Sometimes we go through things that are uncomfortable, unsettling, even traumatic. What is traumatic to one person may not mean much to the next, but that does not make it less painful for the one who experienced it as a trauma. Often when one goes through something like this, there is a form of self-protection that kicks in. This self-protection is something that gets inserted into a variety of situations in that person’s life. To others, it can come across as non-committal, being aloof, or holding back. Often people who do this are criticised for doing so. Far less often they are asked the question as to why they do it.
When we have the compassion and the courage to ask someone why they are holding back we will discover a part of that person’s history and personal make up of which we were previously completely unaware. And when we listen, truly listed, to their story, without judgement or condemnation, we are actually bridging the gap between that person and ourselves. Being asked the question,however, is not easy. Sometimes people will respond like a deer caught in the headlights. Answering the question can be terrifying. This is because often in answering the question the person is forced to share a story that is extremely painful. It might take them some time to get around to answering you. You cannot take that personally. It is about them, not about you. Be patient. They will come around and you will eventually earn their trust enough that they will share with you.
I liken this process to an abused dog. Although people are not dogs, dogs and people have a lot in common. We are social by nature. We love our pack. We tend to be loyal to those who treat us well, and sometimes even to those who do not. We imprint experiences into our psyche that sometimes takes years to clear out, especially if those experiences are traumatic. For example, when I was married to my second wife, she and my kids went to the SPCA and adopted a second dog for our family. When I found out about this was when I saw the two dogs playing in the back yard from my basement office window. When I had a break, I went outside to find out whose dog this was. And the dog immediately disappeared under some bushes and would not come out. I knew immediately that she was afraid of men and why that likely was. So for the next number of days I just went about my business and did not in any way attempt to make friends with her. She had to, through observation, discover that I was not at all like her previous owner or owners. My wife asked me if I disliked this dog because I would lavish attention on the first dog but not on the second. I told her that it was not that I was favouring either dog. I just wanted her to come to me on her own terms, not because I am demanding it of her. She kept at least a 10 foot distance from me for almost a week. Then one day I was working out in the flower bed, kneeling down and weeding and such, when what I thought was my first dog’s chin rested upon my shoulder. I instantly reached up to pet her head, only to discover that it was the new dog resting her chin on my shoulder from behind, not the first dog. I petted her gently and talked to her soothingly and she became one of the best dogs with which I have ever had a relationship.
This was only possible because I am an extremely patient man. I would not take her suspicion or rejection personally and knew that, given time, she would eventually decide for herself whether or not she could trust me. I was elated that she decided that she could, but I was also not expecting it any time soon.
I apply this type of theory to human relationships as well. We all have scars. We all have hurts. We all are healing. I know it takes me a while to come to a place of trust with people who are new. I do not expect it to take less time for others to come to trust me. Trust must be earned; it cannot expected. So I allow people to come to that on their own terms. Even in a professional setting, where they are coming to me for assistance in their healing journey, I am well aware that it might take a long time for them to actually come to trust me. I am still willing to put the work in. And when they do trust me then that just makes it easier to do that work.
At the same time, we do have to keep in mind that there can be triggers that people carry that we know nothing about, and which may affect our relationship. Just because we know someone’s story does not mean that we will know ALL their story and it does not mean that we will know all their triggers. While, on the one hand, we cannot be ruled by said triggers, on the other hand we can become aware of them and know that they may jump into effect at any given moment. For example, someone once told me that I should never wear the colour black while doing healing work. The reason for this is that people who were ritually abused often have black as a trigger because the people abusing them wore black. So, first off, that is assuming that all ritual abuse is done in a ceremonial manner and that everyone who performs ritual abuse wears black. I don’t buy that. Secondly, in my tradition, black is worn to absorb the negative energies, transmute them to positive, and then send that positive energy back out to the world. So it is something that I am not going to be changing. And I do not wear black every single day, so I am not worried. If, however, there is a colour trigger for someone, that will pop up and we will work on healing that. The rest of the world cannot be forced to not wear a certain colour simply because someone has it as a trigger. That is way too egocentric to actually be of use. As we heal not just the wounds but the triggers along the way, the person becomes much more whole and complete. And before you know it, those triggers don’t even exist for the person anymore.
So if you find yourself holding back, ask yourself what it would take in order to feel safe enough to share whatever you want to with this person? And then ask yourself what it will take on your end to have this person feel safe enough to share with you. There are always two sides to any coin. We always have to apply these things not just to others but to ourselves as well. And, once applied, they become extremely handy tools in the bag.