Human beings are innately social.
Because of this, we tend to see the perspectives of others as more legitimate than our own. This fact has far reaching implications for our personal needs.
In general, we need the help of others for reassurance, acceptance, and consolation. When these three things are available to us, loneliness dissolves.
Finding these things is a matter of finding others who will offer it, and then offering ourselves to them.
This would seem like a simple, two-step process. Each step, however, involves a myriad of smaller steps that must be taken along the way, despite endless variables that could confound our efforts.
TAKING A LEAP
If we hope to be reassured, accepted, and consoled, we have to wager our real feelings. We have to make our insecurities known to someone we trust.
They can’t possibly reassure us if we don’t allow them to know our real doubts, and they can’t possibly accept us if we don’t allow them to know us for who we really are.
This is trust. Authentic trust is the reciprocal and positive exchange of vulnerability.
It is a sad reality that we cannot be intimate and vulnerable with just anybody. There are those who are not receptive. Even worse, there are those who will take advantage.
These people are too deeply vulnerable to expose themselves to others. If we seek intimacy with these people, we will find ourselves unable to penetrate the barriers they have established. In the end, we will do without a shared sense of intimacy.
At worst, we may even find our trust exploited. Some such people are so weak that they are unable to resist taking advantage of the vulnerability of others.
Attempting to ‘save’ these people will only result in self-sacrifice; we will end up with little (if not nothing) for our efforts. It may be possible to treat them with compassion and kindness at a safe distance, but distance is antithetical to the intimacy we are looking for.
Instead, we should seek others who are prepared to offer what we offer. There are several signs that someone is willing to be vulnerable.
These people will admit their mistakes, and show eagerness to forgive others. They stick to their moral standards, and they would rather be exploited than exploit others. They are honest, and they aren’t afraid to be themselves. They should encourage our attempts to make ourselves vulnerable, rather than making us feel ashamed.
Yet, people are complicated. Sometimes they can deceive us. Sometimes they change, and if we are close to them, we should expect them to change if we give them a fair chance.
Above all, we shouldn’t expect others to meet all these criteria 100%. Some may come naturally to them, even though they may struggle with others. Keep an open mind.
Despite your open-mindedness, there is also a time and place to be certain. When you are certain, offer your trust freely and wholeheartedly.
But even if we do find the right kind of person, how do we ensure that we are the right type of person ourselves? How do we earn trust from others?
RECOVER WHEN TRUST IS BROKEN
A FEAR OF TRUST
Offering trust isn’t so easy. There is good reason that fear of intimacy is so pervasive. When trust is betrayed, it’s hard to recover.
This betrayal of trust doesn’t need to be anything monumental, or even memorable (though it could be). Small interactions can shape us incrementally. All the times we were criticized, judged or lied to will contribute to it.
To become a more trusting person takes long-term effort. We can evaluate others with the same criteria that we evaluate others.
We cannot strengthen others. This is why, when relationships go wrong, people say to “work on yourself.” Strengthening ourselves is the only way to ensure that we will not exploit the vulnerability of others, and it’s the only way to ensure a sustainable and healthy relationship (whether romantic, familial or platonic).
If our goal is to be more intimate and less lonely, we need to always be vigilant against them. We need to continually challenge ourselves to be more open and vulnerable.
In the context of our personal relationships, there are many symptoms of distrust that are more specific. In our weaker moments, we are all guilty of showing these symptoms.
We must watch for occasions when our response to vulnerability is to exploit it. When someone apologizes or admits insecurity, our follow-up should never be a criticism. This kind of criticism punishes and discourages openness, communication, and trust.
The remedy is to be receptive and understanding. Even better, to reciprocate by offering some vulnerability in return.
This will raise up the standards of that relationship, leading everybody to expect a greater degree of mindfulness from themselves and each other.
Despite this, reinforcement is not always appropriate. Where reinforcement is used to avoid conflict, it is dishonest and enabling. There will be times when the only genuine response is to express anger or disappointment.
NEGATIVITY IN RELATIONSHIPS
It shouldn’t violate trust to express these feelings. On the contrary, this kind of sincerity can actually help instill trust by showing that we have standards for each other.
When we know that people expect good things from us, the dynamic of trust is enhanced. These expectations suggest that those people have esteem for us, and that they will catch us when we slip.
A willingness to express negative things also suggests honesty and candor. Trust doesn’t mean we should be positive all the time. It means we should be authentic all the time. Negativity is part of the human experience.
Those who we trust should not be averse to our negativity, and we should not be averse to theirs. It is one of the many merits of trust that we are able to help each other with this negativity.
All these things are vastly easier when we are personally invested in their issues and welfare to begin with.
This is why it is necessary to cultivate a true sense of empathy with them; if we are only interested in talking without listening, then the relationship is one-sided. Those we trust can become an extension of ourselves, but only if we care about them as much as we care about ourselves.
Trust is openness, sincerity, and concern. When you trust somebody, you open your consciousness to them and share the contents of your mind. You share your feelings with the expectation that they will help you with them, and the understanding that you will do the same.
Trust is the most important thing in a relationship. Without trust, there is no meaning to the relationship: romantic partners and family members treat each other impersonally at best, and behave like enemies at worst. Friendships do not develop.
When we expose our vulnerabilities to the right people, we begin to realize that our doubts are not so unusual. It becomes obvious that everyone is influenced by insecurities, and everyone is motivated to conceal them.
If everybody decided to be open and vulnerable all at the same time, we would all be safe. But there is a collective action failure; the only way for the world to become a more accepting place is for a few trustworthy people to take initiative and put themselves at risk.
For those who do, the rewards are immense.