Getting Into The Habit: Trust

There are various myths running around about how long it takes to form a habit but the general consensus is that it takes more than a couple of days to do so. Trust or mistrust is a habit each one of us has formed due to past experiences and I would like to say genetic makeup as well. I would like to say genetic makeup has something to do with trust because I think that our reactions to the world around us, need for control, and levels of anxiety are often inherited and then further entrenched as children and adolescents by our observations of the people around us.

Dictionary.com defines habit as: an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. We have control over our habits, they have just become so ingrained in our behaviors and actions that we often don’t consciously think about them. Some of us are so used to being hurt that we have an automatic wall up; we automatically mistrust everyone. Subconsciously we think that if everyone else has hurt us, so will the next person. In this way, mistrust has become a habit.

It may be difficult to think of it this way but, although mistrust may be a habit, it is also a choice. I have control over biting my nails when I’m nervous, even though it’s a nasty habit of mine. We also have control over who we trust and who we don’t trust. Why don’t we choose to trust? For many people, that answer is “to avoid being hurt again”. We can cut people out of our lives to avoid being hurt but isolation feels even worse than being hurt. We have no control over other people’s actions, but we do have control over our reactions. When we choose not to trust others, we build walls and cut those people out of our lives. To trust someone is to give someone the greatest gift you can give them.

For me, all of this was very hard to take in when I first heard it but as I thought about the concept of trust being a choice, it began to make sense. I chose to build my walls and not trust the people around me because I had been hurt before and I didn’t want to be hurt again. I thought that I could control other people by not trusting them. I still think that sometimes because I am still working on creating that habit and some days are harder than others.

When I married my husband, I had some reservations about his flirtatious nature and I worried a little but I thought that marriage would solve all that. I thought that with marriage came trust. How wrong I was. When I heard the allegations of his affair, I couldn’t talk or cry or do anything at first. I was shocked but I wasn’t at the same time. I had been preparing myself for this and expecting him to make this mistake. Even though I thought that I trusted him, I realized that the wall was still there and that I never trusted him to be faithful to me. Why should I have trusted him to be faithful if every other man I had been with had abandoned me or cheated on me?

I began to feel out of control and I started checking his Facebook, cell phone logs, and emails frequently. At first he allowed me to look at his recent calls list and his text messages but when I became obsessive, he locked his phone. I even asked him to put a tracking device on his phone so I could see where he was at all times. He obliged me for a while to ease my mind but the tracking application wasn’t always accurate and I began to question him so he deleted the application.  This was when my anxiety skyrocketed and I decided to go get help.

I began to attend individual counseling and learned grounding exercises and other relaxation techniques which were very helpful when I was feeling a lot of anxiety. We also attended (and still do attend) marriage counseling sessions. I had consciously chosen to believe that my husband hadn’t had an affair but there were still a lot of wrinkles that needed ironing. This was where I was told that trust is a choice. It was a revelation to me! Finally, something I could control!

My mom always told us kids that we have control over ourselves and our feelings. No one makes us feel the way we do; we choose to feel that way. As a kid that sounded like hogwash! Little Johnny took my toy, he made me mad, I didn’t choose to be mad! If he hadn’t taken my toy, I wouldn’t be mad right now! So, it’s all Johnny’s fault that I’m mad! We all play the blame game when it comes to emotions and I blamed my husband quite a bit for my anxiety. If only he would let me check his text messages and his recent calls list. If only he would let me keep track of where he was every moment of every day. Then my anxiety wouldn’t be so high and I would be able to trust him. Fortunately for me, I married a man who knows me better than I know myself sometimes. He knew that no matter how many times I checked his phone or kept track of where he was, it may bring the anxiety down temporarily, but I was really just looking for a trigger to start my cycle of anxiety all over again. I really wanted something to make sense of my reality because I didn’t know who to believe. Allowing me to check his phone, his texts, and track his every move was enabling me and he wanted no part of that.

Back to my revelation: Trust is a choice! I have no control over what other people choose to do. If other people want to lie to me, cheat on me, or hurt me in any other way — that’s their choice. I needed to choose between believing that everyone was out to get me or believing that people don’t intend to hurt me. I learned to not take things so personally. I struggle with these things every day because trust is not natural for me but because my main goal is to be happy and to gain peace of mind, I need to form the habit of trust. Because I have a habit of mistrust, I made a commitment to forming a new habit. Here is how I do it:

  1. Everyday I remind myself that trust is a choice. I tell myself that I choose to trust my husband. I remind myself of what I have to gain by choosing to trust.
  2. I acknowledge that I only have control over myself. I remind myself that I have no control over what my husband chooses to do when I am not around. He may be having an affair or he may not be. Worrying about it does no good and increases my anxiety.
  3. I B-R-E-A-T-H-E. When in an anxious state, we tend to stop breathing properly. I take the time to breathe. If I can, I close my eyes and concentrate on my breathing. I breathe into my stomach instead of into my chest and I concentrate on the present. Meditation and practicing mindfulness is very important for reducing anxiety and for increasing relaxation overall. I will talk more about meditation in a later post.
  4. Repeat. I do this several times a day. Whenever I feel myself wondering what my husband is doing, I start the process over again.

I hope that this will eventually make a habit but I can’t say for sure that it will. I can say, however, that it is the cheapest, healthiest, and easiest way for me to reduce my anxiety and to re-acknowledge my choice to trust. Try it!

If you notice that you’re feeling really anxious, and breathing doesn’t reduce your anxiety, try some grounding exercises (this link is for people with Borderline Personality Disorder but these exercises can help people without the disorder as well) and then start with the first step.

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