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Who can you trust with your story of loss?
I’ve asked myself that question at different times in my life — when I really needed someone to just sit and listen.
When I wasn’t sure if I could trust someone with my story, I held my story to myself and kept looking.
Call me a cynic
Now, at that moment when I kept my story to myself, you could call me cynical. But if that was you, I’d say, “Go ahead and be a cynic.”
A cynic by definition is distrusting and pessimistic about other people. There is a time and place to be cynical.
You are given permission to be a cynic when the other person is unable to hold your story with care. You can be a cynic when the other person minimizes your story by changing the topic or offers patronizing support called sympathy.
What a trustworthy person looks like
It’s not easy to find people you can trust with your most personal and painful stories. But they are out there.
If you're trained at spotting trustworthy people, your chances of finding them go up.
Trustworthy people are kind, patient, empathetic, good at listening, slow to speak, slow to tell their story, and able to sit in silence without giving answers.
Someone said to me once, “I wasn’t sure if you were a safe person to share my story with but then in time, I felt like you understood me.”
To be someone who listens and understands, you don’t have to have the exact experience but you do need need to feel what they feel and be a person who can hold their story with care.
Signs to move on
When I’m not sure if someone has the capacity to be quiet and listen, I’ll test the waters by throwing out a tidbit of my story to see what happens. If they listen without changing the topic or jumping into their story, I’ll say more and forward we go.
I’ll cut the conversation short if cliches start flying or the other person is unable to maintain eye contact.
People are either ready to be trusted or not. When ready, they can sit with sadness, let the tears flow, and give you lots of room to reminisce about what used to be.
I don’t judge the people I can’t trust. I just don’t pursue them.
There is one other lesson I’ve learned about finding people to trust with my grief. If I seek to be the kind of person I am looking for in others, I have an easier time finding people to trust.
As you strengthen your empathy, sensitivity to others, ability to be present with people -- you are sowing the very seeds that will come back to you in a harvest of love and support.