“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” George MacDonald
I want to share my story about trust – because it’s been a journey to get it back and it didn’t come easily to me either!
My partner (current) and I have known each other for ten years. We met online dating … well, it took five years of chatting to finally actually meet and we live about a 20-minute drive from each other.
We first met right after I got out of the relationship with the narcissist and started seeing each other at that point.
I was trying to fill a void.
I was trying to find a distraction that could stop me focusing on myself.
Anything but me!
Six months into the relationship, right as I was starting to get comfortable and felt myself starting to fall in love (yeah, after what I went through, that is a very scary feeling – so if this is you, I get it – it was definitely too soon for my heart to be going there) – things hit a wall.
Here’s what happened:
We were sitting on my couch in my apartment one afternoon – he’d just had surgery on a tooth so was a bit dazed – and I was telling him I wanted to start a coaching-based business to stop other people from experiencing what I did. (This business – what I’m doing here, right now).
He said: “You’re just trying to find a way to hold onto the relationship.”
a. he wasn’t in support of such a noble ambition
b. he quickly manipulated what I was trying to do – I ended it in that moment and told him to leave – without a second thought.
What really happened for me in that moment was the second he wouldn’t support my biggest dream, I was convinced it was evidence he didn’t have my best interests at heart. Then I started pulling apart everything about the poor guy to finally conclude: he “could” be a narcissist.
The bottom line was: I didn’t trust him.
I didn’t trust myself either.
In fact, I didn’t trust anyone. And I thought I never would again.
At this point, I cut everyone out. My family, my closest friends, that guy … everyone I was close to. While I was healing my wounds: I just wanted to be completely alone so I could focus on that. I needed to be certain my life was pure of all toxic people, words, thoughts etc. I kept myself isolated to avoid anything negative getting in and interrupting my healing process.
I took my detox seriously.
I refused to let another toxic person in my life, if that meant a full detox myself, I was happy to do it – and now was the time!
It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
After four to five months, I slowly let people back in and carefully reviewed every single person.
But I noticed, when it came time to letting people back in, that it was difficult to trust again, particularly after being so isolated.
My partner and I didn’t speak after that day.
He returned to being a Facebook friend who sat among the hundreds, dormant.
It wasn’t like there was tension or anything.
It was just that there was just nothing left to say.
He just didn’t have my back, and I didn’t want to be with someone who wouldn’t support me – so I simply accepted it as it was. No point fighting an uphill battle: we just wanted different things.
Three years later we started talking on Facebook again, we caught up a couple of times and he tried to express interest, but I wasn’t interested. I was still healing and deciding what I wanted … and I didn’t want to settle for just anything.
A couple of years after that, I was healed and in a good space, and we found each other again…
It was one night when I was sick at home, chatting to my Facebook friends with an epic ear ache. A message popped up – it was him.
He hadn’t reached out to me in a long time.
So we got talking and I saw myself type “You know, I always thought we could do life well together”. And as I hit enter – half expecting him to run for the hills – I realised that I truly meant that. That when we spent that time together all those years ago that my mind was projecting forward, putting pressure on the relationship because I was too scared of being alone. I saw us with kids. I saw us so happy. And since I ended it, every now and then, I’d been thinking about life with him over the years, and while I tried to bury it – it wasn’t going away.
Well … 30 minutes later he was at my house!
We didn’t just fall into each other’s arms. At first it was a little bit awkward.
Let me paint the scene:
The weather was horrendous, the wind was cyclonic and I was waiting for the windows to smash inwards from the force.
I was in my trackies (my tracky pants have a huge bleach stain on them from when I lifted a bucket at a share house and one of the housemates must’ve had it in bleach), and I was feeling crap. I just got in from the medical centre when we were chatting and, even knowing he was coming over, I made no effort whatsoever.
He was dressed in his jeans and a jumper, and his cologne and … you know, just a little too nice for a Saturday night in with a sick person kind of appearance. Haha!
There was small talk which obviously lead to “So … what are you doing now?”
He was the same – consistent, steady, stable.
When I told him I was still determined and following my mission, he was supportive of my dedication and focus over the years.
I was pleasantly surprised when he wanted to hear all about it! In fact, in that moment I realised what he had said to me – all those years ago – was likely out of love and concern, rather than trying to shoot down my ambitions and dreams.
Five years of healing and hindsight made me realise that I very nearly made the biggest mistake of my life and almost lost the man I truly want to be with.
Do I regret it? Pushing him away and taking the space I needed to heal?
No – because if I didn’t heal first, and if I didn’t take this path – I probably would’ve given up coaching and focused on the relationship and it would’ve become toxic. Almost guaranteed.
It also highlighted that after a toxic relationship – and particularly narcissistic abuse where we’re left traumatised and raw – our decision-making ability around whether we can trust someone or not may not be as it could be.
I don’t know it was luck or meant to be that we found each other again. But what was really perfect was, when he came back, I felt really safe being myself – even if he still jokes about my ugly trackies.
So how do we learn to trust people again after such a traumatic experience?
I’m not talking about people in the grocery store or people in general this time – I’m talking about friends, family, lovers … people in our closest circle.
How do we open up enough to let them in after we’ve experienced such pain?
Here are the steps:
1. Heal first, the rest will come
If you’re trying to trust people in your close circle before you have healed, you will find it really difficult, because you probably don’t trust yourself yet. The first step you need to take is learning to trust yourself – which is a big part of your healing journey; and then you’re able to share that trust with others.
Part of your healing process will be finding self-forgiveness. Realising that your external world isn’t always a projection of your internal world. That sometimes we come across people that are bad and it’s not our fault – we can’t control every little thing. The reason we can fall prey to toxic relationships is that we were likely vulnerable at the start, when they came along and groomed us; so the best space to start dating from again is when you’re not feeling vulnerable. And for this reason, it’s best to date again once you have completely healed.
2. Continue to be there for yourself
Remember when you were young and you’d fall in love with someone and leave all your friends, so you could just spend time with that person? Or maybe you have seen your friends do this to you? Make sure when you’re letting people in after some time healing and plenty of time on your own, that you ease into it.
It can be easy at this stage to be vulnerable and desperate – instead, always leave some time in your calendar for you. And make sure you’re checking in at the start to see how you’re feeling about things and that you’re happy with the relationship. A lot of the time we’re focused on making the other person happy and it’s easy to forget ourselves.
3. Set boundaries
Be assertive early and set boundaries – particularly around honesty, so that you are both clear that trust is highly valued within the relationship. Honesty is a two-way street – you need to be able to be completely honest in your relationships and you want the other person to feel the same way.
We set boundaries not only to keep the bad people out but also to ensure only the good people get in. If you assertively alert someone they have crossed a boundary and they don’t correct it or acknowledge their mistake – they’re probably not someone you want in your life.
4. Keep what’s working
When we let people into our life, we may adapt to their habits and start to drop our own. It’s important that no matter what – you keep what’s working.
One thing that really worked for me in my healing was regrouping with myself. Just taking time out an having a good think (or talk) about what I really felt was going on. I’d literally coach myself like a client until I found my answer.
5. Remember the red flags
Again, it can be easy to let your guard down when you find love again – because you finally feel good: really, really good! That’s great, but it’s still really important to stay grounded, realistic (remember – no fantasies!) and always remember the red flags that indicate a toxic person.
You will know everything based on how you feel, so it’s important that you keep checking in with yourself – as much, if not more, than you check in with the other person. Remember, you’re not giving away your whole heart on a silver platter, you’re looking for an add on – someone who helps you to become the best version of yourself – but even without them, you know you’re still pretty damn good!
6. Go at your own pace
Just as you’re doing generally with your healing practice, try to go at your own pace as you let friends and family back in – particularly when you’ve been isolated. You need to go slowly so if your self-doubt creeps up, you can check in about what’s happening for you, what it’s all about and try to sort it out then.
Remember, whatever happens – never ignore your intuition. Even if you think you’re doing it for the right reasons – the last thing you want to do right now is accidentally betray yourself. So as you open back up to people, let them come in slowly. Also be open to the fact that our healing journey changes us so these relationships may no longer be the same – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing either.
7. Keep releasing your fear of judgement
As we open ourselves to people again, all our people-related fears come up again – particularly around the fear of judgement. Will our friends believe us? Can we trust them to have our back?
Again, your friends shouldn’t be all of you or even a large part of you. They should be the support that helps you to be the best version of yourself – and if they’re not that, and their judgements seem to be holding you back or causing your self-doubt to rise, then you may like to review if you need them as a friend in your life at all.
8. Make small decisions at a time
Each time you make a decision, or let someone into your life, take a little pause after it. You want to make a choice, let it settle and then review it – was it a good decision? If it was, that’s great. If it wasn’t, then you can adjust it at this time.
This process will prevent you from letting too many people in at once – this runs the risk of you letting some of the wrong people in. If too many of the wrong people come in, your environment will be toxic and you’ll be more vulnerable to dating a toxic person again. So review every decision you make as carefully as you can.
9. Get set to leave your comfort zone
Trust develops over time. To begin with you are going to need to get vulnerable in order to trust someone again. Instead of focusing on how comfortable you are, focus on what you can do to help yourself to feel more comfortable as you offer your trust to this person.
Remember to keep checking in with yourself, particularly when you’re feeling vulnerable. Only you can do that. You just need to check in to see how you’re feeling in their presence, do you believe their words, are you seeing their words and actions aligning, do you leave each interaction feeling whole and secure etc.
I know a lot of us are scared of getting into another relationship ever. If we dive in as soon as we’re out of these relationships, it’s likely we’ll suffer again. Not necessarily because the other person is toxic – but because we’re toxic as a result of our experience.
Cleansing occurs with healing.
Once we have healed, are open to all the lessons we received from this previous relationship and realise our own worth and value – then we’re ready to try again. It’s at that point that we won’t settle for just anyone.
Instead what we need to be conscious of, and more fearful of than anything, is placing this other person on a pedestal; of seeing them as someone they’re not (fantasy); of any fast-pacing – because as much as our feelings are strong and we’re excited to be in love again, it’s going to be important to move slowly etc. So we need to be alert to how we’d handling the relationship and how we’re acting and responding to it.
What if you choose the wrong person?
Sometimes we may choose the wrong person for us again, even after all the hard work and effort we’ve put into our healing. That’s ok! Because this time around that person isn’t consuming all of us – they will only be the add on that makes us even more of ourselves: even more loving, even more beautiful/handsome, even happier etc. So while they enhance us, they’re not essential and if the relationship weren’t right, we could take that step back knowing that we’re still pretty damn good – with or without someone in our lives.
This won’t cover up the disappointment – it is human to grieve something that doesn’t work, and particularly when you have high expectations for it; it just means we can get right back to being us, allow a short space to heal (because you’ve been able to identify it’s not for you before it has become toxic) and then you’ll be ready for a new relationship when you do find someone else who feels right for you.
Just remember two things: the world is big enough that you can find someone if you choose; and after some space and healing, if you want to re-engage previous relationships – it can work following the healing journey. It’s just up to you!
The most important thing – above everything – is checking in with yourself and doing whatever you need to do to maintain your integrity and your self-trust. If you meet someone right as you’re starting your healing journey, if it’s meant to be – it’ll happen.
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