Tag Archives: trust

Magical Thinking

Rather a long time ago now, I went through some experiences that left me not only disenchanted, but feeling unsafe about allowing myself to think magically in any way at all. My universe was a cold, hostile place and I could not expect it to treat me kindly. Before that, I’d been a person who was not just into but really good at divination. I’d lived with intuition and awareness and felt open and alive. I lost it all. Those of you who have read my books will know that I’ve mostly been doing my Paganism from a maybeist/atheist kind of position.

For some years now, Tom and I have known that we could see no way to level up from our current arrangement. There are things we want to change in our lives – where we live, what we do creatively – but we’ve been unable to get there from here. We’re not affluent or prominent enough and we’ve not got the right connections. We’ve been in a processes of resigning ourselves to this being our lives, while habitually saying ‘and then the magic thing happens’ if we want to imagine something ambitious we can’t see how to achieve.

It was, with hindsight, something a lot like a prayer or a spell.

In the last few weeks, we have instead ended up looking at each other and saying ‘and then the magic thing happens’. Because it turns out that we have invited magic into our lives in a very real sort of way.

It’s been a strange few months, where I’ve had to depend on the intuition I’d stopped using and didn’t trust. With important stuff to do and nothing like enough information, it’s the only tool I’ve had. But every prompting from that has been right. Verifiable stuff with significant implications. I’ve started doing divination again and started paying attention to the world in very different ways – I have been re-enchanted, no two ways about that. Something I had not been able to see how to do for myself, but… the magic thing happens.

What I know right now is that there is magic coming into my life, and that what I need to do with that is trust the process. Let go, and be swept away by it all. So I’m going to trust that intuition, trust what’s happening, trust what will happen and be open to anything and everything changing.


Trust and Joy

It occurred to me yesterday that the key to being able to find delight in life has everything to do with trust. It’s the willingness to suspend disbelief and invest in the idea of worth that brings a book or a novel to life. It’s what brings meaning to a football game or turns a board game into a good evening. We have to let go, invest, bring our willingness and trust that it is worthwhile. From that initial trust we are then able to create enjoyment.

I’ll freely admit that I can’t do this with team sports or most board games. There are enough things I can do it with that this is no great setback.

The problems start when people don’t in some way recognise this. On the one had we have people who take things so seriously that they knock all the joy out of it, and on the other, a total refusal to see any worth, expressed in ways that are designed to knock the joy out for other people. However passionately invested you are in your sports team, there’s never any justification for punching someone over a game. Joy does not live here. Equally, trying to shame someone for something you don’t enjoy and they do is an empty, tragic sort of way to carry on.

There are of course people who believe that the thing they are willing to trust and invest in has more inherent worth than the thing they mock. A fine example of this would be comics vs literature. Comics are infantile, trivial, low-brow and a waste of your time, they may tell you. This is an easy conclusion to come to if you don’t read comics and assume the form is a genre (it isn’t) and that it’s just superheroes and kids jokes (also not the case). It’s easy to devalue things we don’t understand. What can be missed out alongside this are the demands literary texts make of their readers to suspend disbelief. In older texts, it usually means accepting a large quantity of outrageous coincidence as plausible. Sometimes it means accepting that it being hard to make sense of a book is a good experience, or that it is ok that almost nothing happens. As someone who reads both comics and literary works, I can suspend my disbelief in both directions.

When you’re invested in something and have decided to trust it, you can easily forget that’s what you’ve done. Be it a computer game, a lifestyle choice, an aesthetic for your wardrobe… when we invest our belief, we often persuade ourselves we’ve done something else entirely. For anyone not invested in the same way, our choices may make no sense.

I have, repeatedly invested myself in organisations, only to come out of them and be amazed at how insignificant they seem from the outside. You can invest in something and make it your whole world, and step back from it and find it to be inconsequential. It is safer and healthier I think, to make the wholehearted dedication from a position of knowing you are choosing to do that. By all means, decide that your team is the best team in the world, your genre is the only one you want to read, or your religion is the one true way (for you). It helps to remember that this is a deliberate choice, and to leave room for people who choose otherwise. Life is richer when we invest our trust in it, but kinder when we remember other people are investing in different ways.


Being Vulnerable

Staying open, staying available, being willing to trust sometimes, being open to being touched… this is all difficult territory for me and has been so for a long time. These are the places my anxiety builds its nests. None of it is irrational. Without exception, it is people I have let get close to me who have done me the most damage. The idea of being vulnerable can suggest something truly threatening.

But, to connect with another person in any way means taking off at least some of the armour, retracting the spikes, not waiting for the blow to land. The question is, when to do that? Who to trust? When to decide that it’s worth admitting where I feel fragile and exposed, where things are difficult for me, what I feel keenly.

I know from bitter and repeated experience that sometimes, when you show someone where you are vulnerable, they will stick claws into that part of you and start tearing. And until you have shown them that openness, they probably won’t show you those claws, or their willingness to use them.

There have been a number of rounds this year of getting this right. Trusting the right people. Picking a passably good time to drop guard. With the right people, vulnerability opens the door to magical possibility. Sometimes people come back and are vulnerable in return, sharing their own truths, difficulties and tender spots. When that happens, the whole quality of the relationship shifts. Deeper trust becomes more available.

I think I’ve got better too at venturing small acts of trust that don’t leave me over-exposed, and then judging the results. There are things I have learned to look for – the people who come back with some sign of care, or empathy, or who are simply glad to have been trusted, or open up and share their own story in return. I also look out for people who respond competitively with a ‘my problems are worse than yours’ approach. I watch out for anything dismissive, careless, disinterested. If anyone puts me down at this point, calls me a drama queen or anything of that ilk, I no longer take that as a measure of me, but a measure of them. I put my armour back on and I go away.

I’ve started trusting my gut feelings more on this one as well. We take in more information than we can consciously process, and a gut-feeling is not an irrational thing. The more I trust my gut feelings about people the better I do around deciding who to trust, and when to keep my armour firmly in place. I deal with a lot of people in the normal scheme of things, increasingly I make snap decisions about who to let in and who to keep at arm’s length. Thus far, these have gone well for me. I’ve jumped into some very heart open interactions. I can’t prove that the people I kept at arm’s length it was as well to – but then I don’t have to, I am not (and it’s taken me a long time to realise this) obliged to justify these choices to anyone.


Negotiating relationships

It is scary being totally honest with another person. Talking about the things that are most raw and relevant around how you feel, what you want, what works for you and what doesn’t. It can be terrifying as it leaves you wide open to being judged and you give the other person in the conversation all the keys to your most vulnerable parts. Not everyone is worthy of that kind of trust, certainly.

And then, if they will do the same for you and share their truth then you may have to look at where that doesn’t fit together. What one of you craves may be off limits for the other. What one of you struggles with may have been mistakenly repeated by the other. Squaring up to having got things wrong for another person is uncomfortable to say the least. It may be more tempting to get defensive and justify what you’ve done rather than listen and learn. That of course is an honesty-killer.

Often you can’t tell if someone will prove worthy of that trust without exploring what happens when you share. To be as open and honest as you can be and have that turned against you is a nasty experience – I certainly have t-shirts for that one. For each knock back the process of getting up and trying again with someone else is hard. But equally, each time someone responds in kind with open hearted truth, it gets easier.

So much more is possible when you can be that real with someone else. It’s true in every kind of relationship shape. If you can speak honestly and be heard, if you can listen open-heartedly and if there is respect on both sides, anything can be worked through. The possibilities grow tremendously. In friendships and romances alike, so much more is available when you can afford to put your heart on your sleeve. Without the risk taking of opening up, there’s far less scope for understanding, and for the magic you can co-create when you’re working open heartedly with another person.

Without deep honesty we’re mostly stuck playing out socially prescribed roles. We take relationship shapes that seem normal, and re-enact them no matter how ill suited we are for the part. We do what we think we are supposed to do – and that can be a narrow, miserable sort of outcome with no magic in it at all. Our standard-issue relationship shapes don’t allow for the nuances of specific people, and it’s only when we approach each other with honesty that we can have relationships based on who we are, not who we think we should be.


How to trust

I admit I am not naturally good at trusting people. As a consequence, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the terms on which I might be willing to trust. What qualities is it that make a person trustworthy? If my trust is going to be partial (it usually is) then to what degrees and in what ways does it make sense to trust people?

I think too often we go into situations assuming other people should trust us. The flip side of not trusting, is not expecting to be trusted and expecting to have to earn that.

  • Backing up words with actions. I don’t expect people to take me at my word until I’ve demonstrated that I can and will do what I said I’d do. However, I do get annoyed when I’ve repeatedly demonstrated I can do the things, and am still treated as untrustworthy in those areas. At that point, refusal to trust becomes a way of reducing and controlling a person.
  • New and different mistakes. We all make mistakes. I don’t find errors to be a barrier to trust unless a person keeps making the same mistakes after they’ve been flagged up. When someone persists in causing the same problem in the same way, it looks a lot like intention, not incompetence.
  • Thinking things through: I tend to trust people who demonstrate a willingness to work things through and reason things out. What I trust here is that this kind of process shows willingness to see things differently and to seek solutions rather than blame. I can trust the integrity of someone’s reasoning without needing them to agree with me or see things as I do.
  • Physical trust. This is a hard one for me – to trust another person both to be kind to my body if I get close, and to trust them not to have a problem with me. I’m an emotionally intense person, and it is hard to hide that when being hugged. Trusting people to accept me as I am and not to take physical advantage is hard. It takes time.
  • I do not trust people who don’t listen to me. I do not trust people who show signs of treating me like a resource they can use. I do not trust people who take me for granted, or people who treat any emotional expression from me as though I am a massive drama queen. It’s taken me a long time to trust that I’m not a massive drama queen and do not deserve to be dismissed at the first sign of emotional expression.
  • In terms of trying to earn trust, I offer honesty and clarity. At least with words. And enough honesty to make clear that I habitually lie with my body. I don’t express pain, depression, anxiety, or exhaustion if I can help it. I hide those things because this helps me function. But I will speak honestly. It means asking people to trust what I say, not what I look like. I am more inclined to trust in turn people who take me at my word rather than seeing how I present and how it doesn’t fit their expectations around what a person in pain should look like. In turn, I will trust people’s words. If someone tells me something, I will assume that is the more substantial truth than any appearances that seem to conflict with it. I can’t say this always goes well, but it is a deliberate choice to do for others what I am often asking for myself.

Trust is a process. It is something you have to build between people. Granted, most people are good and well meaning. The trouble is, that you cannot immediately see the ones who are narcissists, abusers, assaulters, rapists. They tend to be good at passing themselves off as ok, at least in the short term. It’s how they get to do their stuff. The percentage of people I’ve known who have turned out not to be good, or been thoroughly vile, is a small percentage, but they have had a large impact on me. As a consequence, I do not tend to trust the people who treat my innate lack of trust as a failing of some sort. My lack of trust is protective.


Re-personing

A person who doesn’t get their basic needs met can experience a loss of personhood as a consequence. If it starts in childhood, the sense of not qualifying as a proper person entitled to basic things can be hard to shake. Everything I’ve read about self-esteem has talked about how the individual with low self esteem has to develop more of it. Many people seem to assume that self esteem is natural and innate, and I think it isn’t. For most of us, how we feel about ourselves is influenced, if not defined by what we learn from our environments.

Developing self esteem is not something most of us can easily do alone. It is a process of building a sense of being a proper person deserving of all the things proper people get. What’s needed here, is a process of re-personing. Or for some people, getting to become a person for the first time.

If you are involved with someone who is de-personed, this will take time to change. A few positive comments here and there won’t fix things. They won’t magically change in face of a few small gestures. It’s important not to get cross with people if they are slower to re-person than you think they should be. It can take years of persistent, positive feedback to help a de-person become a person. They will likely have little confidence in themselves, they may be pessimistic, and from the outside their sense of self may look crazy. If you blame or shame them for this, you will add to the self esteem problems.

From the inside, it can be difficult trusting anyone who is positive. You may feel like they are setting you up to fail, or mocking you, or over-estimating you. Their positivity may seem like a build up to you inevitably letting them down. It’s hard to get past these things and it takes time. An evidence based approach here can work well – gather data on what actually happens. It won’t help that if you have low self esteem, your mistakes and messes will look bigger than your successes, but if you can identify successes at all, you’re under way.

If you’ve taken a serious emotional battering, you may feel that thinking well of yourself is dangerous. If you’ve been knocked down for being happy, for success, for getting too big for your boots and ideas above your station, the idea of good self esteem can itself be fearful. If you think that treating yourself as an ok person will attract violent pushbacks and emotional abuse, it can feel safer to stay with hating yourself. It takes time to learn how to trust other people not to do this to you. It takes courage to give people a chance to prove that they won’t knock you down as soon as you try to stand up. If you aren’t in a safe environment, you may be right to keep your head down.

We all need to spend most of our time in places that allow us to be people. We need room for our own feelings and responses, for our basic needs, and for a few wants and desires as well. We all need to feel safe and respected. If someone has robbed you of your self esteem, growing a new one is not a quick or easy process, but the thing to remember is that it can be done, and that you do not deserve to feel worthless.

If your cock-ups are normal, human mistakes – poor judgements, misunderstandings, over enthusiasm, insufficient knowledge and so forth, you do not deserve to be knocked down. There are worthless people amongst us, certainly. They spend their time on deliberate malice and cruelty, knocking down others, taking what they aren’t entitled to, grabbing and wounding as they go. And even in those cases, a punishment involving the denial of basic needs doesn’t seem like a good answer. If you’ve not deliberately harmed anyone else, you certainly don’t deserve to be treated like some sort of criminal.


Non-Patriarchal Parenting

It is my belief that traditional western parenting models are all about getting children into the system. We have taught children that the authority of the parent is based on their ability to inflict pain/punishment and their ability to withhold resources as punishment. Patriarchal parenting values obedience over all else, it teaches the child to submit to the will of the parent and not to question the will of the parent. By extension, the child learns to bow to authority and participate in systems of power-over. This causes problems around consent and exploitation.

Inevitably, when bringing up children, there is, and has to be a power imbalance. The younger a child is, the less able they are to care for themselves and the harder it is for them to make good choices because they just don’t know enough. I’ve seen a lot of media representations that suggest there are only two ways of parenting – good, responsible, disciplined parenting (patriarchy) or wet liberal ineptitude that will spoil the child entirely and leave them unable to cope with the real world. So, here are some tactics that I think help if you want to raise a child in non-patriarchal ways.

Be clear that you don’t know everything, you aren’t automatically right, you aren’t some sort of God and you don’t always know what’s best. Admit that you can make mistakes and do not ask your child to believe in the rightness and infallibility of your power.

Any chance you can, explain why you are setting rules, or boundaries, or saying no. Help them understand. Explain to them that they don’t know enough yet to make good choices and that you are helping them get to the point where they can make these choices for themselves. As they become more able to make their own choices, give them the opportunity to do that. Start them off with safe spaces where they can afford to make mistakes and learn from them.

Ask your child for their opinion, thoughts, feelings and preferences. Be clear that they won’t always get what they want, but that their opinion matters and is noted. Take their feelings and opinions seriously and make sure they can see that you do this.

Teach them to negotiate with you. Tell them that if they can make a good and reasoned case for why they want a thing, they might get it. As a bonus, this lures a child away from screaming and temper tantrums really quickly if they can see it works.

Recognise that they are capable of knowing more about something than you do (for me, it was dinosaurs very early on).

Give them opportunities to say no to you, and have that honoured. This is especially important around body contact, and establishing how consent works, and their right to say no. Create situations where it doesn’t matter if they say yes or no, and then let them decide.

I found that doing this meant I could also say ‘if I give you an order, you are to follow it without question or hesitation’ and have that be taken seriously by the child. It was understood that I would only do this in emergencies when there wasn’t time to explain or negotiate, and that I would explain afterwards if necessary.

I found that taking my child seriously and only giving orders in emergencies meant that my child trusted me, was likely to co-operate with me, and did not see what authority I needed to wield as unfair. As a consequence, he doesn’t treat power over others as something he needs as the only way of avoiding people having power over him.


Poem – Imperfect Trust

I want to say ‘trust me,’

I will make it good, or better

Heal the wounded places

Ease bumps and bruises

Bring cake and comfort

Permanent, reliable.

 

We all know my track record

Is less than perfect

On this score.

 

But perfection…

The smooth untroubled surface

Unwanting, unchanging

Free from need.

An ice cube.

Imperfection…

And the flaws create

Fingerholds in lives

Places weeds grow

Glorious, unexpected blooms.

 

My unpolished imperfection

Gets things done, ineptly.

With the love born

Of being unfinished.

 

Only the imperfect dream

Or desire, or hope.

Only the imperfect

Can change.

 

Trust me.

I’m going to mess this up

Now and then,

But there are wild flowers

Growing from my lips.


In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust

I come from a family that was not very tactile at all, so for most of my life have not defaulted to touch as a way of communicating with other people. Cats yes, people, not so much. Thanks to some random accidents of history and some misfortune, I’ve had trouble differentiating between affection and sexual expression as well. That’s a long and complicated story in its own right, and something for another day. For the greater part, my bodily contact with other humans has been shaped by what they deem normal and acceptable, and it’s only recently that I’ve started to think about who and how I want to be in the world, as a potentially tactile physical presence.

There is so much scope for self expression and communication in touch. Who am I? How am I in situations of bodily intimacy, from the cool handshake to the deep hug and beyond? Who do I want to share that with? I’ve spent a number of years learning how to say no, and to hold my boundaries, and that’s been a very good process for me. I have come to recognise that I hate unmeant, casual and empty gestures of affection. ‘Social affection’ can so often be about enforcing norms and expressing power – particularly the power to make someone else accept your kisses, embraces, and bodily presence. Above all else in this arena, I hate being pounced on and kissed by people who mean nothing, but want to appear open, expressive, passionate, or whatever the hell it is they think this gets them.

If someone is going to touch me, I like to have a warning, and the space to decide whether or not that’s welcome. I’ve got a lot better at holding that line, moving away when it seems threatened, and choosing the company of people who will give me space to say no in the first place.

I also want to be able to say yes. In holding the space of mostly saying no, I’ve had the scope to figure out more about who I am, and what I want for me. I have the capacity to be an intensely emotional, passionate, deeply affectionate and physically expressive sort of person. I don’t want to offer that where it’s not wanted. Up until recently, I’ve seen this side of myself as something likely to be an affront, something to hide and apologise for. Over the last few weeks I’ve learned what an enormous difference it makes dealing with people who welcome me as I am and reciprocate. I’ve known and understood this for years in the context of my marriage, but finding out how the same things could work with true comrades, is a whole other process.

To be swept up by someone who makes no secret of adoring me in return. A hand on an arm, lightly but sincerely from someone who is expressing something important. Being able to trust enough to ask ‘may I kiss you?’ and having that answered with exactly what I was looking for.

I know that the phrase ‘in perfect love and perfect trust’ is used by some Witches or Wiccans in a ritual context, as an expression of how you should be entering sacred space. As a Druid, I’ve been taught to think of each person (human and not human) as having a kind of personal sacred space around them. I do not go casually into the sacred space that is proximity with anyone else. I’m starting to realise what it might mean to do that in perfect love and perfect trust, and it changes who I can be in the world, how I think of myself as a physical presence, and the scope I have to say yes, as well as no.


Studies in trust

For me, trust is everything, and it’s also something I find very difficult. It’s not especially the issues of practical trust – will people do what they said they’d do? I’m able to roll easily enough with the natural forgetting and error that is part of life for all of us. The critical balance for me lies around the trust-truth-acceptance dynamic.

Part of my problem is that I’ve been sorely messed about by people who were not truthful, and who did not accept me. Pressure to change, and rejection of how I am as a person whilst wanting either my body or my utility, having been reoccurring themes. I’ve learned a lot about how not to get caught up in that, and am doing better, but the legacy of it remains.

I find it really hard to trust people in any way. Most especially I find it hard to trust that I will be accepted. I am easily persuaded that silence equates to rejection, when probably it doesn’t. I tend to assume that my emotional openness will be unwelcome, and as a consequence I am less honest than I could be. I undermine the trust-truth-acceptance dynamic every time I lie by omission to someone I care about. Most often the thing I lie about in this way, is exactly how much I care. It says a lot about some of the people in my history that I have learned to be fearful around this one, and to feel that saying ‘you really matter to me’ is likely to cause affront.

It is so easy to cart victim/survivor status about, letting things that have happened in the past define what I do now and how I see the world. Holding the belief that I will not be acceptable and should not be emotionally open is actually a safe space, a cheat. If I stay in that view, I need take no emotional risks. I do not have to be vulnerable for anyone, or face my fears of rejection, or deal with the complexities of how other people feel and what they need. The more carefully closed I am, the less likely I am to invite emotional honesty and trust from anyone else, either.

Last year I ended up on my knees at one point, utterly convinced that how I am is fundamentally toxic to other people and that I should batten it all down and hide it as much as possible. It’s taken me a long time to think this through. Is it fair or reasonable to base all future relationship judgements on the words of one person? Is it fair to the other people who are in my life, or who come into my life, to assume that they will all, without exception think and feel in this way? Clearly they don’t. My husband Tom is an ongoing source of affirmation that I’m not some monstrosity that should be hidden away. Other versions of how I am perceived are available and I can choose which story to trust.

The bottom line in terms of why I find it so hard to trust other people, is that I do not trust myself. The reason I do not trust myself is that a very small number of people, half a dozen or so across my life, have really gone to some lengths to undermine my confidence. I know in some cases it wasn’t even personal, it’s how they treat everyone. In other cases its likely a consequence of being lost and messed up themselves. I realise that only if I can learn how to trust myself, to trust my judgement, my honour and my integrity, then I will be far less at the mercy of the people who want to take me down for the hell of it, and far more able to be open to those who might genuinely accept me as I am.