Trusting Myself to Not Trust

Today will just be a nice, self-loathing blog post about my insecurities and how I like them. Consider this your warning that you’ll probably get some eye roll exercise if you continue reading.

When I was in middle school, I decided I wanted to take karate classes. It was a short-lived jaunt down the road of self defense (weekly payments are a bitch), but there is still at least one defining moment from my time in the little studio at the Mid Cape Athletic Club that has stayed with me over the years. It was a moment that my Sensei was able to pinpoint an aspect of my personality that to this day, scares me a little bit.

Sensei was not usually the most discerning of people. He was a big-bellied, jolly man (no white beard, though — that’s where your hopeful comparison stops) who loved to talk, and would get sidetracked several times throughout each class with stories he wanted to tell.

He also liked playing jokes. One day, during warm ups, he called on me to answer a question that had to do with some life lesson he wanted to bestow upon us, and when I answered, he held out his hand for me to shake. I reached forward to shake his hand, and suddenly found myself in a headlock. After I struggled for a moment, he let me go, laughed, said something about reflexes, and held out his hand for me to shake again — a truce, it suggested. Again, I reached forward to shake his hand; again, a headlock.

When my Sensei let go the second time and held out his hand, I stared down at it unwillingly. “It’s okay, I’m done,” he said. I hesitantly shook his hand, and he went in for another headlock. But he stopped short, sparing me — he wasn’t going to belabor the point — and said, “You trust too easily.”

And I do. If ever I had an Achilles heel, it is that I sometimes fail to see the bad in people. Usually this is considered a great quality; it enables me to make friends more easily, for example. But sometimes it causes problems, and sometimes I fall into a pit that I could have avoided, had I guarded myself a bit more.

I have quickly taught myself not to trust. I still have that initial instinct — I still want to trust everyone I meet — and it results in a head vs. heart thing: Heart runs out into the street, positive that the cars will stop for it, and Head grabs Heart by the arm and yanks it back to the curb, scolding. Heart has now learned that whenever it feels like trusting someone, it should really reconsider.

Trust is such a domesticated quality. You only see animals trusting other animals when they’ve been born into captivity — generation after generation of pets relying on their owners for food and shelter, dogs wanting to play with other dogs in the park, cats rubbing up against people for scratches — but in the wild, an animal reserves its trust for very rare occasions. It’s a survival instinct: distrust is in its genes.

It’s a bit ironic if you think about it: I have a domesticated heart, and a feral mind. Talk about Jekyll and Hyde. But is it really so bad for a person to guard themselves? It’s not that I don’t plan on ever trusting again… it’s just that I’d rather be picky about what I allow to happen to me. There are so many studies that talk about how the brain sets up firewalls to protect itself, and usually these studies are presented in articles about how we need to let down our guard and open up our lives to new opportunities, and blah blah blah. But there has to be some discernment that is packaged along with that.

If there is one thing that I wish had struck me a little bit harder in my formative years, it would have been that moment in karate class. I wish that I hadn’t just been embarrassed about falling into the same trap over and over again, but had taken the time to piece together what that meant about me as a person. I wonder how different my adult life would be, if I had been able to recognize then how trusting of an individual I can be. There’s an odd balance to strike with trust, one that takes years to master… I just wish I’d had that head start.

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