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Trusting Men Response #3 – Mary Ashley

Dear Edith Trusting Men Response 3 Mary Ashley -- FemCatholic.com

Read the original question here.

Dear Anonymous,

First off, I want to say that I’m really sorry that that happened to you. There are few things more hurtful than being lied to and cheated on. I applaud you for moving on and even becoming best friends with the “other woman”.

I’ve had several experiences where I felt hurt, betrayed, or let down by men, including my father, and healing from the resulting hurt and bitterness each time has taken a tremendous amount of time and effort. It is especially disheartening when we are deceived by someone who has all of the external signs of faith (and, we would assume, faithfulness and virtue), which leads us to a double distrust, both of men and of the signals we would normally cling to in order to evaluate someone’s character.

It is especially disheartening when we are deceived by someone who has all of the external signs of faith … which leads us to a double distrust, both of men and of the signals we would normally cling to in order to evaluate someone’s character.

I spent a long time in a similar state to the one you describe…in college, almost all of my friends were gay men, women, or my friends’ boyfriends, and most of my interactions with the opposite sex were hopelessly awkward. I had crushes from afar, but aside from a relationship that lasted for the first three months of my freshman year (one which certainly did not help my fears or ability to trust), I didn’t go on another real date until 7 years later, and usually ran away as fast as I could if someone showed any real interest. Since then, I’ve had more betrayals, even deeper hurts, and more healing to go through, and I don’t have the perfect answer, but at least I can confidently say that I’m finally at a place of being open and relatively at peace.

So, my first piece of advice is to be kind to yourself. One day you might wake up and feel great, totally healed, and ready to take on the world, but then the next day something relatively small sends you backsliding into fear, bitterness, or anxiety. Healing is a process, and it’s likely that there are several layers to this wound that you might not uncover until later on. It’s normal to feel wary and unsafe in your shoes, and if there is any part of you that feels like you “should have already healed by now,” I hope that you can let that go.

Next, I would advise you to look at any negative beliefs you might have gotten from this experience. If you ever find yourself thinking things like “Well, all the good ones are taken”, “Men are liars that can’t be trusted”, “Men don’t want a committed relationship anyway”, or, even worse, “I deserved this and don’t deserve love”,“I did X or Y to cause this”, or “this wouldn’t have happened if I weren’t so ______ or if I were more _______ ”, take a moment to pause and challenge those thoughts.

First of all – they’re not true, and second – they will only get in the way of your healing. If you let yourself be convinced of those lies, you will end up looking for evidence to support them, which will only cause more pain and hurt. Instead, I would invite you to look for examples of good men doing good things around you, and, when you notice them, stop and thank God for them (if you’re outgoing, you could go ahead and thank THEM, too!). Resist the temptation to excuse them away or chalk them up to external factors.

When it comes to actually trusting, Brené Brown and her work on vulnerability have been very influential for me. She has a great talk that will probably be more helpful than anything I can tell you, The Anatomy of Trust. I think it’s helpful, though, to also watch her TED talks (especially this one on The Power of Vulnerability) and understand why vulnerability is important. From your letter, it sounds like you already understand that it’s important to learn to trust again, but understanding WHY, for me, was crucial. If you don’t open yourself up to the possibilities of getting hurt again, you won’t be able to feel joy as deeply or get as much satisfaction from life.

If you don’t open yourself up to the possibilities of getting hurt again, you won’t be able to feel joy as deeply or get as much satisfaction from life.

Finally, even though it sounds strange, I would ask if you could look at what lessons you might have learned from this experience. I’m sure you’ve already gone over the details and potential red flags in your mind, but have you turned them into resolutions for actions to take in the future? You can take this as an opportunity to better define your boundaries and understand what you expect and what will and won’t work for you, and how to express those boundaries clearly. If you can trust yourself to speak up and protect yourself when you’re dissatisfied about something or you feel hurt, you can feel a greater ease and peace the rest of the time, when things are going well.

With that in mind, you can practice by starting small, and try to be open and trusting even in passing situations that might seem insignificant. After all, if it isn’t important to you, what do you have to lose? You can take situations that you don’t have a lot invested in as opportunities to express how you feel and what you want, and to walk away if that’s what you need to do. By insignificant, I’m talking about even something as simple as maintaining eye contact with someone you cross paths with at a grocery store, or telling your barista about how the Frappuccino makes you feel. Every day will have dozens of small opportunities that you can take and use to build up your “trust muscles”. When you do this, try to look at people the way that God sees them, as lovable creatures full of dignity that are also selfish and stupid and hurt others sometimes because, ultimately, they want to feel loved.

Also, this probably sounds cliché, but I really encourage you to also take this opportunity as a chance to deepen your relationship with God, and to invite Him into your wounds. You can ask Him to show you what it is that is keeping you from trusting others, to help you grow in love for other people and forgiveness of those who have hurt you, to send you good, trustworthy people, to show you what you need to learn from the people you’ve already met, and also to show you the love that He has for you. I have no doubt that he will answer those prayers.

— Mary Ashley


Mary Ashley Burton is a FemCatholic Contributor. She is a writer, filmmaker, and Spanish interpreter living in Los Angeles, CA. When she’s not spending too much time on Facebook, you can find her co-hosting the Fishers of Men podcast on Christian dating and relationships, planning her next trip, or trying to make people laugh. 

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