Trust, Vulnerability, and Snails: a personal update

I have several books and blog posts in the making right now but for weeks I haven’t been able to bring myself to write a single word let alone share any of them. I get fleeting ideas for good topics here and there, but I can’t retain enough focus to properly compose anything.

In fact I can barely sleep or eat.

My mind is currently consumed with thoughts. I am living with anxiety, scarcity, insecurity, sadness, anger, emptiness, and disappointment. I have an abundance of (kind and caring) people in my life who want my attention but the things that they do and say lose my focus within seconds.

In addition to big life changes recently, something unfortunate took place within a relationship. The miscommunication was prolonged, confusing, and ultimately tragic. Mostly because it simply doesn’t make sense. Why did it become so complicated? I am left with no closure, wondering whether my vulnerability and trust have been greatly misplaced…

There is an excellent Ted Talk by Brené Brown on trust. A counsellor told me about it recently after I opened up to her, shared the details of some recent life events of mine, and asked her whether or not she saw evidence that I struggled with trust. In the midst of the conflict that I was having at the time, I was questioning whether some of my feelings and personal values were based on a “trust issue,” or whether they were valid. What she had to say really opened up my eyes to distrust, what that means, and what my own personal relationship with it is. Naturally I did a ton of research in order to verify and expand on her account.

Here are some key realizations:

  1. I learned something awesome about myself: as a person, I definitely do not struggle with trusting others and I am actually capable of being extremely vulnerable. I don’t fit the criteria for having “trust issues” at all (super proud of myself considering certain events from my past = personal development success!).
  2. I have an incredible power not only to feel but also to acquire knowledge and resources that I can trust in, completely self-sufficiently, and use them to solve almost any personal problem that comes my way. I am powerful.
  3. I have a tendency to recklessly share personal information about myself and my life – no strings attached. Maybe it’s a boundary issue theoretically, but I think I really just prefer to have close and meaningful connections with others 🙂 If there is something that I am not sharing with someone then there is probably a valid reason for that which is most likely a harmless, temporary side effect of some circumstance.
  4. I understand now how trust in others needs to be earned. It is earned not just by sharing information about yourself but even more-so by the things you do and say to show someone that you are (or want to be) a stable, consistent, supportive, dependable, nonjudgemental, and caring person in someone’s life.
  5. In a circumstance where you are lacking proximity that may involve telling them explicitly what you want, how you feel, and making plans with them. If you don’t tell them these things they will be left to make an educated guess based on limited information. They will tend to make generous assumptions if they are good-natured. But for anyone, this will eventually become tiring and unsatisfactory and ultimately make them feel unappreciated and undesired. Nobody should have to guess.
  6. Trust can go up and down, especially if someone’s behaviour is inconsistent.
  7. If you trust someone more than their level of investment merits then you are being harmfully reckless – not vulnerable. As Brené puts it, you need to share the details of your life selectively and slowly over time as you see the other person making “trust deposits” into your account. If you share inappropriately it is a sign of a personal boundary problem and it shows a lack of self care.
  8. Your own personal intuition is always right. You should trust it above all else.
  9. I thought of three things that I felt I personally needed to trust someone in a romantic context. My counsellor showed overwhelming agreement that this was standard and she even added essential numbers 4 and 5 to my list. This validation made me feel really good so I shared the list with others whose opinion I have high respect for. Everyone agreed it’s common sense. I’m not crazy.
  10. Deep connections are created over time as trust is built.

There is a theoretical model of trust that reflects a lot of this:

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Credibility is the level at which a person’s words are backed by knowledge and experience.

Reliability is the consistency factor – do they consistently do what they say they will do when they say they are going to do it? Do their behaviours match their words? Have they ever supplied words to match their behaviours?

Authenticity is the level at which they are in touch with their real thoughts and emotions and whether or not they express them openly to you, particularly the difficult topics and their insecurities. To be authentic often requires vulnerability.

Perception of Self Interest is the level at which the other person seems to be in the relationship for their own personal benefit. Do they acknowledge your feelings, needs, and desires? Do they validate you? Or do they see their own agenda and rationale as more important/superior?

Trust is a lot trickier than we think. Unfortunately there is no universal truth about when you should trust, who you should trust, and in what ways you should express your trust. It is completely dependent on a mesh of interconnected subjective experiences. Maybe some people place more importance on authenticity and the equation looks slightly different for them. Or maybe someone just wants to see people acting out of care for the best interests of everyone involved. Maybe someone had inconsistent parenting as a child and if you show them reliability then you score major trust deposits in their account.

But by what coefficient? And what coefficient indicates a “trust issue” or mental illness? The questions we could add to this list are endless…

This is why we have the social sciences. People are complex. It’s also why the DSM changes as society changes and as research progress is made. We are slowly waking up to the fact that there are simply no universal truths in the social sphere – change appears to be the only constant.

It’s also why we need to validate the feelings, needs, and desires of others as equally valid to our own. Our experience is not superior to anyone else’s experience – it is simply different. Your trust equation therefore cannot be illogical. What is right for someone else is not always right for you and that is OKAY.

One question you may ask then is: can you still make a relationship work if your equations are quite different? Could you still be compatible? The answer is YES (of course! If we all trust a bit differently then we have to find a way to get along somehow unless we want to be totally alone forever). It ultimately depends on whether or not you want the other person to be a part of your life.

Side note: whether or not you should technically want to welcome another person into your life should be based on how good that person makes you feel, since our emotions are the most reliable indicator of what we truly want and need.

When we want someone to be a part of our life, it naturally follows that we accommodate them. This means being flexible and adapting to their needs in order to make them feel safe enough to share their time and space with us (without crossing our own personal boundaries of course). In other words: we need to meet them halfway when it comes to our differences. It’s a small sacrifice in our personal rationale that we have to make. It’s perspective taking. It’s compromise. It’s fairness. It’s what we do if we genuinely care. Because when we genuinely care about someone, we’re not happy if they’re not happy. It should be something we actually want to do, even if we think we’re right and they’re wrong. And so if someone else cannot compromise with us then they are simply not worth our time.

Note: Sometimes we may actually have the same needs but different ways of satisfying them. If you are struggling to come to a compromise with someone, find out whether you are incompatible in terms of your positions or your interests. Positions are the things that you say you want, whereas your interests are the underlying motivations for wanting those things. You can compromise on your positions, but you should never compromise on your interests. Try an exercise called “The 5 Whys” with your partner if you are currently working on coming to a compromise.

My counsellor also said that this kind of conscious bonding is sometimes the only way to heal certain wounds from the past. Sometimes we literally aren’t capable of healing them on our own and we need others to show us certain kinds of love first in order to learn how we can start giving it to ourselves. This has HUGE implications but goes sadly unrecognized in western society today. It is baffling how our culture still continues to glorify individuality and actualization despite the wealth of evidence that connection and belonging are so much more fundamental for personal health and safety. But I digress…

Brené concludes her talk on trust by saying that we need to learn to trust ourselves above anyone or anything else. This is where intuition comes in. Teal Swan made a pretty great YouTube video about trusting yourself by learning to harness the power of your intuition. TLDW: discover your true needs and desires by paying attention to your emotions, identify what things feel good and right for YOU, and keep the people in your life who make you feel good. This is the #1 key to fulfilment.

It also brings me to my current dilemma though: sometimes following your intuition can be really difficult.

What happens when you are given only some of the essential variables for trust (and in a great quantity) but little or nothing of others? Aren’t all of the variables at least somewhat essential for everyone? What if there is a massive elephant in the room and they’re completely ignoring it but at the same time showing other signs of trustworthiness? What if your intuition says “yes” but there’s a whole lot of the evidence telling you “no” and THAT starts to make the situation not feel good? Are trust of the person and trust of the situation two different things? What if you wanted to be closer to that person so, for a while, you were vulnerable, trusting, and shared your inner world despite the lack of evidence that they wanted to be in your life but that started to go on for a long time, achieving nothing tangible? What if all along you couldn’t reach a compromise because you were trying to discuss your interests while they were disputing positions? What if you just needed to hear the person explicitly say “you can trust me because I want X” (where X = some fair, tangible, good, and mutually desirable outcome), and then everything could all be good and natural from then on?

Or what if their behaviour instead became reckless and apathetic and now you’re just too disappointed and tired to keep trying? Or what if it’s actually your fault because you should have trusted your own intuition and said “I’m sorry but I can’t do this because it simply doesn’t feel right for me to do it this way” from the start? Like, WAY before you started to care.

My counsellor told me that I have deep and solid knowing of what I want and what’s socially “normal” but I am sometimes easily susceptible to doubting myself when under the influence of others (a drawback of empathy)… add to that equation the 21st century and its overabundance of information, painful past experiences, and a geographically local dishonesty crisis. What then? It makes sense for someone to need standard fucking social practices and to be rational rather than torture themselves emotionally in order to accommodate the preferences of others.

In addition to this relational chaos, here’s something real: right now I feel like a failure in almost every way. If there’s anything I’ve accomplished it’s a great deal of personal development and self awareness. I can trust, cope, be vulnerable, solve difficult problems, take good care of things, create beautiful things, think big, and love deeply. But I feel like I don’t really have anything real and meaningful to show for that. I finally graduated university but I have no idea where to go now. My skin, hair, and nails suck at the moment from the past 7 years of intense stress. Excessive lifestyle demands consume a lot of my vitamins and energy and leave me little time for self care. I’m almost 30 and single af because my great capacity for deep love is also a great weakness as a tool for other people’s power and control. Whenever I get to the point where I start caring, I’m always the one who cares more. Literally, always.

Like a snail, things have sometimes been painfully slow for me. My life has been full of joy and wonder but also some obstacles and setbacks. Sometimes it can feel like I am moving forward accumulating nothing but the weight of a constantly growing protection mechanism on my shoulders. I am not quite where I want to be at this point in my life. I know that the solution in this case is to be content as things are now but that’s easier said than done. Even if you finally achieve that state of internal peace you can still be easily brainwashed into thinking your life isn’t good enough again.

These aren’t nice feelings. I am not my best self right now. It makes me want to withdraw from the world to be in solitude so that people won’t see how much of a failure I am. It makes me emotionally unavailable to them anyways. I have nothing worthwhile to give or to show to the world right now.

These feelings of insecurity are naturally the hardest to share… but sharing them anyway is the strongest indicator of courage, authenticity, and vulnerability. And maybe if I was trying to get close to someone else and they felt similarly then we could connect on that and it would bring us closer…

Here are some random facts about snails:

  • They are small and adorable 🙂
  • Most are completely harmless.
  • In some cultures snails are a symbol of joy.
  • They have big families and they like to dine together. They love.
  • Snails carry the same shell for their entire life; it grows along with them as they themselves grow and mature.
  • They are capable. They can spend their entire lives scaling rough terrain because they are protected by their own slime. They could crawl over a razor and still be ok.
  • They are emotionally fragile however. When they are threatened they sometimes feel the need to retreat into their shell to protect themselves until they feel safe enough to come out.
  • Despite their size, they are very strong – they can lift up to 10 times their own body weight in a vertical position.
  • They are notoriously slow, traveling from 0.013 – 0.0028 m/s. This has some downsides but it also means that they are patient and won’t “run away” from you the minute you don’t show them your best self.

To be vulnerable and expose your weaknesses you have to be strong, especially when you are fragile. It takes courage. Snails are awesome. I’m proud to be one 🙂

The moral of this story is this: be vulnerable, but do so as you begin to feel that the situation is right for you. Anyone who is worth your time will wait or compromise. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for not opening up to them within a certain timeframe – especially if they aren’t doing their part in the trust process. Above all, know that your feelings are valid.

This is the most real (if not the only) thing I could possibly write about right now. So here you see art in action; a glimpse into my soul, the part of myself that I am experiencing and acknowledging at this moment over a tear-soaked keyboard. Half of it probably sounds weird or doesn’t make sense to you. A lot of it makes me feel incredibly exposed and and I’m posting it here for all of my followers to see anyway – those who are waiting for my professional, “informative and practical” blog content. I do it while knowing that some may cringe in embarrassment for me. But it’s vulnerability. It’s essential for establishing trust. It’s also the first step to healing new wounds 😦

So I do hope, in some way, you found this informative and practical.