Trust provides a fundamental foundation for any relationship. However, the extent to which we trust covers a vast spectrum. At the most basic level, we even trust strangers. When we walk down the sidewalk or drive in our lane, we trust other individuals not to swerve and hit us. When you go out to eat, you trust that the person who cooked your meal and those who serve it to you. We trust law enforcement officials to protect us from harm. Then, there are, of course, more intimate relationships. There are those in our lives who we can share our deepest, darkest secrets with and tell no one else.
This past week seriously made me take into consideration my trust in others. For those with an extensive trauma history, it can be difficult to let others in. We become accustomed to betrayal and emotional pain inflicted by those closest to us. Rationally, we know that this idea does not apply to everyone. However, we often generalize it to others in order to protect ourselves. The mere thought of potential pain reignites our memories, and we do not want to relive it.
This same trauma also left an empty space in my spirit. It is one I am constantly trying to fill with long-lasting satisfaction. It causes a lot of internal conflict especially when it is triggered. For those of you who have been following my posts over the last few weeks, there has been ongoing drama between an immediate family member and myself. It all started over finances and money management. The situation rekindled some old feelings and unresolved anger.
My soul hurt. I was in emotional pain. As a result, the situation made me question my ability to let people in, especially my family and romantic interests. As I thought about it, I recalled one of my personal favorite therapeutic concepts, “the circle of trust.”
The “circle of trust” encompasses the idea that there are various levels of trust that define the extent that we let certain individuals in closer to our “true self.” Between each level is a permeable membrane that allows an individual to flow inward or outward, allowing for more or less trust respectively.
The illustration below provides an example of what these circles might look like for an individual. Excuse my drawing abilities in advance.
As you can see, the layers closer to the “self” possess the characteristics of the outer layers, but the opposite is not necessary true. These circles vary from individual to individual and from situation to situation. There might be a situation where you greatly trust your grandparents’ wisdom, so they move in closer to “self.” There might be a situation where you need a specific friend to chime in, so they move in closer.
The other important piece to these levels is the speed to which an individual can move between levels. In the case of an emergency, law enforcement officials or paramedics might move from the outside to the inner circle, as you trust them with your life. This could happen in the matter of seconds. In other situations, such as my love life, it might take months for someone to move from the outside circle to the innermost circle as your significant other.
People are also seldom locked into levels. It changes over time. For instance, the immediate family member I mentioned above has shifted between circles multiple times. They started off in my innermost circle when I was younger. In high school, they moved to the outermost area after betraying me. They slowly moved back inward over time. To say the least, they are back on their way out.
Just as these membranes allow individuals to move freely between levels, they also serve as emotional boundaries. My levels will help keep to keep the aforementioned person at a distance until I am ready to confront them again. On the other hand, I was able to bring someone in a bit that I felt I could trust. I spoke to them about what happened and what I was feeling. They are great company to have for situations like this, so the wall between those levels will help me keep them close. It will serve as a healthy outlet and much needed support and protection from unhealthy coping strategies.
The unfortunate truth is that there are some people you can bring in close and others who will stab you in the back. It will be your judgment call on who to keep around and which of those individuals are toxic. Who belongs in your circle?
-The Caring Counselor
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