“Trust is the foundation of all human connections, from chance encounters to friendships and intimate relationships.” (Source) So when one’s faith in people is shaken, if not broken, it comes as no surprise that our relationships suffer.
An interesting concept has peppered quite a number of conversations around me in the last two months or so: that of trusting the people who love you. Technically, the people who love you are the ones that we should trust; and yet many of these individuals were struggling to trust those they knew loved them. It looks like the longer the struggle, the harder it was for the person to remain convinced that they were loved.
The specific context of each of these conversations were also eerily similar: one person was offended, hurt, or upset at another for what invariably ended up being a perceived offense made out of innocent ignorance or a lack of understanding of the consequences.
What happened in each of these cases, which involved mature, drama-free individuals? One common thread was a certain almost irrational paranoia; they all expressed that they knew the other person wouldn’t offend/hurt/upset them on purpose, but none of them were able to shake those feelings off. It almost felt like the situation was ruled by the person’s fears and weaknesses, rather than by logical thinking based on an evaluation of the friendship, some of which were decades long.
On a personal, it sucks to feel hurt. But this is not the full scope of the effect of such a situation; just like a solid friendship can infuse a community with its strength, any trust issue that veils our rational selves can affect a community, sometimes severely so.
A handful of my closest friends and I decided some time ago that we would be honest about our feelings as well as their source, while at the same time steering clear of accusations. We read up on research regarding couple’s therapy—man, those studies are so useful in helping strengthen any relationship! One concept that struck us is that of “demand-withdrawal”:
“Every unhappy couple may be unhappy in its own way, to paraphrase Tolstoy, but there’s an overarching form of polarization that marital researchers, who have studied this beast for decades, call demand-withdraw. It’s a polarization not of personalities or values but communication styles. One person takes the role of demander—the one who nags, criticizes, and, yes, makes demands—while the withdrawer ignores, avoids, and generally sticks his head in the sand. The more the demander demands, the more the withdrawer withdraws, and vice versa.” (Source)
One of the things that we noticed is that insecurities hit us differently, and that not understanding this difference can make the most loving and closest of friends very unsupportive. We also noticed that ego, as always, complicates things; some of us take this sharing as an attack, however delicately and gently it is put.
Some of the things we have since then decided to do are:
We don’t let the hurt fester; if something bugs us, we promise to share it with one another and trust it will be well received.
Because if it happened once, it might happen again.
Before sharing it, we take the time to reflect on the reasons why we felt hurt.
That way, we enter the conversation with some work already done. However, we have to make sure we don’t end with any form of assumptions about the other person, which could veil us from reaching a healthy understanding.
Even if we resolve the issue on our own, we still share how we felt and the reflection process we went through.
That way, our process can be reinforced. For example, if I feel hurt by something you say, but I realise that you said it in a certain way because of a cultural difference or language barrier, I will share the hurt and the realization with you, and you can reinforce the fact that indeed, when you used those particular words, you did not intend what I heard.
We share our hurt focusing on our emotions, never attacking the other person.
If we trust that the other person loves us, we trust that they didn’t hurt us purposefully, meaning that there is no place for an attack.
We repeat what we were told to make sure we understood it correctly.
This is one of the most useful communication techniques we have each experienced.
We acknowledge the other person’s hurt, and never make it about ourselves.
However good our intentions, one of our dearest friends was hurt—we must acknowledge that.
We acknowledge that the intention was never to hurt.
It’s just a good reminder all around.
These might seem like very small things, but we have noticed a big change in already amazing friendships. And we feel so certain that the increasing strength of these friendships is going to infuse the community development efforts we are engaged in that we share them with you in the hopes of contributing to the improvement of both your personal relationships as well as your own community development efforts.
Have you had any such experiences? We would love to hear from you!