Trust underpins most relationships, but it’s fraught with anxiety. It’s certainly something I’ve struggled with. It’s not that I don’t trust people. Quite the opposite: I can be very trusting. And I’ve been hurt, I’ve been taken advantage of as a result.
My mum recognised this about me. She always said I wasn’t streetwise. I didn’t really understand what she meant at the time; I thought, “I’m intelligent. I know things. How can I not be streetwise?”
I didn’t get it. What she meant was that I didn’t have any insight into people, I was naive. I’m not sure it’s something that can be taught: I’m still at a loss to understand most people. What motivates them, how they think, why they find it so hard to understand me. And why some of them would be manipulative, betray my trust.
It’s common among autistics to struggle with understanding other people: an important aspect of social interaction. They don’t think like us, act like us. They have different motivations, can be unpredictable. And their communication can be less open and straightforward. Less literal.
I’m generally open and honest: it’s against my nature to lie. I only do it when I judge that telling the truth risks a negative reaction. In other words, if I lie to you it’s a sign I don’t trust you not to react in a way that distresses or harms me. Rather than lie I will usually avoid saying anything at all.
I used to be open and unguarded with everybody but that made me a target for teasing and bullying. I didn’t fit in, I was different. I liked unusual things; I was ignorant of much of popular culture. So I learned to keep things to myself. To not be myself. To be slow to trust.
It didn’t really help. I felt isolated. I could see that people around me seemed to connect on a level I couldn’t achieve. They conversed in a way that showed how much they knew about each other. I didn’t know anybody anywhere close to that well. Okay, nobody knew that much about me either. But they didn’t seem to want to.
Some of the few people I did decide to trust took advantage of me, used me. I didn’t realise. My mum was right: I was naive. Some of them did things that hurt me. Hardly any of them showed that they understood me. Or even took the time to.
But despite all this I still try to trust. It’s scary; I feel anxious that my trust might be misplaced, that I might be let down, hurt and betrayed again. I don’t want relationships where I’m not comfortable, where I have to second-guess everything I say or do. Where I’m having to explain or defend myself just for being me.
That’s why some of the friendships I have right now mean so much to me. I’m understood, I’m accepted, I’m trusted. And my trust has been rewarded. In being open, being myself completely and without reservation, I am finding that there is also love. Worth taking that chance.
Some of the worst advice I’ve received was from people who didn’t get me: they told me I had to “toughen up”. They blamed me for my being hurt by people. I think they meant that I should try to be indifferent, not to care about others, not to trust others. I can’t imagine what that kind of life would be like. It strikes me as very selfish.
I believe that for a meaningful relationship there has to be trust. There has to be openness. You have to feel free to say what you think and feel without fear.
Trust is fragile, easily broken. Hard to mend. Sometimes it can’t be repaired at all. And when it’s gone so is the feeling of comfort, safety, security. When trust is gone there is no real connection, no real relationship. All that remains in on the surface. There is no depth.
That is enough for me to keep taking the risk, to keep trusting. I will get hurt again for sure. But the support and strength, the love from even one close friendship makes it all worthwhile.