People are going to hurt us. That’s one of the certainties of life.
People we trust will betray us. People we love will hurt us. When we are vulnerable, some people will harshly judge us, often misunderstanding what we’ve allowed them to see inside us.
Once you’ve been betrayed and hurt often enough, it’s easy to feel numb. It’s natural to feel distrustful and to want to shut others out. But one of the central realities of life is that we need other people. Whether we like it or not, we have to go on loving and trusting and being vulnerable.
For some of us, this is one of the central contradictions of life. We know what our experience has shown us, but we also know that the love and connection and trust which we so desperately need can’t be found without reaching out and hoping that everything will be different this time.
This has been the central struggle of my life — whether to trust and love in the ways that I need or to run away and hide as a misanthropic hermit.
I found out a couple of weeks ago that someone had betrayed me. It’s not going to be a big deal in the long run, because I didn’t have a huge emotional investment in the woman. It was a friendship — without even a hint of romantic interest for either of us — and I had invested a good bit of time with her over the last year.
But when it became convenient for her to cut me off without explanation — when she did something that couldn’t be justified — that’s what happened. I don’t regret trying to help her. I don’t regret being her friend. But it hurts to be discarded so casually when I’m no longer convenient.
We create our own narratives in life, but it’s impossible to know whether the circumstances of our lives create the narratives or if the narratives we create actually lead to future experiences that correspond to our expectations.
You can make an argument for both sides. A rational materialist would say the facts of life are objective and that a narrative simply reflects that. Some more esoteric thinkers would say that we create our own circumstances based on what we believe and what we expect. I suspect there’s truth in both at times.
I had a long conversation with one of my sisters Saturday night. She unexpectedly brought up an incident that happened when I was only about 14 years old and she was 12. It was a time when I stood up to an older and bigger boy who was bullying her at a community swimming pool.
I had remembered the incident for years, but I was surprised that she remembered. It turned out that the memory of me standing up for her was a very emotional thing which had meant a lot to her at the time. She said that her big brother standing up for her — trying to protect her — was the first time she had ever really felt that someone was trying to take care of her.
I was floored that she remembered, but I was even more surprised at how much it meant to her. She was really emotional in explaining to me Saturday night just how much that little incident meant to her.
That led to a conversation between us about all the ways in which we had not felt protected — all the ways in which we had felt betrayed and hurt and scared and endangered. We both have vivid memories of feeling afraid and alone.
I understand now that all of what we went through back then laid the foundation for me to feel the conflict which I feel today about trusting others and taking chances on others. It also makes me wonder how often I might have chosen throughout my life to love or trust someone — someone who was destined to hurt or betray me — simply because that was what I was trained to feel as normal.
I felt like a freak as a child. I wasn’t like the others. I was always the new kid at a school or in a neighborhood until I was around 14. I was from the weird family. I hid my feelings because I was so afraid of being hurt, both at home and outside home.
No wonder I’ve felt like an alien among humans.
But despite my feelings of not belonging, I have the same human needs that you do. They’re the same human needs that I’ve always had.
I’ve spent my life wanting to be loved and understood. I’ve spent my life wanting to be connected to people who were not going to hurt me or betray me or abandon me.
I still haven’t learned — not entirely — to trust just the right people. Like Robert Heinlein’s young human character Valentine Michael Smith, who had been raised by Martians and had no understanding of how to fit among humans, I am a “stranger in a strange land.”
I wish that I could run away from human society and never again risk being hurt by trusting or loving the wrong person. I often feel as though I want to hate everybody. I often feel as though I’d like to be a hermit.
But I am hopelessly human. My needs for love and understanding and connection are too great. I have no choice about this.
Despite the experiences of hurt and betrayal and abandonment, I have to choose to be open, at least in a measured way. I have to be open to love and understanding and all the things which I couldn’t find when I was young. And which I’ve been looking for ever since.
I have no choice. I have to keep looking — and trusting that my experience will finally be different next time.