Think of your Self as a house.
There are some people in your life who you never have to trust. They’re like people who never come in to your house. You pass them on the street and go by. You see them all the time, but they don’t know you.
Others, you trust in some small way. Waiters, shopkeepers, clerks, and customer service workers are like delivery people who leave things on the porch of that house, ring the bell, and leave. They have contact with you as a house, but it is very brief and task oriented. You trust your waiter to bring you your soup, but you examine it before you eat it.
Others come to visit you on the porch. You are friendly and spend some time with them, but never really let them in. The porch of your Self has a little bit of you in it, but it’s a public part of you. Most of you is kept private from them and safe.
Your Self as a house has a formal living room, a parlor where you receive some visitors and act with civility, just to be polite, but you never let them into the rest of your house. The people you let in here, as opposed to leaving on the porch, are significant people to whom you want to show respect, but not intimacy. This can be that relative you have that you wish was not your relative, but you still have to invite. This part of the house is similar to the porch in that you put on your public face, but being indoors, it gives the appearance of intimacy without actually being intimate. You show only the parts you would like important people to know. This is also a room, or part of your Self, where you screen new people to see if you want to let them in. It’s the room of first dates. If the guest behaves himself in this room and establishes himself as someone you can trust, you let him into other rooms of the house.
If your Self as a house is like mine, you have a rec room. Your relationship with people you allow in your rec room is just about play. I have friends like this that I play tennis with, others who are on my volleyball team. They know how I play, but not much else about me. They might be perfectly good people to let in the rest of the house, but that’s not what our relationship is all about. We are people who get together only to play.
You may have a work room in your Self as a house that functions similarly to the rec room, but it’s for people you work with. Your relationship with them is only about work. When you leave that job, you never see them again.
Off the parlor is the dining room. This is where you feed others. The focus of this part of your Self, this room, is not you, but what you are doing for them: serving them, helping them, sustaining them, raising them, or entertaining them. Some people have a very large dining room in the house that is their Self; they serve a lot of people, but not many people know them intimately. I guess that would be true for me. A lot of people come in and out of my dining room when I meet with them for counseling, or when they know me through my writing. It’s possible to know a writer or a counselor a great deal through their writing and counseling, but what you know is always up to the writer and counselor. I tend to disclose more of myself in person than I do in writing; but whenever I do, the purpose is never simply to reveal something about me, but to serve you. You too, may have a dining room where you trust people only so far as you need to serve them.
Some few folks who pass muster in the living room are let into the part of you that is like a kitchen where the sausage is made. Anyone you allow in the kitchen can see the mess that’s inside your head. You might not let anyone in the kitchen if you prefer to work out your thoughts and feelings and make them perfect before you serve them to anyone else. Or you allow certain people in there where they see your thoughts and feelings unformed and help you cut out the bad spots before you put them on the plate. I have some people I trust this way, too; people who review my writing before I publish it; colleagues who hear me talk about how to respond to difficult clients; friends who hear me out before I have figured it out. I hope you also get help in the kitchen, especially if you invite a lot of people to your dining room.
Your Self has a bedroom. You probably let very few people in there. This is where you go when you are sick. It’s where most of us go to die. We let people into the bedroom when we need them to care for us when we cannot take care of ourselves. These people see you naked and, in the morning when your hair’s a mess and your teeth unbrushed. Sex sometimes happens in the bedroom, but you don’t have to be in the bedroom to have sex. In other words, sex sometimes, is not always intimate, and intimacy does not always include sex. Intimacy has more to do with sickness than it has to do with sex.
In your Self, connected to the bedroom is the bathroom. The people you let in your bathroom, if any, know the parts of you of which you are the most ashamed. You probably try to keep everyone out of your bathroom. They only come in when you are sick, puking, shitting all over yourself, and passed out on the floor.
There’s an attic in the house of your Self where the skeletons are kept. No one goes up there except maybe your therapist, and hopefully your spouse or a well trusted friend. You may not even trust yourself in there alone. You would rather leave the attic to the skeletons, except sometimes they come down the stairs and haunt everything else. Your therapist can help you gather up the bones and give them a decent burial. The funny thing is, while your therapist is there with you in your attic, you are with her in her dining room. That’s the way these houses work. While you are visiting her, she’s visiting you.
The point of this whole extended house metaphor is, you can have control over what people see about you, unless you have an open floor plan and a front door that won’t close. You don’t have to let everybody in all the way all the time. You can pick and choose who to trust.
Just how does trust work though? How do you learn to trust someone? How can you gain someone’s trust? These are vital questions, but I’m afraid we don’t have a formula.
Generally speaking, you will trust a person to the extent that they prove themselves to be trustworthy. The idea is to let people in a little at a time: pass them a few times on the street before you invite them on your porch, hang out with them on the porch before you let them inside, and then, move them gradually through the rooms when they prove that they won’t bust the furniture and swipe the silverware. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, but it often doesn’t. People often err in letting folks in the bedroom before they’re sure of their names or they never let anyone in at all.
It can also be hard to win the trust of people, even when you are perfectly trustworthy. The reason can be illustrated if you allow me to switch to a metaphor I’ve used before in other posts. Two people go to the bank. One has a good credit score, the other a bad one. One is clearly more creditworthy, or trustworthy, than the other, based on past behavior. These two see the same banker and ask her for a loan.
You may think you know the sensible thing for the banker to do. She’s supposed to give the loan to the one with a good credit score and turn down the other with a bad credit score. But it doesn’t always work out like that. For instance, she could say the person with a good credit score can get a loan anywhere, so he doesn’t need to get it from her. She could decide to give the one with a bad credit score a break. Having a good credit score does not dictate the banker’s decision. There are other factors.
What would cause a banker to ignore a low credit score and lend money, anyway? She could be just a rank fool. She could be trying to lose her job. She could believe it’s her job to save the most wretched. She could be a loan shark, offering a payday loan of trust and good will that will ruin the creditor in the end. Maybe trust is burning a hole in her pocket and she can’t get rid of it fast enough. She could be a banker with so much money in her vault, so much good will, brimming with so much self-esteem, that she can take risks that others cannot.
What would cause a banker to ignore a good credit score and refuse the loan? Maybe she, too, is a rank fool. Maybe she’s uncomfortable with success. Maybe she finds suspicion more compelling than grace. Maybe it’s too boring, too safe to give trust to someone who deserves it. Maybe she’s just a miser with her trust. There could be so little money in her vault, so little good will, so little self-esteem, that she’s not willing to risk a dime.
The point is, there are often many factors involved in extending trust that have nothing to do with trustworthiness. It’s complicated. Like all complicated things, we rely on our feelings, not our rationality, to sort them out. To the extent you are able to understand feelings, you will understand trust.