By Habiba Jessica Zaman, NCC, LPC
Everyone talks about having a hard time trusting another person after a betrayal and so few discuss how difficult it is to trust ourselves as a result.
We focus on what the other person did to us and try to find ways to set up barricades to make sure this never happens to us again by someone else. We remind ourselves of the pain it has caused, the powerlessness, and the wrongness of what was done to us.
All of that is correct. We are hurt, we did feel powerless to stop it, we didn’t think they would do this to us, and it is wrong.
We then come up with creative ways to safeguard our bleeding heart. Defense mechanisms to find that power again that was taken from us through the betrayal.
Some turn to shutting out the heart, convincing oneself that we do not need another to rely on or find solace in, running from another when they get a bit too close, or perhaps putting up obstacles and bringing up unnecessary conflicts when we find that we are starting to open up and allowing vulnerability to present in the form of emotional intimacy.
We put all of our energy into safeguarding ourselves from them, that we do not take the time to recognize the true damage it has caused us.
We find the ruined pieces of the trust we had in ourselves and the ability to be confident in our decisions and be secure in our own perceptions.
We believed in this person, found truth in their care and love for us, we sought safety and solace in their embrace only to find that perhaps what we thought we had in this person, was not real.
Facing the discrepancy in what we believed and what we are left with in our experiences can leave us standing on shaky ground. Without fully processing what happened, we will take part in these defense mechanisms that help protect us at the moment but prevent us from making healthy connections in the future.
If you haven’t healed from the wounds of your past, every time you think about it, your body produces the same chemicals that were present when it first happened. Our subconscious mind cannot determine the difference between what happened and what is happening now. This is why when you are thinking about a past argument, your heart rate begins to rise, and you feel the tension in your shoulders and neck again - almost as if it is happening again.
That isn’t to say that we are to avoid our hurts and try to forget about them. It means that we need to process through the pain and make sense of the experiences that led to the moment of a regrettable incident and what came afterwards. In working through and processing fully the various levels of perceptions, we can get to where the thoughts no longer hold the painful associations and the wound can heal.
It will take time to find yourself in your own world again, to make your own decisions and be confident in what we are choosing while accepting the consequences.
Learning who you were, who you are now and how to trust yourself again will begin with reintroducing the different elements of yourself that you feel are broken or damaged. Let’s be clear - you are not damaged or broken, but parts of your experiences and reactions to those could feel as though they are.
Trusting in yourself will start with introspection of what you need: What are your feelings, the perception behind these feelings and what you need to feel grounded at that moment.
Take a step back and take a look at things calmly and slowly without criticism.
I am sitting in my home office and having a telehealth session, and I am starting to feel frustrated that my cat is scratching at the door for the 5th time in the past 40 minutes.
In labeling the emotion, we can figure out why it is there and make sure it is directed or handled appropriately.
Determining the reason behind the feeling is a bit trickier. I’ve mentioned that it is because my cat is scratching at the door, however, there is a more significant reasoning behind it.
It could be that I am frustrated that she will be damaging the glass panes of the French doors, or that she is distracting my client and myself with the knocking noise it makes, or it could be that my frustration is actually at myself because it is highlighting that I am neglecting the cat just as I fear I am neglecting my kids while I am working from home.
In being able to effectively pinpoint the source of the emotion, we can provide relief to ourselves by meeting the psychological or emotional need that is behind the experience.
To come up with a plan to process and alleviate this emotion also makes us feel in charge of the situation and that we have control over where it will go. It helps to feel stable and grounded when our emotions can be overwhelming.
By taking these three steps, you will be able to sift through the tangled web of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in order to effectively process through the day.
With each successful encounter of processing, you will become more confident in your values, identifying emotions, and intrinsically meeting your needs. This confidence is the steppingstone to having an unshakable trust in your perceptions, experiences and in yourself.