Category Archives: Personal growth

Can therapy really help to change your life? For anyone out there who is suffering and feeling hopeless

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In my previous blog I spoke about our deep-seated fear of change. Change, in many ways, is akin to dying since it entails ‘dying’ to our old beliefs, our old ideas and ways of being. But change is also about rebirth. Just as in fairy-tales and myths, where frightening monsters are faced and conquered, the descent into our own underworld equips us with the special powers, skills and knowledge needed to make changes in our everyday life.

Most people who decide to try counselling and psychotherapy (or EFT and other forms of therapy) express their doubts as to whether this would work for them. These doubts and scepticism are very natural, normal and healthy. Indeed, how would you know if therapy can really help to change your life? If you have been struggling with depression, anxiety, lack of confidence and relationship issues for a long time it may be difficult to imagine (even if this is what you want) how they can metamorphose into joy, contentment and fulfilment.

Embarking on a therapy journey does require a leap of faith and commitment. It is similar to growing a flower: it takes time, nurturing care, and patience for the seeds that you’ve planted in the earth to bring forth their shoots and eventually blossom. This growing process is subtle and changes can be almost imperceptible until they become visible.

Therapy is not an exact science. Its effectiveness is evidence-based, and from there you can take your faith: if it worked for other people it may work for you. Below I share a ‘real-life’ story told by a client of mine, a young professional woman, with whom I have worked for over two years. It just shows how much things can change, how one’s life can heal and unfold in wonderful ways. I hope you find it as encouraging and inspirational as I do.

For anyone else out there who is suffering and feels hopeless…

My journey in self discovery and healing started almost four years ago when I felt I had reached rock bottom and had almost become unable to do the most simplest of tasks let alone run a business or deal with the family and relationship issues that I was faced with.

I had trapped myself in such negative situations, thought processes and beliefs after suffering great losses, hurt and betrayal, that it felt like I was in a prison I’d never be able to escape from. I was no longer able to trust in the world and people, and had lost considerable hope and belief in myself. I couldn’t see a solution, yet was continually trying so many things to ‘improve myself’. My physical and mental health had become so weak and fragile I felt it would be next to impossible to feel ‘normal’ again and have ‘normal’ friendships and be able to cope with the challenges of life and a demanding career.

This is where I turned to therapy as my last resort. After an incredibly challenging year of conventional counselling I sought out Ludmila because I have heard that EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) was very efficient in helping people recover from trauma.  I will admit it took a tremendous amount of effort, dedication and perseverance on both my and Ludmila’s part but, as with most things in life, the hard work eventually started to pay off and I slowly began to heal from my mental anguish, fear and trauma. And little by little, small, almost imperceptible changes have lead to several major breakthroughs in my life, which I can only fully appreciate now, looking back to where I started…

The biggest breakthrough but also challenge was accepting and forgiving my mother. It was very painful to acknowledge through therapy that my mother was actually a very damaged person. She loved her children very much but was, unfortunately, unable to give us nurturing care because of her own traumatic childhood experiences.

I was always so conflicted about my mother… On the one hand, I knew she loved me and my brother, and she tried her best encouraging our education and cultural development, acquainting us with film, art and performance, ensuring that we got to a good school and later supporting financially my university studies… After the divorce from my father she has been on her own and also juggling a full time job. I appreciate all that very much and I don’t want to wrong her and do her injustice by focusing on the negative things, and yet sometimes it was more than often unbearable growing up with her.

I was living in constant fear that she would blow any second at the smallest thing and scream and shout at me. I became an emotional punch-bag for her unresolved pain which had effectively formed into a severe mental illness. This manifested in constant criticism and resentment towards me, as well as extreme negativity and distrust of life and most of the people she knew or met. Constant mental instability, switching from a seemingly rational and wonderful person to a completely irrational, made her very frightening.

Growing up I was unable to fully understand this, I just tried to keep safe within the emotional war-zone my brother and I lived in by forming effective coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms consisted of continually ensuring my mother’s needs were met, however irrational or unfair they were. I placed them before my own in order to keep the peace and try to manage her behaviour as much as possible. I effectively looked after her emotionally in exchange for a home, food and education.  I was unaware at the time that this was abnormal, that I was just surviving and not really coping at all…

It only started to become apparent for me years later when all the trauma of those years and subsequent experiences just became too much to bear. Those learnt coping mechanisms no longer protected me, instead they became undermining. I had been living a life driven by the need to please others and putting others’ needs before my own to severe detrimental effect. I didn’t know how to enforce healthy boundaries and was almost unaware of my own feelings and needs, allowing myself to be exploited and never feeling happy or fulfilled.

Acknowledging and confronting this was painful, but also empowering. It has been essential in re-establishing a new healthier relationship with my mother and other demanding characters in my life. Coming to terms with the fact that I am not the cause of their mental anguish, and that it is not something that I am able to resolve for them, was very healing.

I learned to assert my newly-found boundaries and realized that it could be done in a non-aggressive manner. The wonderful outcome has been that my mother and other similar characters in my life now treat me with more respect and no longer seem to unleash their demons on me as much. Or – more importantly – if they do, I no longer feel responsible for their irrational behaviour.

It was very difficult for my mum initially but over time she has adjusted and it has actually brought us closer together although, sadly, we will never be really close and I will always remain on guard in order to protect myself. Nonetheless are relationship is healthier than it has been since I was a teenager, which has benefited every aspect of my life.

I came to forgive my first love for his betrayal and abandonment. Hard as it was, I came to terms with the devastating illness of my father. I also succeeded in reconnecting and repairing my relationship with my partner and learned to stand up to bullies in my professional life.  Even though it seemed almost impossible to achieve, I managed to overcome my huge fears of exam failure, shame, ridicule, exposure and guilt in order to complete my education and become a fully qualified professional in my field.

But, most importantly, I came to forgive myself for all the criticism I constantly gave myself, for not being good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough, cool enough… the list goes on… I began to acknowledge that I am not a bad person but am worthy of love and goodness in my life.

Looking back at my life four years ago, I have come such a long way, and it’s sometimes incredible to believe the changes I have made in both my personal and professional life. I don’t believe I would have made it without Ludmila’s help, for which I am so grateful. Her strength, conviction and dedication, her compassion, encouragement and faith in me have been truly transformational.

I haven’t by any means come to the end of my journey, but I am now on the right path and feel able to trust in life again and feel secure acknowledging and accepting my hurt and emotions. For anyone else out there who is suffering and feels hopeless, as painful and difficult as it might be, try not to give up on therapy. It can sometimes feel impossible to ever recover from great trauma and despair, but I truly believe we are all capable of healing and great change with hope, dedication and perseverance – together with a therapist you trust.

Recognizing childhood trauma

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Have you suffered a childhood trauma? Probably the majority of people if asked this question would answer ‘no.’ And yet many of them will be mistaken.

It may seem to you surprising how it is possible to be unaware of such a big thing as trauma – it is like overlooking an elephant in the room! Yet this is exactly what is happening. And the reason for that is that we simply don’t recognize an elephant for an elephant. Instead we see it as an integral part of the room’s interior.

When we hear the word ‘trauma’ we tend to think of a sudden shocking event with visibly manifest physical or/and emotional injuries. For example, surviving a car crash. Or being raped.

People who have lost one of their parents as children would sometimes say it was a trauma. Often, however, they would regard it just as a sad fact of life and won’t recognize that they have been traumatized by it.

Redefining trauma

We need to rethink then what we understand by trauma. I would say this: trauma is an event or a long-lasting situation that has a damaging impact on one’s emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing.

When trauma is not addressed promptly and thoroughly it usually has long-lasting effects, which may severely undermine one’s life. Unfortunately, traumas resulting from suffering a long-term emotional distress very often go unnoticed and untreated for years, until some major crisis hits and a person suddenly finds him/herself at the point of a breakdown. It is about this type of trauma suffered during childhood that I want to write in this blog.

Fundamental childhood needs

Contrary to what we are used to thinking, being a child is very challenging! Look what a huge difference there is between a new born baby and a two year old toddler, and between that toddler and a first grader. As adults we don’t normally experience comparable developmental leaps. We tend to live more or less in our comfort zone and won’t leave it by our own accord. Children, however, have no choice! They are hard pushed by the very nature of their growing and developing – physically, cognitively and psychologically. They have very little space to bask in the comfort zone. Mostly, it is an ongoing climb.

When you look at childhood like this you can begin to appreciate how much support children need in order to transition successfully through all the developmental stages. The fundamental basic needs include:

  • SAFETY (emotional and physical);
  • Unconditional affection and consistent engaged interest of their parents and caretakers;
  • The right to make mistakes;
  • The right to express their feelings and have them acknowledged;
  • Positive encouragement and validation.

Probably most of us didn’t have all these needs met equally well at all periods of our childhood. But some people, sadly, had to grow up with the exact reverse of these conditions. Read on to see if it might have been your case.

Traumatic conditions in childhood

Existential threat

If a child gets beaten up or witnesses physical violence between the parents or towards other siblings, the child will experience it as a threat to his/her survival. Similar fear is also being engendered in a child if she or he is being constantly shouted at or hears his/her parents shouting at each other.

The lack of healthy boundaries also makes children feel unsafe. Children need a holding structure, within which they can explore, experiment rebel and grow. Growing up in a chaotic household is like being on a boat without an anchor in the open sea. Growing up with overly rigid boundaries (which usually involves punishment for breaking them) is like living in a prison.

Psychological overload

Sometimes young children are made to carry a burden that is too big for their age. For example, in a family with several children and hard working parents the elder child (sometimes at quite a tender age) may become like a parent to her/his younger siblings. This person will skip the carefree stage of childhood and grow up feeling overburdened by the heavy sense of responsibility, finding it difficult to relax and just have fun.

It also happens that a child may become like a parent to their parents if one of the parents is seriously ill or depressed. The parent’s needs in such a situation become a priority and a child learns to suppress his/her own needs in order not to disturb or upset the parent. The message that the child ingests is that of his/her own unimportance. As adults these children often struggle to express themselves, to say ‘no’, to assert their rights and to appreciate themselves and their needs and desires.

Blame, guilt, shaming

Are you constantly feeling guilty about things? Do you believe it is your fault if something goes wrong at work or at home? If your mother misses a doctor’s appointment do you gnaw yourself for not having reminded her?

Persistent feelings of guilt are a symptom of a childhood trauma. They are the result of the culture of blaming and shaming, of being made responsible for your parents’ problems and unhappiness. If you were told by your mother that she has sacrificed her academic career for you, she was giving you a guilt trip. If you have been ridiculed for not knowing the name of some composer, you have been shamed for ‘ignorance.’ The shame about your mistakes transforms into pervasive shame about who you are. It is toxic and paralyzing.

Emotional neglect

In order to thrive children need to feel (not just know intellectually!) loved, welcomed and appreciated. They feel this if parents spend enough time with them, hold them, play with them, talk to them about things that matter to them and take interest in their activities. If parents are working long hours and are only at home to fix dinner and send the child to bed, the child will feel abandoned.

The lack of caring attention during childhood is like the lack of nutrients and vitamins. It stunts the person’s emotional/psychological growth and impairs the development of strong healthy self-esteem. Emotional neglect and abandonment have long-lasting effect and can seriously undermine one’s life and ability to be happy.

Emotionally unstable parents

Children of emotionally unstable and mentally ill parents are in the highest risk category. There is virtually no safe place for them. They suffer from neglect and abandonment because their parents are preoccupied with their own stuff. They have to tiptoe around their parents to prevent them from snapping and ‘flipping.’ They suppress their needs, while trying to guess their parents’ needs and desires and learn to please in order to get approval. They can’t express their own preference or feeling without having it invalidated by the parent who always ‘knows better.’ If they do get praised it is usually for doing something that reinforces the parent’s sense of self-value. Emotional connection is either non-existent or erratic. Or a child may be made a confidante of a parent and a recipient of their psychological unloading. These children have been heavily traumatized and need help.

Acknowledging versus blaming

As a rule, parents who have failed in their role of a parent have themselves suffered childhood trauma. They deserve empathy and compassion. But so do you! It is not about blaming it is about acknowledging the facts and helping what we can help. It is about breaking the chain of trauma transmitted through generations and healing your life and the lives of your children and grandchildren.

Please help me to help others

This blog article is the most general sketch on childhood trauma. To learn more please follow my Facebook page (Soultap Therapy) where I post links to other literature and resources.

Please share this article with your friends and people who may benefit from this information. And feel free to post comments or write to me if you have questions.

 

 

 

 

 

From the therapy room: Beyond bad feelings

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In my previous blog ‘What scripts are running us’ I invited you to challenge your conceptions of how things should be. We have so many firm ideas about all kinds of things! Yet so many of them are not our original thoughts, but have been ‘downloaded’ from our society – through parents, school, mass media, church, books, traditions, etc. Some of these ideas may align with your deeper feelings and experiences and some not, but how can we tell one from the other without questioning them?

Questioning old ideas and our habitual approaches to life is a big part of my therapy work. I challenge my clients and my clients challenge me. That’s why it never gets boring! And today I want to share with you one such conversation that I had with my client Guy (the name has been changed for the sake of confidentiality). It began during a session and continued via emails. Hope you will find it as interesting and stimulating as I did.

G. I have been feeling kind of flat this week. And I also feel strange now, a bit panicky… It worries me a little… I thought I was making good progress and was getting better, and then it got worse again.

L. You know, somehow the words ‘progress’ and ‘getting better’ jar my ear… It sounds like you are constantly measuring where you are, according to a certain scale, instead of simply living and taking each experience on its own…

G. Well we’re taught from an early age to strive to be ‘better’ always, to ‘improve…’ like we’re on a mountain relentlessly moving to the summit… that’s where our eyes always are, rather than on the ground beneath our feet! We need more flexible criteria. Maybe we could spiral around the mountain, or perhaps head downwards to the base if we want more stability, or even stop in the middle somewhere for a balance and different views. All places have their advantage!

L. Well – if we think about it – ‘better’ or ‘worse’ is a convention, a relative thing, just as what we designate as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feelings. Why, for instance, feeling sad is ‘bad,’ while feeling ‘joyful’ is ‘good’? Feeling sad may be uncomfortable and heavy, true, but is it ‘bad’? When we apply labels they obscure the experience itself, stop us from exploring it and from seeing its value.

G. I think the whole structure of the way we see the world as adults is based on our attempt to hold on to ideas or concepts we have been taught are ‘good.’ And we try to get away from those we have been taught are ‘bad.’ Out of which emerges a corresponding struggle with our feelings. This is simply conditioning and represents a movement away from the experience itself. As small children we saw the world as flowing and whole… I think we need to try and somehow return to this state, coming through all we’ve learnt back to a new balance.

L. Yes! In a way it’s like going back to a pre-verbal stage where we experience things immediately. Marking things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ only comes with the acquisition of language, which is a conventional structure – limited and limiting (while also useful and necessary). I believe we need to become really clear that ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘better’ or ‘worse’ are just labels belonging to a particular framework of references. We tend to associate comfortable feelings with ‘good,’ and uncomfortable with ‘bad,’ but this is totally arbitrary!

G. Can we regard our state in any moment like an interesting natural phenomenon such as the weather, and become really fascinated by all its manifestations, and unexpected changes, or even unexpected stability at times… because really there’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ weather… those notions always depend on your viewpoint… for example dark clouds and heavy rain might be ‘bad’ for a tourist, but very ‘good’ for the plants in your garden!

L. My favourite analogy is the sea: it can be rough and wavy or still and translucent. But we don’t talk about it as being ‘better’ in one state than in the other. (Unless we are fishermen for whom ‘good’ sea would mean ‘easy for navigation’/’favourable for fishing’ or whatever term they use.)

G. When we truly integrate the feeling that ‘there’s no better or worse’ it actually frees us to have criteria for ‘better or worse’ when required – as is sometimes necessary to live in the world.

L. It is a valid point: we need to have a ‘better or worse’ criterion to get by in daily life.

G. But to integrate (or live) the feeling that ‘there’s no better or worse’ this feeling itself has to be ‘no better or worse’ than anything else.

L. I am not sure I understand you here…

G. It’s difficult to express… let’s take ‘acceptance.’ We can say we’re going to accept everything about ourselves but to really do that we also have to accept our own feelings or emotions of ‘non-acceptance’ about ourselves. We can say that everything we feel is necessary and fitting but we only fully do that by somehow also seeing as fitting our feelings or emotions of things being wrong and not fitting! This is important, otherwise we can get hooked into yet another ‘better’ way of being, that of ‘accepting’, and be back in a rut again.

L. Yes, I see what you mean now: we need to also embrace our own feelings of non-acceptance as they too are integral part of our existence and experience. From what I know about Buddhism, it encourages precisely this kind of approach: accepting or rather witnessing without rejection any state in which we find ourselves. Even if it is uncomfortable and difficult. Allowing it to be and being ok with it.

G. Yes .. but even if we think we’ve got really good at this ‘non-rejection’ thing, but suddenly find ourselves back again vehemently rejecting something, that’s exactly the point where, instead of hopelessness, if we’re really living this dialogue, we don’t reject that very ‘rejection’!

L. You are totally right and – well, yes – it is a challenge! And we can only meet it by learning to be compassionate towards ourselves.

Homelessness and homecoming

Have you ever felt homeless? I don’t mean trying to imagine yourself living on the street, without a roof over your head, but the inarticulate feeling inside you that would resonate with the word “homeless”?

For many years – night in and night out – this has been a recurrent motif of my dreams. However their main plot had varied, that motif remained constant: in every dream I wouldn’t have a home of my own. I would stay at an hotel, perch in a corner of somebody’s sitting room among their busy life, sleep in half-deserted dormitories… It was the resonance with this feeling that drew me to take part in Crisis at Christmas when a friend told me about this large-scale volunteering initiative in the UK.

Crisis at Christmas

During the Christmas week the organization called Crisis (www.crisis.org.uk) hires empty schools and colleges and turns them into the residential and day-centres for people who are homeless. Some of them sleep rough, others live at squats or manage by the so-called “sofa-surfing” at their friends’ or acquaintances. At Crisis’ centres the guests receive three home-cooked meals a day and have an access to a wide variety of free services: medical checks, dentist treatments, haircut, clothes alterations, legal advice, massage, reflexology, Reiki, meditation, arts and crafts, drama classes, creative writing – you name it. And just having a chat with some friendly people also means a lot! During last Christmas (2014) 10 centres in London welcomed over 3,600 guests. More than 10,000 volunteers took part in the event, and I had a privilege to be one of them. It was my second time at Crisis at Christmas and, as the year before, it was a very profound and intense experience, which shook me and stirred many feelings and thoughts. I’d like to try and share some of them here.

What is homelessness?

What does it mean to be homeless? Is it a social phenomenon, psychological conundrum or existential condition? Or perhaps – all of those. On my way back to Cambridge I had a chat over a cup of coffee with a friend who teaches philosophy. He evoked Heidegger, the German existential philosopher who spoke of our “thrownness”: we are being “thrown” into this world, without asking for it, without choosing the circumstances of our birth and upbringing, isolated in our uniqueness, struggling to make some sense of all this.

There are levels – and layers – of homelessness. Heidegger’s is the most basic – existential level – a human condition that we all share. Some of us may experience it sharper than others, but we all experience it at some point and have to come to terms with it. Interwoven with it and, partly, evolving from it is the next level: psychological homelessness. By this I mean our needs and feelings of belonging, of being appreciated and needed, of being accepted for who we are.

From the chats that I had with the guests at Crisis I formed an impression that it is when things go badly wrong at this level that leads to the actualized homelessness when a person has no safe place of their own, neither physical nor social. They are literally thrown out: of their homes and of other people’s lives. These are people whose families rejected them, who lost their jobs, their homes, their faith in themselves and in others – and found themselves in emotional and social isolation.

Where does it begin?

As I am writing this, letting my thoughts spin, I am beginning to see the basic experiences of family and social bonding as a buffer that stops the fathomless waters of existential thrownness from crushing through the walls of human psyche and swamping it. I spoke to a young man who grew up in an orphanage; a couple of years ago he managed to track down his mother. She was now living with a young daughter, married to a wealthy man and didn’t want to know of him… I encountered a man in his sixties, who attempted suicide twice, and he has grown up children who hold good jobs and earn decent money… I can’t stop wondering what will become of these people – will they make it through this winter? And the following one?..

My initiation into Crisis has endowed me with a “survivor’s guilt” that I have to learn to accept and embrace. Yet this guilt comes together with the gift. It is a gift of hope. The hope that healing is possible. Of course, it is my own healing too that I’ve been seeking when volunteering at Crisis at Christmas. And I believe I have found some answers – at least for myself…

Naked humanness

One of the most remarkable things about Crisis at Christmas is that it is a place where people (even volunteers between themselves) don’t ask each other about what they do in the “outer” life. The usual questions that dominate most social gatherings, implicitly or explicitly, are rendered irrelevant in this context. Suddenly it doesn’t matter what your job is, how much you earn, what car you drive, what are your degrees, position, status, and so on. People get to know you from an immediate experience of you – through what you give and how you give, through how you interact with others. They get to know you by your smile, by the tone of your voice, by how you listen and how you share. It is the essential qualities that matter and on this level one is able to experience the rare moments of true equality: because even the most deprived person, outside of the very margins of society, still carries the light of his or her personality within them.

We hold on so tightly to external attributes which we believe add to our value. When we lose these attributes (even just some of them) we suffer and feel worthless. But it is when we are stripped naked of all our decorations that our humanness comes forth, shining in its vulnerable beauty. I have already discovered this simple truth through my personal journey as well as my work as a therapist, but it was my experience at Crisis that really helped it sink in.

Giving and receiving

It is very important though that in such critical moments of your life someone will be with you who can appreciate this beauty and reflect it back to you, so you can begin to appreciate it for yourself. And here I come to another crucial notion: the openness of heart. Probably the worst thing that can happen to a person who had been deprived of love and caring is that they deem themselves beyond hope and turn away from help that is being offered. Kierkegaard (to mention yet another existential philosopher) called it “shutupness or “in-closure” (Indeslutte) and deemed it the worst kind of despair.

In order to heal one has to be able to receive. And in order to receive one has to have courage to give their trust to somebody who offers them compassion and a helping hand. So the giving and the receiving are really the one thing – like yin and yang – flowing one into the other and engendering one another. I have fully experienced it at Crisis.

This year as well as the last year I have being working alongside massage and yoga practitioners, giving Reiki. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Reiki comes from an ancient tradition of healing by laying on hands. It is a very simple pure kind of touch (although some practitioners do it without physical contact) that promotes a deep sense of relaxation and helps rebalance emotions and restore physical health. It was truly amazing and infinitely moving to witness how people who sleep on the street could so totally entrust themselves to your hands, how they allowed themselves to be held and attended to. What beautiful, slightly shy smiles I’ve been greeted with when they opened their eyes re-emerging from a few moments of peace and calmness! The gift of warm-hearted child-like gratefulness generously offered. It was a healing gift for me too for at these moments I transcended my own existential homelessness and experienced a profound sense of connectedness – from heart to heart. I wasn’t alone any more, the world had meaning and my life had meaning.

Homecoming

After so many dark nights of the soul, after all my wanderings through the endless tunnels I feel that I came to be more rooted in my heart, feeling safe and comfortable there and happy to open it to others and to life. It is a wonderful and joyful experience of Homecoming.

And, in conclusion, I want to share with you a song performed by The Choir with No Name – a choir of homeless people. One of the guests at Crisis told me about them and said that singing at the choir is what kept him going. Please listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJjTe5DmGso

Whom can I trust?

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Once a month I run a personal growth group that meets at my home. Every meeting centres on a theme that we choose in advance and participants share their life experiences that relate to the theme. One of our meetings had been on the theme of trust and reflecting on it afterwards, I had been struck how everybody spoke about a situation that involved broken trust. Although we all, hopefully, have had experiences in life when our trust was reaffirmed, instances of broken trust are so painful and leave such a deep wound they come to the fore when the topic of trust is raised.

Like everybody else, in my own life I have had situations when I felt badly let down by people I put my trust in. In my therapy work too, broken trust is a recurrent theme and sometimes I hear a cry of a near despair: “Whom can I trust then?” When we have been hurt very deeply it may sometimes seem that to keep safe it might be better not to trust anybody ever again. Yet by adopting this strategy we would stop ourselves from experiencing the joy of intimate connectedness and may suffer from loneliness and isolation. So is there a way out from this conundrum? How can we trust people and keep ourselves safe?

Expectations, awareness and reality check

Broken trust always involves the fissure between our expectations of another person and their ability (or rather inability) to meet these expectations. Thus the first thing to become aware of is that we do have certain expectations. Next, we need to enquire how realistic our expectations are: whether or not the person in question can possibly meet them.

Our expectations always spring from sets of values and beliefs which may or may not correspond to that of the other person. This takes time to find out, but it is also important to keep in mind that our values and beliefs are not fixed once and for all. They change as we change while journeying through life and what we believed to be unshakable truth when we were 16 may not be the same for us when we are 30.

These changes often happen gradually and imperceptibly and may not synchronize with the changes in our friends, partners, parents or siblings. When we are unaware of this ongoing process of change (within ourselves as well as within others) we are more likely to miss the signals that inform us that we are no longer in alignment with another person. Then the risk of suffering a disappointment is higher. It also often happens that when we come under pressure or when our priorities change as a result of changing circumstances we may not be able to be there for our friends in the same way we used to.

One of the most painful losses of friendship in my life happened through my inability to appreciate the change that was taking place in my friend’s life. For several years we have been very close, shared with each other intimate concerns and helped each other through the times of emotional turmoil. Then my friend got married and the joys and challenges of her new married life have naturally become a priority to her. I, however, haven’t been able to recognize that and continued demanding that she remains engaged with me with the same intensity as before. This placed too much burden on our relationship and eventually the connection has snapped. Had I been able to understand and accept my friends’ changing needs and emotional resources we could have kept the friendship going. Yet I couldn’t… At that time I had been struggling, feeling lonely and wanting emotional support, which I used to receive from my friend, and when she distanced herself I felt abandoned.

Taking care of ourselves

It is most important to realize that no single person in this world can possibly take care of all our emotional (and/or practical) needs. Not even the best ever parents are able to meet all the needs of their children because we are such complex beings and our needs are so many and varied. Thus it is essential to become aware of the needs we have and to find ways of meeting them through different sources. Consider questions like these : What is it that makes me happy and what I can do to give it to myself? What is it I am struggling with and where I can find help?

For example, if we want companionship we can think of activities we can do with other people who share similar interests. We can’t demand or expect the satisfaction of this need solely from our partner. Similarly, when we are going through difficult times. One person – be it the most loving partner or friend – can only support us thus far, as we all have limited resources and a lot of personal challenges to deal with. So we need to seek help from a different source, such as therapy, for instance, otherwise the relationship may suffer under too much burden.

It is also important to develop an ability to be on our own. I want to avoid being misunderstood on this point. I am not trying to advocate the idea of total self-reliance. I believe this is neither realistic nor healthy. After all we are communal beings. Rather what I am trying to say is that when we are able to stay quietly with ourselves in a moment of distress we begin to hear better our inner voice that would offer us insights and guidance that we need. We become stronger and more independent, in a sense that we learn to be a source of support to ourselves.

Renewing trust

However much awareness we have it is nigh impossible to altogether avoid the situations when we feel badly disappointed and let down by others. From my own experience and through talking and working with people I came to think that, in addition to hurt, we also suffer in such instances from a sense of confusion. We momentarily lose faith in our ability to make a sound judgement about other people and situations. We feel disoriented and helpless. And then we ask the question: Whom can I trust?

Basically, what we are asking is this: Can I trust myself? Can I trust my own intuition, knowledge, perception?

In recovering trust and faith in ourselves it helps to look at the factors that contributed to us misjudging the situation or overlooking the signs of a possible fracture. These can be our beliefs, fears, past hurts or desire to see what we want to see… Alas! We are only human! When we claim responsibility for our part in the situation we reclaim our power back. We don’t any longer feel like a victim of a blind force, but feel more in control and better equipped for handling similar situations in the future.

Forgiveness

In conclusion to this rather long and very incomprehensive blog I want to say a few words about forgiveness. If you have felt unexpectedly let down by somebody whom you have known to be very trustworthy, please consider giving this person another chance. This is different from giving our trust blindly to somebody whom we don’t know that well or who consistently proved to be unreliable. Rather it is about acknowledging that we are subject to many different forces – often subconscious and very strong – that can overpower us at times and make us act out of character.

It might be sad to think that complete, 100% trust, just as an eternal love, is not really possible. Yet in this sadness we may also find greater kindness towards ourselves and towards others. And by renewing our trust we help our life and the lives of others unfold.