is something I have yet to explore. Thank you for bringing this to light for me. :)

  • Angela Lam Turpin

    Just what I needed. Thank you.

  • Haiku

    Thanks for reading Angela :)

  • Haiku

    So true… something I’ve been learning and working on a lot over the last year.

  • Cassie

    There’s a guy in my life who I’ve trusted and loved for several years now. He’s made my life better than anyone every has. But, on several occasions, he’s broken my heart, terribly. We rarely see each other due to distance, so Facebook and text messages are about as much as I get. He has a way of making me believe everything he says and seems to see in me things I don’t see in myself. But I don’t like how he seems to walk in and out of my life however he pleases, and I get mad at myself for letting him. I think maybe there’s a point where enough should be enough and I should let him go because I’m not sure he’ll ever change. How many chances am I supposed to give someone before I realize maybe they’re just not trustworthy and not worth the pain. I really care about him and want him in my life, but I deserve to be happy too and to be with people who are going to let my love in.

    sometimes I feel like I’m so eager to give my love away that not everyone is willing to accept it or appreciate it, and I end up sad and alone again. I guess I just haven’t found those trustworthy people yet. Maybe someday.

  • Haiku

    Hi Cassie, it sounds as though your love for him runs deeper than his for you… Someone who loves you should never treat you like an option only when it’s convenient. I guess one of the questions I learned to ask myself over time was, “Does this bring out the best in me?” If the answer is yes, keep going even when it’s challenging… if no, then you have to find the strength to let go of what brings you down and seek out what cultivates the best you have to give.

    And you’re right, you DO deserve to be happy.

  • Frank

    While this is a great read it is too little too late for me. I have been kicked in the stomach far too many times in my 64 years to trust anyone beyond an arms length. I envy people that have a life with those they can trust, but that is not me. The only person I can trust to tell me the truth when both right or wrong is me. I have been played or tried to be played too much to ever let my guard down again.

  • Heather Ferreira

    Same here, age 44.

    The pain of remaining closed to people is formidable; but it beats the hell out of the searing jab of being betrayed by another human, yet again.

    Between the two pains, I gladly choose remaining closed off.

  • Haiku

    I understand that; however, I have a little hope left in me and am not yet ready to believe that every single person on this planet is deceitful. People I love have hurt me, but there’s a difference between mistakes and complete betrayals. I know I’ve unintentionally hurt people as well. That said, I know sometimes we find ourselves surrounded by those we cannot trust and I’m sorry you’ve both experienced so much of that. I hope you have found the safety and peace you need.

  • Frank

    I have since realized that I have set the bar to high and expect that others would be willing to give as much to a relationship as I might be. I also know that I have hurt others, and I am more that willing to own my mistakes but when others play me for their profit it cuts too deep. I am not willing to set myself for further disappointment with people I thought I could admire and look up to. I do not apologize for my feelings, but I also realize that this is my take on my life and experience.

  • MISS MJ

    I love what Frank and Heather said. The first time you wrong someone, it is a mistake. The second time, it’s a choice. We have a saying in my family: you get one for free. You got one chance to prove yourself: one chance to exercise good judgment. Why should I allow you in my life? Once you’ve ruined that, you’re done. Second chances are for God to give, not me. Unfortunately, people don’t want loving relationships and friendship. We are so superficial and mentally unstable as people. We say we want love but then we do everything we can to sabotage it. So what are you to do?

  • MISS MJ

    My life in a nut shell. I pray everything works out for you. I know your pain too well. Through love and pain, the heart keeps beating just the same. It doesn’t shut down but it begins to shut out.