You know you don’t want to just play it safe for the rest of your life, but how do you trust again after being betrayed? Is there any hope for shedding those fear-based, paralyzing reactions?
I got issues—trust issues to be exact. It didn’t used to be like this. I was never an especially jealous person in my romantic relationships, and I figured that whoever I was with was with me because they wanted to be with me.
Then I had a bad experience—really bad. I shut the door hard and fast on my nearly 9 year marriage and ran. Three years later, all those lessons I skipped out on by bolting are standing directly in my path to healing, demanding to be addressed.
When I first began googling out of desperation “how to trust again,” I found a few interesting but mostly unhelpful articles on how to let go of the past and recognize red flags. Ultimately no article could teach me how to let go, trust, and move forward with confidence. Instead, I had to acknowledge that I could no longer live with myself the way I was operating, and then I sat back in awe as people entered and events unfolded in my life to show me not only how to trust but how to live.
Fair warning: this is heavy and personal stuff. But I think it’s worth articulating because even a year ago, I couldn’t fathom the very existence of the lessons I’ve learned over the past month. I know there are others who need to hear this.
I’ll start with the straightforward stuff—how to recognize and cope with trauma.
The Trauma-Trust Issue Cycle
My three year old is a good illustration of how trust issues play out in your head and your body. My son is afraid of rain. A little less than a year ago, I let the boys drive their toy jeep to our neighborhood playground. Once we got there, half the sky turned dark grey. We wasted no time in turning around to take cover back at our house. But before we got home, the sky opened up. It was a hard, cold rain, and all I could do was tell the boys to keep driving while trying to assure them that everything was going to be okay. In their mind, everything was not okay. They were cold. They couldn’t see. They wailed the whole way home.
Back at the house I peeled off their wet clothes and drew them a warm bath. My oldest son recovered easily enough, but my youngest son was never the same when it comes to rain.
On a recent trip to a different playground, we got caught in another afternoon storm smack in the middle of a sunny afternoon with 0% chance of rain in the forecast. As soon as my three year old felt the first drop of rain, he took off running toward the car and dove in like he was dodging bullets. He proceeded to cry the whole way home, safe and dry in his seat as I drove home drenched from loading the bikes back into the car on my own. The next time that we visited the same playground, he froze in the middle of play.
“Mommy, I want to go home now!” he said, and took off crying and running toward the car.
“Leo, slow down!” I called after him. “Why are you crying? Use your words to tell Mommy what’s wrong.”
When I finally caught up to him I asked “Are you afraid of rain?”
“Yes!” he continued running and crying.
“Look at the sky, Leo,” I said in a calm voice. “It’s sunny. You’re safe. You’re with mommy and there’s no rain.”
It didn’t matter what I said. He was making a beeline for the car just like last time. He dove in, and I loaded up the bikes, except this time we were both dry and there was no rain.
Playing in Love and Rain
So here’s the thing: It rains in Florida, especially in the summer. Despite hourly forecasts, it could be bright and sunny and then pouring five minutes later. It could also be overcast and gray and never come to fruition. You just never know. But as Floridians, we still make plans and enjoy the outdoors. Rain is simply a part of life that comes and goes.
It’s the same in love. Infidelity happens. Trust is broken. Romance ends. But that doesn’t mean we don’t go outside. And we don’t spend our time outside glued to the hourly forecast or scouring the sky for a hint of rain to come. We get out there and we play.
If you can’t manage to play, you need help. And I fully admit, I need help.
Sit, Stay, Heal
Running has been my main coping mechanism for dealing with my fear of betrayal. Consequently, I’ve left a trail of disappointed, confused playmates. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve been willing to stay outside and catch raindrops on my tongue. And slowly, ever so slowly, I’m realizing that it won’t be the end of the world if I get drenched again.
This metaphor reminded me of a sermon I heard at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville by minister Phillip Baber.
“If you live with authenticity and vulnerability, I promise you that in this life you will both hurt and be hurt. You will bloody noses just as your nose will get bloodied. But how you respond to those incidents is what matters most.”
It’s normal to respond to betrayal with heightened suspicion, distorted thoughts, and unhealthy coping mechanisms in romantic relationships. You might experience these side effects of trauma with the partner who betrayed you if you decide to stay or with someone new if you decide to go. Either way, you have to deal and heal.
Putting Trauma in Its Place
Watching my three year old’s ordeal with rain has given me a lot more compassion for myself. Like my trust issues, his rain issues are a mental and physical process that he literally cannot control. One afternoon he sat on a covered porch shaking during a gentle rain and said, “Mommy, I don’t know why I’m scared.”
I’ve been helping him cope by making sure there’s a safe space he can go if he feels scared and by showing him that some people actually enjoy playing in the rain. He’s watched friends dance in the rain and seems to think he would like to do this himself one day as long as he has an umbrella.
When I get stuck in negative, fear-driven thoughts, I’m learning to place them in my journal or share them with a friend who can relate to my struggle. Recognizing the trauma response for what it is helps me ride it out and trust that I’ll land in peace again soon.
The Heart of the Matter
One of the big conundrums I’ve been asking myself and others is: how can you tell the difference between your trauma versus your intuition speaking? The best response I’ve received so far is “Trauma comes from the head, and intuition comes from the heart.” I’ve learned enough about trauma to know that when you’re so caught up in your head, you have no hope of deciphering what your heart has to say. So the first step toward tackling those trust issues has to be dealing with that trauma.
If you need more resources for processing trauma, check out my earlier posts:
We still have a lot more to talk about when it comes to trust. Stay tuned for more stories and insights on letting go of the details and owning your faults—two things I was incapable of doing when I was in the throes of anger and victimhood.
How is trauma impacting your love life and your life overall? What resources have you discovered for processing and taming your trauma?