I made the classic mistake while growing up, of thinking that everyone thought and felt the same way as me. This caused much confusion and problems for me. Not only because I made wrongful presumptions about other people which led to many misunderstandings and breakdowns in various platonic and romantic relationships but it also meant I felt continuously hurt and puzzled as I, again, presumed I understood a person's motivation behind a behaviour but I didn't understand the behaviour. As someone who valued kindness and being very considerate, I presumed everyone else felt and thought the same way, so when they went out of their way to hurt me, I struggled to understand why.
Part of studying psychology is to learn the many ways humans think and behave and when adding counselling/psychotherapy training to the mix, you learn to never presume you understand someone else's reality and that it's important to ask questions to try and gain some understanding of the other person's worldview - you should never assume as it makes an 'ass out of u and me' (as the saying goes)... Well, except to presume that you'll never master knowing someone else's reality regardless of how long you've worked (or lived) together.
As a self-proclaimed 'word nerd' and story collector, I also learned, not just the power of words (you can read more about that specifically here but, generally, my daily blogs are about challenging our understanding of words and narratives), but that even words, despite their dictionary definitions, mean different things to different people.
Indeed, one question I ask the people I work with is 'what is your concept of self-esteem, self-worth and confidence' and people have very varied and differentiating replies.
Another thing I often do with the people I work with is to look at their values (principles or standards that people hold highly - value, such as needs and personality traits). And when people have identified their top values, I always ask them to tell me how they define each value word - it's seldom the same way as I do.
So, that leads me to the word 'trust' and how, despite knowing all of the above for many years, I still made a wrongful presumption about another person's understanding of this important word.
'Trust' is a word often used in my world.
We, practitioners, value trust very highly and we tend to go as far as to promise trust to the people we work with.
Trust is considered essential to do therapeutic work.
You have to be able to trust your therapist to be able to fully open up and do the work needed to change and heal.
But even if I was to hand out the definition as written above to the people I work with to try and ensure we're coming from the same place in terms of understanding trust, each additional word in that definition has to be defined by each individual as well.
'A firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something'.
But what does reliability mean to you and does it mean the same to me? What about truth? Or ability?
Though it's encouraged within the methods I've trained in, to be honest, transparent and congruent with the people we work with, raw and blunt truths are not encouraged.
If I'm working with someone who's making decisions that aren't aligned with what I'd consider healthy or helpful choices, me being honest about that wouldn't serve a purpose. Therapy isn't about my opinion, first of all. Why not, you might ask - ain't I the 'mental health' expert? Aren't you paying me for my advice?
Yes and no (or as Australians would say 'yeah nah').
I know a lot about mental health and the workings of the mind but I can never be an expert on your reality or the sense you're making of your mental health (we're back to the point of not making presumptions) and secondly, my advice might harm you.
My advice would be based on what works for me, who I am, who I choose to be and the resources, knowledge and support available to me. Counter-productive as this may sound (especially from a marketing perspective), you're paying me to not give you advice. You're paying me to ask questions to help you to figure out the right decision for you by yourself, based on your reality, your needs, your unique life experiences and your knowledge, resources and support available at that given moment. So, my truth is not relevant, no matter how keen you might think you are to know my thoughts.
This leads me to point number two - there is no such thing as a universal truth, so how can we talk about a belief in someone's truth? Some people are diehard believers in an afterlife, while others will throw everything at you to prove you wrong based on their truth. You might think it's a universal truth that self-harming is bad but what if self-harming for someone is the thing that keeps them from killing themselves? What would happen if they listened to your truth and the emotional overwhelm without the coping mechanism of self-harming became so great that they ended things instead?
My truth is not a fact. Furthermore, most people's truth is based on faulty presumptions and some form of unresolved childhood trauma, or at the very least, drama that's projected onto others.
Personally, I'm very fearful of anyone claiming truths.
Let's look at 'ability' now - trust is a belief in someone's ability.
To be honest, this scares the pants off me as a therapist.
You see, I have clients who believe I know everything and that I'm flawless and perfect. Or, at the very least, want me to be. And I'm not! I'm just an imperfect, flawed human. And I sit with limited knowledge. The only thing I like to say with certainty is that I know I know nothing at all (right now I don't even know who I'm quoting but it's one of the big philosophers, or at least, he's credited with having said something like that).
So, what one person expects of my abilities might not be what is - at all - within my powers.
So, when we practitioners tell our clients that trust is at the core of what we do. That they should trust us... What are we really asking? And is that clear to the people we work with?
When I talk about being able to trust me as a practitioner, I mean that you can trust that I won't intentionally harm the person I'm working with. Trust that I will do my very best while working with them. Trust I won't break the conditions set out in the contract, like confidentiality. Trust that I will have their best interest at heart. Trust that I will hold them with positive regard and not try to manipulate them.
But what the word doesn't mean is that they can trust that I won't make any mistakes whatsoever. They can't trust that I won't do something they view as wrong (I wish I could promise I wouldn't but, as already stated, I am just a flawed, imperfect human being, just like everyone else and it's more my job to role model that it's ok to be imperfect that to be a flawless professional). They can't trust that I will have all the answers and know everything there is to know about psychology and therapy in the whole wide world and, perhaps most importantly, they cannot trust that I can read their minds and respond as they hope in their hearts. Not least because trust goes both ways.
Now, that's the thing that's not talked about as often in therapy.
I cannot do my job, or at least not very well if the person I'm working with isn't trustworthy too. If they lie, withhold information or hope that I can read their minds and react based on that the relationship and therapeutic outcome are likely to fail. If they are searching high and low for ways to prove that I do not have their best interest at heart, I can't trust them to want to be in partnership with me and the way I work (not all therapists work like this) is to try and create a relationship of equals in the therapeutic space. If a person believes that I can memorise every single word shared, I'll fail based on their misplaced trust in my memory abilities but nor can I trust their sense of what's realistic from our working relationship. If they get mad at me and don't voice it, I can't trust their honesty either.
Now, everything stated above is quite normal ways for people to behave in the therapeutic space if they are traumatised and I don't blame a single person for thinking or behaving in that way and this is one of the causes there might be a breakdown in the therapeutic relationship.
Most therapists (I'd love to say all therapists but then I'll go on and presume again), will be very forgiven of a client's inability to be trustful in therapy, but again, not if they don't know there's an issue, to begin with, because no matter how masterful a therapist is, they cannot read minds (common misconception. We can't magically heal anyone either... People might be mistaking us for Jesus... or Darren Brown...).
Another thing therapists are quite famous for, however, is their ability to not get angry, vengeful or otherwise display hostile emotions towards a client who admits to having been dishonest, or to a client who opens up about their grievances about the therapist. In fact, it's an incredibly helpful tool to work through personal issues when using what has happened - good or bad - between a therapist and their client. The therapeutic relationship often plays out and thus represents the ways a client is with others as well as their underlying attachment styles and struggles in relationships.
But again, this form of honest therapy can only be achieved if both parties show up in the relationship to work on it. If a client chooses to run away and point a finger from the distance, it's hard for the therapist to keep themselves safe in what is no longer a trusting relationship for both therapist and client.
So, the thing about trust is that it's a complicated concept, let alone a complicated word that might mean different things to different people.
Therapists are incredibly sketchy when it comes to making promises. But, I can promise you one thing: The last thing I want in this world, and something I strive passionately and determinedly towards, is to not add to anyone's trauma as a practitioner.
That doesn't mean I don't sometimes fail... And each time I'm aware of having made a mistake, my heart breaks, so I promise you, I do not take my job or my clients' wellbeing lightly. You can trust that.
But what about you? What does the word trust mean to you? If you were to add an entry to the Manual of You about trust, what might you add? What have you experienced in terms of broken or gained trust? About trust in others as well as towards yourself? Because, the thing is, what we fear about others is often a projection of what we don't like that we're doing to ourselves and what we dislike about others is often a representation of something we don't like about ourselves. So, when we live a life low on trust, it's often a sign that we don't trust ourselves either. Maybe we don't trust ourselves to be kind towards ourselves or have our best interest at heart in our decisions but instead of working on our trust issues towards ourselves we project the problem onto others and make them the problem. And when we're low on trust towards others or society, we're often the people not trustworthy because we're showing up with cynicism, and scepticism and creating barriers instead of connection as we're not operating from a place of love, kindness and compassion but distrust.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, or didn't, or want to add something or have a question, feel free to comment below (but try and be kind about it - I'm a terribly sensitive soul).
Don't forget that this is just my opinion. You don't have to agree. These pieces of writing are just here to make you think and take from it what you like and find helpful and ignore the rest. At the end of the day, it's your life and, therefore, what you consume, what you believe, and what you think and feel is your choice.
Also, this article has been brought to you by a perfectly imperfect, flawsome dyslexic. I hope any potential spelling or grammar mistakes didn't take away from your enjoyment.
Meandering thoughts about life and the meaning of everything, from a know-it-not-all!