Have you ever had your heart broken?
Have you let someone in to the deep and tender places of your heart, only to have them to crush you with the power you gave them?
Worse, did you have whispers of what was to come, but instead chose to ignore those warning signs? My story…
She was everything I wanted to be.
There was an aura about her that was almost angelic and a charisma that was mesmerizing.
The setting was church, and she was a worship leader, teacher and counselor. When she spoke, you felt like she was speaking directly to you – and if she singled you out, you felt like the clouds parted and the sun was beaming on your heart.
Puh-lease, Brenda! Really? A bit much, don’t you think?
In retrospect and after reading these first three paragraphs, I agree with you wholeheartedly. It’s normal to have a girl-crush, but jeeeeeez, this was way overboard.
Not that I need to defend the error of my ways, but to give it context, I met her during one of the most vulnerable periods of my life. I’d just been laid off from QVC, lived in a state where I knew no one and was waiting on tables at a diner after having my professional heart broken.
I was looking for something to make me feel good about me again and to give me hope that all was not lost.
It would make sense to look for some answers at a church, wouldn’t it? When I walked through the doors of this place, I was overwhelmed. The singing was amazing; the preaching like something you’d see on TV. The pews were filled with beautiful people. I wanted to be one of them!
Getting back to the object of my infatuation, it was five years before I think she even knew my name. I was a member, but not a 7-days a week devotee. Let me clarify: My faith was 24/7, but I wasn’t at the church all the time like some were. By this time I had found a decent job in my field and had even considered going back to school for my Masters. I’d met a nice group of friends at the church – some who remain dear to my heart today – and this could have been the end of the story.
There’s no other way to phrase this: I became a target of this spiritual predator. She saw that I had some skills, a sincere faith, serious insecurities and a need to please. She ruthlessly calculated how she and the other leaders could use these qualities to their advantage.
At the time, I thought I’d won the lottery! This amazing woman was singling me out for attention? I was even invited to spend time with her and her inner circle of friends! What had I ever done to deserve such a wonderful turn of events?! The seduction of Brenda had begun, and it slowly – just slowly enough to be imperceptible – evolved into something dark, controlling, mean and abusive. By that time I was fully under her influence and systematically convinced that I was in the wrong, time and time again. My penance was emotional, heart-wrenching, financially draining and maddening.
When right is called wrong over and over again, you can feel like you are losing your mind.
I do believe I was on my way to losing my mind…and I had certainly lost myself over the course of what turned out to be almost 15 years of my life.
How I broke free is another story for another day. But the lessons learned changed me forever, and one of the core lessons was to start valuing myself enough to be cautious about who I trust.
When you don’t know who you are, you’re primed for someone else to define you. When you don’t love yourself, you’ll do and be anything for anyone to love you.
For most of my life, I prided myself on taking people at face value, and until proven otherwise, I still do. However, I am far more cautious about the depth of trust offered, and as Maya Angelou so perfectly stated, “When you know better, you do better.”
Here’s what I know better: Trust is earned. To attain this place in my heart, you need to meet these five criteria:
- Truthful – You know those people who easily come up with a white lie to handle situations, both personally and professionally? I keep them at arms length. Give me someone who agonizes over saying something difficult but truthful over a casual liar any day. Good question: Are they nice to peoples’ faces, but skewer them the minute their backs are turned?
- Rational – Be cautious of the person who is irrational in their approach to life. Often they will champion their political or religious beliefs to support their decisions. This is an effort to protect their poor decisions from possible questions or reproach. They will throw you under the bus time and again to suit their agenda – or will become vehement or violent if you or others dare to pose rational questions. Good question: How do people of character; people that you respect feel about this person?
- Unselfish – For the untrustworthy, it’s their world; you’re just a bit player in it. Even gestures that are seemingly generous end up being “all about them” with strings attached – and if you insult their superiority, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of their wrath. Good question: When you have really needed them, did they show up (when it wasn’t convenient?)
- Stable – Are they faithful to their professional and personal responsibilities? Is bouncing checks and showing up hours late for appointments part of their MO? Have they cycled through best friends, businesses or projects like last year’s calendar? Good question: Is it thrilling and alternately terrifying to be with them?
- Time-tested – Whether a romance or a new friendship, everything can be sunshine and roses in the beginning. Enjoy the honeymoon period, but take care not to get swept up in the tornado. Good question: What’s their track record with you and with others?
Let me add that choosing NOT to trust someone has nothing to do with whether or not you have forgiven them. Forgiveness is a release; it releases the person who offended you but even more, it releases you, me or whomever was offended to live life without carrying the weight of a grudge.
I can forgive – and have forgiven – but when trust has been broken it shouldn’t be carelessly re-offered.
THAT is the takeaway, by the way. This is not an argument to be anti-church or to be jaded about new people that enter the picture because, thank God, there are many wonderful churches and delightful people who will come our way. How sad it would be to not be open to who they could end up being in our lives?
Bottom line: If I like myself enough to break up with hairdressers who butcher my do, why wouldn’t I care enough to protect myself from toxic people?
A parting shot: Untrustworthy people are often master manipulators. These family members, friends, exes and employers will try and make you feel GUILTY for setting up appropriate boundaries and not saying yes to their agendas. Don’t fall for that trap.
Stand safely on the shore of your resolve as you wish them well while they set sail on their latest scheme.
TRUST your gut.
You’re worth it.