One of the most devastating effects of trauma, especially when it occurs within a relationship, is the loss of the ability to trust. Emotional trauma can occur when an individual is physically, emotionally, or sexually abused. Verbal abuse and neglect also destroy trust, but are not always as obvious as assault or sexual abuse. These wounds go deeper into our souls, and it is very difficult to learn how to trust again.
It is not just that the individual has been wounded, and as a result, makes a conscious decision not to trust. It is as though a mechanism is broken, and the ability to trust is lost. This makes it extremely difficult to ask for and receive help. We are wounded in relationship, and it is through relationship that we are healed.
It is the nature of trauma to irrevocably change us. We become hyper-vigilant, suspicious, and wary of people and situations. Asking anybody for help is to risk being vulnerable and disappointed. We are also at risk of being misunderstood: how do you trust someone who does not understand you, or what you’re going through? People who have been abused have a great deal of difficulty in relationships; there is a need to test people over and over again. Few people, even professional helpers, can endure the endless testing of their integrity and patience. For family members and loved ones, trying to help can be frustrating and overwhelming.
Being a survivor of abuse or assault changes you. You have suddenly become part of a very private ‘club’. Very few people in your world will be able to relate to you; to understand your fear, emotions and hypersensitivity. It becomes difficult to attend both social and family functions. Small talk is no longer relevant, and possibly dangerous. Finding a place of safety becomes a primary focus. Depression and anxiety become familiar spirits as you walk a very lonely path.
It is a rare privilege and honor to come alongside and walk with someone who may never fully trust you, but to be a calm, steady presence in the life of a survivor gives an opportunity to repair what has been broken. Although the actual work of rebuilding trust can go on indefinitely, the foundation has to be laid in relationship, and the willingness of the person helping to accept the fact that it is simply not possible for the survivor to trust. It should not be viewed as a choice, or rejection, but as a normal and healthy response to abnormal and unhealthy circumstances.
“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…And over all these virtues put on love.” Colossians 3:12,14