Recently two friends broke trust with me. One offered to do something that was vital to me, didn’t and didn’t tell me. Another shared private information about me with a stranger who then told several people who work with me.
I don’t know which betrayal felt worse. I do know they can be seen as an opportunity to re-learn lessons on how to move from anger to equanimity, steps that you may find helpful.
Remember when you felt betrayed? One major crack in trust is more potent than one big positive action of that friend. Probably any reliable relationship requires the same 5:1 ratio of good to bad experiences that a romantic relationship requires for stability.
“Trust is the glue that holds relationships together.” ~ Price Pritchett
Recall that hot flush of recognition when you first realized that someone you knew would act one way and didn’t? How can you avoid becoming wary or even bitter?
Funny how one betrayal is closely followed by another wrenching experience — or so it seems. Even if one’s life is on a fairly even keel, one trust-breaker situation makes the second one hit harder- if we let it.
“Sometimes you cannot believe what you see; you have to believe what you feel. And if you are ever going to have other people trust you, you must feel that you can trust them, too -even when you’re in the dark. Even when you are falling.”~ Morrie Schwartz, quoted in Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom.
My first reaction was to re-run the wrenching situation in my mind, over and over, digging a deeper rut in my memory. Dumb – right? Those scenes dominated my thoughts more than the recent, joyful times. Consequently I viewed others through a cautious, constricted-heart lens. That begets a self-fulfilling prophecy. People feel put off.
“No idea will work if people don’t trust your intentions toward them.” ~ Marcus Buckingham, Now, Discover Your Strengths.
We’ve all faced mind-grabbing breaks of trust, and will again. Conversely, we have betrayed another’s trust and dodged the situation rather than sought to rectify it.
“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” ~ Frank H. Crane
For more than a decade, I’ve studied, taught, and written about focusing attention on the positive parts of every interaction. Yet, like breathing, it isn’t a one-time practice.
“Character is what you really are. Reputation is what people say you are. A person of character is trustworthy. The other kind looks for an easy way out.” ~ John Wooden
Getting back to equilibrium means letting go of a better past. Remember, every negative action comes from the root feeling of fear.
That does not mean we have to step into the street again and let another car hit us again.
The next time you lose trust, try taking these steps forward towards equanimity for yourself:
1. Let the full emotional effect of the betrayal sink in, then do not re-run the scene more than three times.
2. Step into the other person’s shoes to see the interaction their way. Is this a pattern in his behavior towards you or is it an anomaly?
3. Look to the part of that person’s potentially positive intent, especially when he appeared to have none in that situation. You will see the whole picture more clearly and calmly.
4. Praise the part of that person’s behavior you want to reinforce and to flourish. (Ironically, this is one of your most self-protective tools in such moments.)
5. Ask her for a time to talk. Then, in factual, non-blaming language, describe the specific behavior that bothered you. Next describe your feelings. Then wait for a response.
6. Listen closely and with an open heart and mind to the answer. If your picture of her actions was accurate, and if she is solely defensive -without offering a change in behavior, then you have learned a lot.
7. If someone breaks trust with you twice it is highly likely there’ll be a third time. Why place yourself in that position again? You’ll be inclined to blame that person for his unchanged behavior rather than asking yourself why you did not change yours. Repeatedly asking someone to change a behavior towards you usually engenders their irritation with you. It is more likely that the person will be defensive and rationalize her behavior. and/or avoid contact until she needs you. Unfortunately, the relative power in the situation (who needs whom the most) will probably determine when and how you two communicate in the future.
But it doesn’t have to determine the safe distance you choose to have with that person. My friend, Paul Geffner says we gather many friends and acquaintances over our lifetime. The key to living well with them is to recognize the right distance in which to hold them. Those you enjoy and trust you bring closer.
8. Choose your distance, following Geffner’s approach. After all, you always have three choices in any situation:
1.Change now you act towards that person.
2. Accept her behavior.
The lesson: Sooner, rather than later, take these steps. The sooner you act the more options you have and the more likely it is that you can restore the friendship – or find out that you can’t.
Choose what you can do positively for yourself rather than against another.
The more quickly you’ll climb out of that negative “re-run” rut of thoughts and toward the positive part of that person, the more likely you’ll return to an even keel – and the more likely you’ll be able to preserve a properly distanced relationship.