Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Relationships cannot exist without trust. The absence of trust can keep people isolated from each other, or in a combative pattern of relating to each other. All of us have a built in "fight-or-flight" response to danger. If a tiger is racing toward me, I will flee to safety, if possible, or fight for my life if there is no alternative. In The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker writes about the value of this response pattern in protecting us from physical violence. However, physical violence is not needed to activate this system. When day-to-day relationships start to sour, the other person may feel like that tiger. When this happens, your instincts may tell you to fight (i.e. verbally attack the other person, defend yourself) or to flee (i.e. emotionally withdraw or physically leave the relationship). Sometimes these responses are entirely appropriate. At other times, our fears serve to shape  reality as we unwittingly help to create a corrosive dynamic in a valued relationship.

To add a layer of complexity, our judgment is not perfect. I must ask myself--am I truly under attack or do I just expect to be attacked because of my (or our) past? These kind of questions are sometimes difficult to answer on one's own. Part of my job as a Clinical Psychologist is to help people sort through when trust is appropriate, how much trust is warranted, and when "fleeing" might be the best choice. People with a history of trust violations due to emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse find these questions especially challenging.