Imagine being loved anyway

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The changes we dread most may contain our salvation.
— Barbara Kingsolver

I am so tired of people lecturing about trust. About how it is the basis of relationships and what ‘3 things’ lead to trust. I’m tired of it because it is all too simplistic. I am tired of it because they try to make it sound neat and clean and easy. Something you can accomplish in a workshop or in some online class. They give you catchy slogans. Inspiring picture quotes. They make it sound logical and linear and they support this with symbolic equations such as Trust = relationship X time—even though obviously neither relationships nor time is completely linear so how could the product of these two things end up tidy or logical?

When you learn about the psychology of attachment you learn that trust is built from the survivability of the parent. Parents create attachment because they just keep showing up and trying to make things a little better for the infant—they feed it, change it, rock it and help it get to sleep. They make mistakes and they repair them. They are there. Over and over endlessly, they are there. And this endless thereness. This endless thereness with repair after repair—this is what creates basic trust.

And this week after a difficult conversation in my own life I am convinced more than ever that trust is built not because you are loved, but because someone loved you anyway. They loved you when you were angry, or messy, or cranky or a total and complete pain in the ass. They loved you when you forgot, or remembered—when you said it or when you didn’t say it. They didn’t love you because you could do it—they loved you anyway, even when you couldn’t.

It’s hard to describe how fully you lean in to someone in this moment—the moment when you can’t or you didn’t or you won’t. The moment that you feel so badly about yourself, the moment that you think all is lost and you think you are falling off a cliff into some abyss where you will be all alone.  The moment that you don’t believe in love at all, the moment you don’t for a second think you could be loved as you are—that moment: you lean all your weight in to the hope that it exists. That moment you let go and jump with no real belief that anything will catch you but with the prayer that it will. You think you are falling forever and then the rope holds and there’s something that catches you. You find out that you are tied in to something--that you are held.

This is what infants do every day. They can’t live on their own, so they place their entire lives in the hands of their caretakers. They cannot do anything without the help of the adults around them. They cannot express themselves except to cry or protest when they need something else. Infants make this trust fall every single day. And, lucky for them, they don’t know anything else—so they just do it.

But if you didn’t get to learn this lesson in trust and attachment when you were young, then you know too much fear to treat these kind of trust falls as anything other than danger. You organize your whole life so you never have to rely on anyone. You make sure that you never get caught off guard--you never get disappointed.

But if you are lucky, at some point your long practiced strategy will fail you. The chess pieces will align on your board in such a way that you can’t use your old moves. There’s no other square to move to. You can’t use any of your old tricks. You will run in to a situation that you just can’t control and your guard will come down. You won’t be able to do it yourself. You won’t be able to fix it so you don’t feel anything.  You will be disappointed. You will be disappointing. You won’t be able to hold yourself together. You will fall apart, and you will lean on the support of something other than yourself.

And remarkably, the world doesn’t actually end. In fact, it sort of begins.

You find yourself in a world where you no longer have a fear of falling because you have hit the ground and despite the loud ‘thud’—you are actually fine. You are cranky, you are messy. But you are fine. You find yourself in a world where there is space enough for all of you, even, or especially, the parts you don’t like.  Being loved anyway means that suddenly, there’s nowhere else to go. There’s nothing else to do. There’s nothing to fix. There’s nothing to get right and there’s no one else to be, but yourself.

And that’s enough.

© 2017 Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD