This is part two of a two part blog. Part two explore ideas about starting new friendships after loss. It looks at how healthy relationships form and offers ideas for determining trustworthiness and compatibility. Part one explored the nature of friendships in healthy and unhealthy communities.
Normally trust takes time to develop. But, in spiritually abusive situations relationships form in unhealthy ways. Group teachings rush people through natural processes in relationship formation. Here is an example from my own life. When I was 12, some new people of our same religion moved into our town. Shortly after moving there, they were taking a trip to Canada and did not want their child to be on the trip alone, and asked my parents if I could go as a companion for their child. My parents said yes, and off I went for two weeks into a foreign country, with people my family barely knew.
My parents knew little about this family. They knew that they were members of the faith, and that was enough. Fortunately for me, the trip turned out to be an adventure that I remember with fondness. In retrospect, the act of trust should have grown over a significant amount of time as my parents interacted with and observed the other family. Their child and I should have spent small amounts of time at each other’s home to see if we even got along. Over time small risks and conversations would have revealed whether or not trust was warranted. Observation would reveal information about the family’s honesty, how they drove (obeying traffic laws or not), and how they handled it when their child made a mistake. Time would have showed my parents whether or not there was risk involved with me going as a companion. Their personal discernment was weakened by all the teachings of the religion.
A false sense of safety leads to unearned trust. This can set up a haven for pedophiles and abusers. At a minimum, member’s choices of associates are restricted and people are encouraged to build relationships primarily on the basis of faith affiliation.
For people who have exited spiritually abusive groups, starting new relationships may feel overwhelming. Aside from feeling betrayed and going through grief and loss, one must go against years of training and make friends with people on the outside (the same people that may have previously been labeled as wicked sinners, destined for destruction). Discerning who to invite into your life will take time and risk. Two elements to consider are compatibility and trustworthiness. They are key to healthy relationships.
Previously relationship choices were limited to people in the group, and people in the group who were most active and most compliant with group norms. These people may or may have not had much in common other than beliefs and activities. There may have been tension and dislike that was overlooked for the sake of keeping the peace, but outside of group expectations, the people would not have willingly chosen to interact. Compatibility is about much more than common belief or activities. Compatibility is enjoying each other’s personalities, having similar interests, and ease of getting along. Compatibility results in increased joy and feelings of safety. Compatibility involves intellect, humor, and shared interests. Compatibility is when people click and naturally get each other’s person, but it also involves willingness to grow together, forgive, and accept each other.
Compatibility cannot be a replacement for trust. Trust is the basis for meaningful, lasting relationships. Here are some indicators of trustworthiness:
Trust also comes when you are able to express your needs and wants and the person respects those boundaries. If you say, “I am not ready to talk about that,” how does the other person respond? If they try to get you to disclose it anyway, they are not respecting you. No one should belittle you for your history, tease you for what you believe or do not believe, or shame you for anything you need to make you feel safe.
Trust and compatibility contribute to relationship formation. But relationships come in many types. Some relationships last a life time. Some relationships last for a short period of time. Some relationships are shallow and others are deep. Some people help us think and others help us play. Some may mentor us, and we may mentor some. Relationships change over time. We may drift away or outgrow a relationship. Sometimes the only self-respecting thing to do is to let go. With time and discernment we can replace what was lost with relationships that have integrity and meaning.
[i] Sharing a story is something women tend to do more than men. Men may offer advice to show their care. This would not be a problem unless the person expects or pressures you to follow the advice.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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