Monday, June 27, 2011

Don't drop me

On Father's Day our family went on a hike. It was around nap time, and was a long walk for our almost-3 year old. She did a great job getting to our turn-around point, but was stumbling and walking like a drunken sailor on the walk back, so my husband lifted her onto his shoulders and piggy-backed her the majority of the way back to the van.

When my husband lifted her up, I noticed that she didn't flinch or show any sign of fear. She was more than five feet above the ground, balancing on a set of moving shoulders, barely hanging on, and yet showed no signs of trepidation whatsoever. If she fell, it would be a painful experience. (Not that I doubt my husband's ability to hang onto her.)

In contrast, if put in the same situation, I would have freaked out. I'm not afraid of heights, but the thought of falling terrifies me. Even falling from a relatively short distance of five feet.

As I thought about that, I had a much more abstract thought: I don't trust like my daughter does. And I think it has to do with age and life experience. Distrust is learned through experience with let-downs, heartaches, and pain (both physical and emotional).

As babies we come into this world knowing and depending on nothing but trust. We have to depend solely on others to take care of our needs; food, warmth, clean diapers, security, etc. As we move into toddlerhood, we depend on others for safety, mental stimulation, and the freedom to begin developing some autonomy. In these stages, we depend so little on emotional responses. As long as our primal survival needs are met, we're okay.

As we move into preschool and elementary ages, when we begin experiencing and understanding more about human behaviors and interactions, this is when mistrust begins to emerge. As we grow older, and more experiences reinforce our mistrust, it develops into the more concrete distrust.

Mistrust means "to doubt, to lack confidence in." Distrust means much the same but adds suspicion to the mix. (The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. 1993.)

The older we get, the less we are able to fully trust certain people and situations. I think with every new relationship (friendship, business, romantic, etc.) or experience, rather than going in trusting, as we did as children, we go in automatically mistrusting, if not fully distrusting. We have to re-experience trust in order to override our mistrust/distrust.

I doubt many people go into a first date assuming it will go perfectly. We go in knowing the other person is flawed or that the experience will have at least a few glitches. We don't feel comfortable with a total stranger enough to divulge everything about ourself - our deepest fears, our greatest aspirations - afraid that we will be wounded as we have been before. We don't want history to repeat itself, so we do everything we can to guard our vulnerabilities. If things go well, little by little we begin to bring those walls down and take the risks of getting hurt. But the Catch 22 is, we often don't care about the pain inflicted by people we aren't invested in; we care about the pain those who know us well can inflict.

So life, as we age, becomes a cycle of mistrust/distrust, followed by slowly reprogramming ourselves by regaining our trust through learning that we're safe with a new person/experience, only to have an experience that makes us distrust again, and this time even deeper.

So no wonder I am terrified to ride on someone's shoulders! I am afraid of the pain of falling - I know it physically hurts - and the greater pain of deeper distrust. I don't trust people to carry me. (Except God.) Not physically, and certainly not emotionally!

But my daughter isn't there yet. I am inspired and humbled by her full trust in her dad to carry her and not let her fall - physically or emotionally. She doesn't see the capability in him (or anyone) to hurt her yet. And in the same token, I am saddened for her, because I know the day will come when she has had enough painful experiences that she won't fully trust anyone and everyone to treat her carefully and not drop her.

And I am sad for myself. I am sad that I have been emotionally dropped enough times that I am afraid to take a chance; even a chance on being a mere five feet off the ground. And its not even the physical pain I'm afraid of.

So I suppose my challenge for myself, and anyone reading this, is to try not necessarily to trust others more, but to allow others to trust you. I am asking myself, and others, to have a soft touch with others; to be kind, dependable, tender, and responsive to others' needs. To do everything in your power not to drop the people who depend on you; to keep from wounding them at any cost. I know this is really hard to do. Really hard. But the only way we can eradicate distrust is to allow people to have faith in us. And I believe any step in that direction, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. Everyone possesses the ability to make their world better through their positive actions toward others, so there is no reason not to be mindful of this, and at least try to make the world a better, safer place.

How do you think we can rebuild trust in the people we love? What types of actions do you believe it takes to preserve peoples' trust in you?


Selina said...

Great post, and so true.

It breaks my heart to think that someday my son will have mistrust/distrust planted in him by another person's cruelty, or stupidity. I pray to only give him reasons to trust, and that hopefully I never do anything to cause him to distrust me. :(

Megan said...

Until you commented, Selina, I didn't realize just how depressing this post is. :/

I think just being aware of the hurt and mistrust/distrust we can cause in others is a big step toward protecting those we love. Its inevitable that at some point their trust will break down, but I do think, as parents, we need to be as careful as possible not to be the people who will do that to our children. No parent is perfect, we're all going to make mistakes and do things here and there that will cast doubt in our kids' minds, but I do think if we're at least mindful of our responsibility to protect their ability to trust, then we're more able to come through for them.

You sound like a fantastic mother, and I am sure your son is lucky to have you. :)