I am writing this as a note to myself as much as anything. They say that lessons keep repeating themselves until you have learnt from them. I don’t want certain lessons to be repeated.
The parasite that takes control of ants
There is a nasty little parasite (a fluke or trematode) called Dicrocoelium dendriticum. In its adult form it lives in the liver of cattle and other grazing animals. The most interesting part of its complex life cycle, however, is when it enters its intermediate host, an ant. It takes control of the ant by moving to a nerve centre within it. Every night, when it would not be killed by the heat of the sun, the hapless ant climbs to the top of a blade of grass and clamps itself there with its jaws. If it is not eaten by a grazing animal, the fluke lets the ant perform its normal functions during the day. It continues this way until the ant is eventually swallowed and the fluke can complete its life cycle in the grazing animal’s liver. What does this have in common with mistrust?
Mistrust is a parasite in your brain seeking only to sustain and propagate itself
Well, the fluke cares little for the ant’s health and happiness, and effectively takes over its brain, controlling the ant for its own benefit. In exactly the same way, I believe that mistrust (paranoia, in its extreme form) can be thought of as a parasite, controlling your brain so as to sustain and propagate itself, regardless of your health and happiness.
Of course mistrust can be a healthy and positive thing. Mistrust when based on objective evidence of someone’s perfidy (cheating you out of money or slandering you, for example) is justified. However, it can also be based on subjective criteria – on matters of interpretation – and the danger with this is that once it has come into being it has a life of its own, and looks for evidence to justify its own existence. When concrete evidence doesn’t exist, it manufactures it, interpreting everything through the lens that it distorts. A vicious circle can be entrained…
Ever felt mistrusted?
Have you ever felt mistrusted by someone? How did this make you feel and behave? How would the mistrustful person interpret this behaviour? How would he/she then behave towards you, and how would this make you behave…? You get the point.
What are the warning signs of unhealthy mistrust, and what can you do about it?
Mistrust becomes an issue when you are about to engage in some enterprise/activity with someone. If there have been issues in the past, then it is possible the person mistrusts you. Objective, concrete conditions placed on continued interactions are OK, as there can be no doubt as to whether the conditions are breached. There is then a chance for trust to be re-established. An example of a concrete condition might be: ‘You may not use the car on the weekends without checking with me first.’
On the other hand, subjective conditions should ring alarm bells. ‘We can do this, but you need to respect my boundaries,’ is subjective, and there is no unambiguous way you can pass the implied test and build trust here. From experience, I would say that you need to avoid dealing with someone who puts such conditions on you altogether or, at the very least, keep your interactions down to the absolute necessary minimum. That person is likely to be infected with the malignant form of mistrust, and dealing with him or her is dangerous. There is probably nothing you can do to establish trust, and any attempts to do so will be interpreted as signs of your lack of trustworthiness. Head for the hills!
What if you mistrust someone else?
Remember that mistrust is a powerful and devious parasite only interested in finding more evidence to justify its own existence. If you don’t give people a clean sheet, then you are sure to find ‘evidence’ that they are further dirtying it, but how can you give them a clean sheet? The only answers I can think of are:
- by getting character references from mutual acquaintances whom you trust, and
- by reviewing the ‘evidence’ you hold against that person. Is it concrete or subjective? Might there be another explanation for the perceived problem? Most important, then, have you actually given the mistrusted person an opportunity to explain him- or herself? If it is subjective evidence and you haven’t given the person a chance, then perhaps you should do so?
Overtrusting and oversuspicious people
Because mistrust can be healthy, it follows that being too trusting is also a fault.
By being too trusting, you are likely to repeatedly end up in dangerous circumstances and repeatedly open yourself to being hurt. On the other hand. you will also open yourself to new experiences and making new friends, and this may, to some extent, compensate for the negative aspects. If you are intelligent and can learn to look for objective signs that people are not to be trusted, then in the long run you can hope to achieve a healthy balance.
As already suggested, being overly suspicious is a more intractable problem. You will constantly sabotage yourself and, unless you gain perspective, you will repeatedly alienate people and shut down your life, perhaps forcing repeated major upheavals upon yourself.
What causes people to be overly suspicious?
I suspect that childhood trauma – abuse – often lies at the root of paranoia. If you have been abused by your carers, or people you trusted, this can hardwire your amygdala to trigger the fight-flight response when it is not appropriate. Your so-called ‘sympathetic nervous system’ will often be inappropriately activated, and you may tend to be on the alert all the time. and view the world as a dangerous and hostile place. Others may view you as ‘highly strung’ and ‘prickly’. You will often feel uncomfortable and pressured. Meditation may help.
What causes people to be over-trusting?
I don’t know the answer to this. Words such as ‘naivety’ come to mind, but they are more synonyms than explanations.
I hope this note to myself will remind me to step outside any situations where lack of trust is an issue and really think about them. I don’t want to be a parasitised ant any more than I want to be a naive cow, heedlessly gobbling up grass without looking to see what might be on it. Here’s to finding a healthy balance!