Much of our lives we spend dealing with the day-to-day stressors in our lives. From time to time, however, we look at the bigger questions – the meaning and value of our lives. How do I treat others? How do I improve myself, make my life better? How do I reach my goals while maintaining important relationships? How do I leave parts of my past behind that I do not like?
We start thinking along these lines in our teens and the intensity of these thoughts often last into our mid-20s. As we get older, the frequency diminishes, but we still go there.
I talked with a younger client a week or so ago that brought up these types of questions. It made me remember when I was 16 and I was “trying on” a number of different personalities. Some were nice, kind and good; some were on the mean, snide and angry side. When I would begin to travel down a more negative path, people noticed and commented right away. Attempting a more positive personality later on did not seem to get the same quick response. I learned people did not trust this change. I was angry that I was not immediately trusted again. I remember it took a good six months for people to begin trusting the “new” me.
Memories are not perfect, but this six month figure has always stuck in my head. “Don’t expect people to trust positive movement right away – remember it could take a good six months!” Probably not a realistic thought, but one that sticks with me.
Some people will never trust you again if you hurt them. Some may trust you more quickly; it may not take six months. It can depend on how you hurt them and what has changed since. It can depend on their history and how able they are, in general, to trust again. This was an early lesson I learned, not entirely understood at the time, but an important one in how people see one another – and how long it can take to rebuild trust.
I do not “try on” personalities anymore like I did when I was 16, but I can still change direction in my life from time to time. While I try to treat others well and have a “do no harm” basic attitude, I know I will, at times, anger others and breach their trust. If I recognize that I have done something harmful, I apologize and try to make a change and not let it happen again. If the person is no longer in my life, I issue the apology “to the world” and try not to do similar acts to others in the future. I will feel bad for awhile about the harm I caused, but also realize I need to move on.
If I harm someone I am in a relationship with, I offer my apologies, try to make changes or amends, and wait for my proverbial six months to hopefully regain their trust.
Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.