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Been Played? Trust Again: Vulnerability, Growth, Healing

Uploaded 12/31/2021, approx. 19 minute read

The only one I trust is my trusted mini. This is the age of pervasive distrust.

We distrust experts. We mistrust science, the authorities, the future, and above all, each other.

Everyone is wary of being played, of being preyed upon, of falling victim. There is no trust in anything and anyone anymore.

But this is a catch-22 and it is very self-defeating.

Personal growth, self-development, healing crucially depend on our ability to trust. They are determined by our vulnerabilities and by our willingness to display and share vulnerabilities, the willingness to accept hurt, to embrace loss.

Remember, vulnerability, hurt, and loss are the engines of personal development, personal growth, personal healing. They are the engine of anything and everything personal.

And this is especially true in family settings and intimate relationships.

Nowhere is the mistrust more profound than between men and women today in all age groups from all backgrounds everywhere in the world.

Around 70%, yes, three quarters of men and women say that they deeply or somewhat distrust the opposite sex.

The remainder, the other 30%, they totally or somewhat trust their counterparties.

Even there, the trust is nothing to write home about.

Women complain that men are effeminate, feminine, not committed, not invested, weak, ineffectual, and craven.

Men describe women as sexually unboundary, prone to cheating and drunkenness and cunning. A whopping 16% of people under the age of 25 cheat in their relationships every year.

And that compares to 2% per annum in the 1980s, a jump, an eightfold jump. Cheating had become a default casual sex behavior and is now intimately coupled with excessive drinking.

This supernova of infidelity is driven by empowered and financially independent women who no longer tolerate male abuse in bed or no sex in their primary relationships and relationships.

And that's not a bad thing.

But this abysmal mutual resentment and hypervigilance, these have dire outcomes.

About one third of those surveyed in Pew Center studies, that's one third, are lifelong singles. Another 15% are in between rapid fire pseudo relationships that last a few months at most.

The marriage rate is at an all-time low, having declined by 50% since 1990. Birth rates in industrial countries have plummeted.

The populations in many nations are aging and declining at dizzying speeds.

Since 2016, aloneness is the new normal for the majority of men and women worldwide.

In view of all this data, Happy New Year is beginning to sound like a morbid or very bad joke.

What can we do about it?

We need to restore trust. We need to become strong enough to show weakness. We need to develop our vulnerabilities as assets. We need to display them and exhibit them openly, inviting hurt and loss, because only hurt and loss constitute a learning experience.

But how can you tell a true friend from a fake one, a true intimate partner from a fake one? How can you tell, in other words, that you're not being played?

First of all, this excessive concern, this obsession with not being played is a new thing. People were much more open to experiences in the past, much more ready to take risks, reasonable risks, not recklessness, but risk-taking.

And this openness led to agreeableness, but today the same qualities, which used to be considered positive, are labeled as naivet or gullibility, trashed by everyone.

This is the wrong way to survive, people say. If you are too believing, too open, too amenable to other people's suggestions, you are suggestible. You are weak.

The first step is to learn to tell true authentic people from those who fake and scam and lie. Anyone who has been on online dating knows that scamming and lying and catfishing and other phenomena, including ghosting and breadcrumbing and so on and so forth, render the whole experience surrealistically bad. You can't trust people online. You can't trust people you're dating. You can't trust people you're transacting with. That's why technologies like blockchain had emerged in order to verify identity in a way that is inviolable.

There are hackers, there are scammers everywhere. So how can you survive in such an environment?

Well, true versus fake. A true friend supports you only when he believes that you are doing the right thing in your self-interest and welfare. A fake friend supports you all the time, always, no matter what you do, even if it is self-destructive or self-defeating. A fake friend is an enabler. A true friend respects you only when you have earned respect and only when you act respectably. A fake friend respects you regardless of your behavior or misbehavior. That is for respect. It's fake.

A true friend trusts you only as long as you prove yourself trustworthy, only while you do not put his trust to the test too often and only on certain issues.


I'm going to repeat this one. This one is the core kernel of everything I'm about to say.

A true friend trusts you only as long as you prove yourself trustworthy, only while you do not put his trust to the test too often and only on certain issues, not on everything. A fake friend trusts you with everything and always, at least as lip service.

And to summarize, a true friend puts to you a mirror in which you see reality, in which you can evince the truth. A true friend reflects you fully, words, shortcomings and all. A fake friend puts to you a mirror in which you see your own reflection, yourself and nothing else besides and usually in an idealized form.

Narcissists are fake friends. They love bomb you and make you fall in love with your idealized fake image. A true friend loves you in their relationship. He loves you even without your friendship. A fake friend loves himself in your relationship or loves the friendship itself but never you.

I repeat this. A true friend loves you in your friendship. He loves you even without a friendship. He loves you, period. A fake friend loves himself in your relationship or he loves the friendship itself but never you.

With a true friend you need never ask what is he getting out of this relationship for loving you is its own reward. What is getting out of the friendship is being able to be with you, your presence. With a fake friend you must always ask why is he still in this relationship? What does he want? What is his hidden agenda or motivation?

Loving you is never enough of a reward for a fake friend. When trust is bridged or when trust is absent, as is common today in a variety of settings and in almost all interactions between humans, this gives rise to narcissism.

Narcissism is a defense against shame and distrust. The breach of trust in early childhood is at the root of pathological narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder.

I'm not advocating naivete. I'm not suggesting you should become gullible. Trust must be discriminating. It should be retested and violations of trust must be penalized or must be noted and taken into account sometimes must be even exaggerated for good psychodynamic reasons.

Nadia Brashear, a cognitive scientist, Elisabeth Marsh, a cognitive psychologist, discovered that information is just judged to be true because we rely on base rates. We are naturally trustful. We also rely on emotional feelings and attachment. We tend to think emotionally and we also analyze consistency and if there is consistency we tend to trust the message. Echo chambers or silos where the narratives are repeated ad nauseam create this consistency and lead to confirmation bias. Trust is fostered, therefore, by and on founded on irrationality. Trust is irrational.

So why should we trust if trust is so irrational? Isn't rationality the best foundation for a happy life, for a functional life?

When we are irrational don't we commit grave mistakes and self-defeat or self-destruct even? Isn't irrationality in other words dangerous, reckless and risky?

Not really. Not really.

What we have learned from behavioral economics for example is that people are not rational. They are not rational agents. They have something called bounded rationality.

Irrationality is the glue that holds societies together, the glue that holds personalities together. Irrationality is far more important, far more pertinent and relevant than rationality.

If you want to bond with someone, if you want to motivate someone, if you want to work with someone you need to take into account their emotions and most emotions are irrational.

So trust, even though it is founded on base rate fallacy, on consistency, on emotional thinking, trust is very crucial and its absence in the modern world goes a long way towards explaining the dystopia we find ourselves in.

We suffer from proportionality bias, a manifestation of which is the bigger and more forceful the claim, the truer we perceive it to be.

We all harbor intentionality bias and apophenia. We search for patterns and conflate them with meaning. Pareidolia is a form of apophenia.

We trust people who are similar to us and members of our social in-group.

I refer you to studies by Lisa de Bruin, they're known as the morphing studies.

Physical contact enhances trust according to studies by Dacher Keltner. When trust is broken we feel as though a part of us had died as though we had been hollowed out.

Anyone, anyone who has been exposed to cheating, to infidelity by an intimate partner knows what I'm talking about.

You feel dead inside, you feel emptied out.

Our natural tendency is to trust because we trust our parents in order to survive.

Reflexive empathy, the mimicry of expressions, starts within six hours of birth. It feels good, it feels good to be able to really trust.

It is also an essential component of love and an important test of love. Love without trust is dependence masquerading as love.

We must trust. It is an almost biological urge.

Social psychologist Shelley Taylor says that trust accounts for our success as a species.

Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, demonstrated that people secrete oxytocin when they trust and it enhances the perception of others as more trustworthy.

The other cases where we secrete oxytocin are in sex and in breastfeeding when a mother bonds with her newborn. You squirt oxytocin nasally and presto, you begin to be much more trusting.

Most of the time we do trust. It's called presumptive trust. We trust the universe to behave according to the laws of physics.

We trust soldiers to not go mad and shoot at us.

Our nearest and dearest we trust to not betray us.

We trust our institutions to function. We filter out, we repress, we ignore, we challenge information to the contrary, countervailing information.

And this is called confirmation bias.


But recently, in the past, let's say, 10 years, the rise of conspiracy theories goes to prove how low our trust in everything and anything and anyone had come.

We all have implicit theories, stereotypical beliefs. We all have these stereotypes which correlate observable cues with psychological traits.

We also think that our judgment is better than the average and this is known as the Dunning, Kruger effect.

We trust other people to tell us who to trust and we maintain an illusion of personal invulnerability and unrealistic or malignant optimism even in the face of hard data.

We all signal to each other, I'm self-sufficient, I'm invulnerable, you cannot hurt me. I don't need you emotionally or otherwise.

Trust indicators are easily faked or manipulated. Smiling, eye contact, touch, banter, they all declare honesty.

People forewarned, feel counterfactually even better at detecting fraud although they are not better at it.

To not trust is abnormal and it is the outcome of bitter or even traumatic life experiences. Mistrust and distrust are induced not by our own faults nor by some device or machination of ours but by life's said circumstances.

To continue to not trust is to reward the people who had wronged us and made us distrustful in the first place to perpetuate the abuse.

Those people who have long abandoned us still have a great malignant influence on our lives by causing us to distrust.

This is the irony of the lack of trust. It perpetuates the abuse long after the abuser is gone.

Some people prefer to not experience this sinking feeling of trust violated. They choose to not trust and thereby to never be disappointed and never be hurt.

And this is both a fallacy and a folly.

Trusting releases enormous amounts of mental energy which is better invested elsewhere.

But trust like knives can be dangerous to your health if used improperly.

So let's talk a bit about when and how to trust safely.

You have to discern whom to trust. You have to learn how to trust and you have to know how to confirm the existence of mutual functional trust.

People often disappoint. Many people are not worthy of trust. Some people act arbitrarily or treacherously or viciously or worse off-handedly.

You have to select the beneficiaries of your trust carefully. He who has the most common interests with you, he who is invested in you for the long haul, he who is incapable of breaching trust, a good person, he who doesn't have much to gain from betraying you. These people are not likely to mislead you. These people you can trust.

You are taking a risk every time you trust, but this is a calculated one. You should not trust indiscriminately though. No one is completely trustworthy in all fields of life.

If you trust someone financially, you may not trust them with your child.

Most often our disappointments stem from our inability to separate one area of trust from another. This is called the halo effect.

A person could be sexually faithful, for example, but utterly irresponsible when it comes to money, a pathological gambler. Or someone could be a good, reliable father, but a womanizer and a cheater.

You can trust someone to carry out some assignments, but not other assignments, because these activities are more complicated, more boring or do not conform to their values.

And still, we should not trust with reservations. Once you trust, you should trust unreservedly.

Qualified trust is common in business and among criminals, and its source is rational. Game theory in mathematics deals with questions of calculated trust. We should trust wholeheartedly in our relationships. We should know who to entrust with what and who to entrust with our trust, but we should trust wholeheartedly.

Then we will be rarely disappointed, actually.

As opposed to popular opinion, trust must be put to the test. Trust must never go stale or staid.

We are all somewhat paranoid, and that's a good thing. The world is complex. It's inexplicable, it's arbitrary, it's overwhelming. Some forces are benign, some forces are capricious, others downright malevolent. There must be an explanation, we feel, for all these amazing coincidences, for our existence, for events around us.

And this tendency to introduce external powers and ulterior motives into our reality by way of explanation, this tendency permeates human relations as well.

We gradually grow suspicious, inadvertently hunt for clues of infidelity or worse, masochistically relieved, even happy, when we find some.

The more often we successfully trust, we successfully test the trust, the more often we put this trust that we had established to the test, the stronger our pattern-prone brain embraces it.

Constantly in a precarious balance, our mind needs and devours positive reinforcements. So give it, give your mind these reinforcements, test the trust, but not in a destructive way, and do not develop paranoia or even hypervigilance.

This testing should not be explicit, it should be circumstantial. Your husband could easily have had a lover, your partner could easily have embezzled your money, and behold, they haven't. They have passed the test, they have resisted temptation.

Trust is therefore based on track record. Trust is based on the ability to predict the future, based on the past. We react not only to the act of betrayal, but also to the feeling that the very foundations of our world are crumbling, that it is no longer safe, because it is no longer predictable.

When betrayed, we are in the throes of death, of one theory, one paradigm, theory of mind, and the birth of another, as yet untested.


And this leads to another important lesson.

Whatever the act of betrayal, with the exception of outright maiming or murder, but whatever the act of betrayal, its outcomes are frequently very limited, reversible and ultimately negligible.

Time heals. Naturally we tend to exaggerate the importance of any event, any such event. When our trust is breached and violated and challenged, we tend to exaggerate this, we tend to catastrophize.

This serves a triple purpose.

First, it aggrandizes us. If we are worthy of such an unprecedented and unheard of and major betrayal, we must be worthwhile, we must be truly unique and special.

The magnitude of a betrayal reflects on us and re-establishes the fragile balance of power between us and the universe.

The second purpose of exaggerating the act of perfidy is simply to gain sympathy and empathy, mainly from ourselves, but also from others.

Catastrophes are a dozen a dime. There is compassion fatigue. In today's world, it is difficult to provoke anyone to regard your personal tragedy as anything exceptional.

And finally, the greater and more unprecedented the act of treason, the less responsible we feel for it. The less we attribute to ourselves a contribution.

The more we believed that there was nothing we would have done to prevent it, we are the angels. We fell prey to demons. This was all a force of nature. And there was nothing we could have done. Amplify the event, has, therefore, some very self-southing, self-soothing purposes.


But finally, this is self-deception, and it poisons the victim's mental circulation.

Putting the event in perspective goes a long way towards the commencement of a healing process.

When you put the event in perspective, you generate or regenerate trust.

No betrayal stamps the world irreversibly or altogether eliminates other possibilities, other opportunities, other chances, and other people.

Time goes by. People meet. People part. Lovers quarrel. Lovers make love.

Dear ones, live and die. It is the very essence of time that it reduces all of us to the finest dust.

Our only weapon, however crude, however naive, against this inexorable process is to trust each other. We need each other.

The wise know when to stop suspecting and start trusting. The wise know when to stop suspecting and start to trust.

There is a thin line separating the paranoid from the idiot. To suspect all the time is counterproductive. It inhibits. It retards. It consumes scarce resources. It prevents collaboration and progress. It constricts one's life. It limits it. It impairs one's reality testing.

Constant vigilance is a long name, a fancy name, for the anxiety and fears induced by stupidity. In ignorance, paranoia is a form of grandiosity. I am important enough to be the target of conspiracies and the epicenter of critical events. It is an element of narcissism.

At some point you have to say, enough is enough. I am willing to lay a bet on this person. I'm willing to invest in this business. I'm willing to go on this trip. I'm willing to take a risk. I'm willing to be vulnerable. I'm willing to get hurt.

In hindsight, it may prove to have been a wrong decision, but any decision is better than lifelong paralysis.

Only dead people take no risks and never get hurt. In love, to some extent in sex, we undress. We remove protective layers and we expose vulnerabilities and weaknesses and deformities to our partner. That's why there's no such thing as meaningless or emotionless casual sex. It's a myth. It's a lie.

This information about the chinks in our armor, our entry points, our weaknesses, our frailties, this information can and will be used against us, even by the most loving of mates.

We must take this fact into account when we decide what to share with whom, but share we must.

In a healthy relationship, secrets are an essential ingredient but unmitigated, unalloyed truth-selling is never a good idea.

In every relationship, you must hold back some things. Coupledhood and intimacy wither on the vine of total openness, and this is not what I'm advocating, but total secrecy is even worse.

Of course, not all secrets are created equal. Some information, if held back, festers and poisons any liaison.

Fundamental issues have to be aired, dissected and resolved. Emotions and conflicts require communication, require an attempt at closure with a loved one, but never with an abuser, by the way. Expectations and hopes are best expressed.

Behavior modification is predicated on good communication, honest communication.

So no one is telling you to be totally open. No one is telling you to share every single secret and every single fact, but share you must, because if you don't, you will get nowhere.

And the total privacy and the total secrecy and the total avoidance and the total weariness and hypervigilance, they will lead to the poisoning of the well and the destruction of every single relationship you will have or have.

Not every mood should be reported. Not every lapse and transgression need to be confessed. Not every fear needs to be articulated.

You do need to let time, the great healer, do his job, but you need to lend it a helping hand. You need to take what Kierkegaard called a leap of faith. You need to trust again, and you need to accept and expect hurt and pain, because you understand that there's no other way to go through life, that losses make us grow and develop and evolve and become more mature and become more open and more daring, and they allow us to take on the world.

He who had never experienced pain, he who had been sheltered from loss, develops to become a Peter Pan, a narcissist. That's an excellent definition of a narcissist, either someone who had been exposed to enormous pain and abuse and therefore cannot trust, or someone who had been totally shielded from the errors of time and the slings of life and therefore cannot trust as well.

Lack of trust is at the cornerstone of most of our mental health issues. Trust. Trust again. Don't be afraid. Leap. Take this leap of faith. Happy New Year.

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