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How to Take Care When Trauma Impacts Our Ability to Trust

Trust is one of our most basic needs as an animal species.  From even before the moment we exit our mother’s womb, we rely on our first and primary caregivers to meet our needs.  We expect to be kept physically and emotionally safe, we expect to be provided with food, shelter, and warmth.  Not consciously, of course, but from a primitive, instinctual place.  

Maybe your trust was shattered when a natural disaster occurred, leaving you to feel as though the world is not a safe place.  Maybe you were bullied in school and felt as though friendships were hopeless and connections with others were not safe.  Or maybe you were verbally abused by your first dating partner and were forced to do things you didn’t want to do. Maybe you came from a home where your parent(s) were incapable of or chose not to provide you with the safety you needed.  Perhaps your needs for love, attention, affection, and stability were not provided consistently enough, too much, or at all.  Maybe your mom used drugs or alcohol during her pregnancy.  Maybe you were brought into this world by people who didn’t want to be parents to begin with.

All of these instances leave people feeling unworthy, unloved, and unsafe, which does a number on our ability to trust others, and most importantly, OURSELVES.  

Trauma affects how our brains respond to everyday stress, how we engage or disengage in our relationships, how we view the world, how our bodies function, and how we see ourselves.  To face trauma means to be a survivor.  It means staying alive despite the life-threatening or psychologically-threatening event or events.  

In my work as a trauma therapist, along with my own life experiences, I have sat with over and over again the debilitating pain that trauma and the lack of trust causes.  And, many times, I’ve witnessed the healing that begins to happen when survivors get to a place in their journey that they can say, “Damn it!  I’ve had enough.  I’m tired of just going through the motions and not really living my life.”  This usually requires a mix of some patience, just a little bit of openness and honesty, and some willingness to challenge old patterns despite the fear.  As E.E. Cummings wrote, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

So, how do you start that process?  Naturally, I recommend working with a therapist who is trained in trauma, whether that is someone who can support you through a one-time experience, or a therapist who specializes in attachment and developmental trauma to help you work through those early life experiences and how they impact your ability to trust now as an adult.

7 WAYS TO PRACTICE AND INTEGRATE TRUST:

Along with working with a trained therapist, here are some ideas that you might want to try on your own.  These can be done wherever you are at any time!  Even during the times when a part of you doesn’t feel worthy of trust-building, allow the other parts of you to try them anyway.

1.  Pay attention to your breath.  This may sound like a no-brainer as mindfulness has surged to the collective surface recently, but even people who practice mindfulness can forget to do this (A.K.A. me)!  Your breath is ALWAYS with you.  No one can control it and no one can take it away.  You get to notice it and do what you want with it.  You can count on it to always be there for you.

2.  Make a routine for yourself.  By this, I don’t necessarily mean a one-size-fits-all approach.  The word “routine” may make you cringe.  It may feel really overwhelming to create a routine.  By creating a routine, you rely on yourself to get your basic needs met, such as eating meals and drinking water that your body needs, bathing when your body needs to be cleansed, paying your bills so that you have warmth in your home and a place to sleep.  Start out with the basics, and as you practice those, you can always add more fun and pleasurable things into your routine.  When we have some sort of routine, we generally know what to expect.

3.  When feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed-the-f*ck-out, place your hands on the parts of you that are also feeling physical discomfort.  Common places we tend to hold our anxiety are our chests, stomachs, shoulders, backs, necks, and heads.  By placing a hand on any uncomfortable place on the body and breathing in and out, you might notice a sense of comfort.  Often times, children who didn’t get their emotional or physical needs met lacked physical affection by a safe person.  If the physical touch you received was absent, too much, or unsafe, learning to comfort yourself in a safe, consistent way can help increase your trust.

4.  Be an observer of trust.  Make note of times you witness people doing trustful things.  Some examples might be, “My friend followed through on our plans”, “That person did an act of service for the other person with no expectation in return”, “My paycheck is deposited consistently every two weeks”, “I have a set appointment for my self-care each week”, “I feed my animal, play with it, and clean up after it regularly”, “My partner cooks and I clean”.

5.  Remind yourself, “I am safe”.  When having an emotional flashblack that effects trust, remind yourself that you are not in the same situation you were in when your trust was first mistreated.  If you are in an unsafe situation, this tactic isn’t recommended and I trust that you will do whatever you need to to keep yourself safe.

6.  Write a letter to yourself at the time when you first remember your trust wearing thin.  Promise them, as an adult, you are going to keep them safe and get their needs met.

7.  Notice what your triggers are.  What sorts of things happen when you’re feeling mistrusting?  What gets under your skin so deeply that you retreat and no longer want to engage with others or in the world?  What happens right before you start questioning every single person and experience?

When we learn to take care of ourselves in a trusting, safe way, we can begin shifting from surviving mode to thriving mode.  This journey looks different for everyone and I trust in your timing.

With warmth,

Ashleigh