When Beliefs Are Broken

I’m thinking about trust. About how easily some of us give it, and what happens when trust is broken.

I’m thinking about love affairs, about marriage, about life after marriage, about trusting “the universe.” I’m thinking about the sense of betrayal when families – or social and legal institutions like health care systems or family court – don’t live up to our trust in them.

It’s one thing to bring yourself through the rebuilding process when you’ve lost trust in one individual. But what if your belief system has been broken? What if it’s faith in your deity, or faith in your family, or faith in the infrastructure of the country you love?

I am awed and astonished at those who live through the worst possible tragedies – tragedies that I cannot imagine surviving – and yet they continue to hold onto their religious convictions.

I know a few such people, and I admire them greatly.

Some turn tragedy into gifts for others. They pour their grief into purposeful contribution with extraordinary generosity and perhaps for them, in a way, this is life-saving. They speak of their experiences. They educate others. Whatever has broken in them, I imagine they have rebuilt a parallel or adjacent core – scarred, but functional.

When it comes to betrayal in a relationship, some may find their way back to a place of tentative trust. It may take months. It may take years. Or it may never happen, not for lack of trying. Some cannot rebuild; one breach is all it takes for absolute destruction. They will never trust that person again.

Some may never trust anyone again.

Not with their heart, or the practicalities of their future.

In marriage, there are many kinds of beliefs, and likewise, events that may break a bond irrevocably. Abuse of a spouse or child comes to mind. Perhaps you discover certain aspects of “another life” you may not have known about, or moral issues that you simply cannot live with. And of course – there’s the “traditional” (and commonplace?) break that comes through infidelity – emotional or otherwise.

But what of family that abandons you? Blood relations, who withdraw support for reasons you cannot fathom? What of breaks in families over money – which is remarkably common?

What of children who cease to care that a parent is in dire financial need – though the child (now an adult) has plenty of money and is in a position to help? What of siblings who simply turn their backs, to save a buck?

I could write of our health care system that leaves some of us without assistance, and others, broke. I could write of our judicial system when it comes to the handling of custody and family support. Many write of these issues and far better than I, capturing the details of their battles and their heartbreak.

Circumstances differ; both men and women suffer. Beyond this suffering, children carry the burdens of adult dissension and outright warfare, of confusing and malignant role models when it comes to relationships, of emotional scarring from convoluted custody decisions or the outright deprivation of a loving parent. Of a parent’s health problems, or their own health problems.

And of course, there is poverty.

During or after divorce, when what you witness the courts dole out is anything but an equitable solution – some may argue that “equitable” is subjective following marriage – it’s hard to retain your beliefs.

In justice.

In any of the teachings we are so naively raised with – about fairness, about common sense, about parents loving children and our systems, theoretically designed to support their well-being.

Naturally, there are millions of examples of compassionate family members who rally around in the event of crisis. Likewise, there are family members who turn their backs and walk away.

Parents. Children. Siblings.

This is a sort of betrayal that never leaves you. A break of some core, that I’ve never come to understand.

Yet the kindness of strangers has always reminded me that when my own beliefs feel broken, hope can be rekindled. And if I see hopelessness in another human being, I try to extend a hand.

I admit, in my own life, I have grown skeptical of certain institutions, skeptical that love won’t be rescinded, skeptical that the family we are born into will not abandon us, skeptical that “il n’y a pas de hasard” – there is a reason for everything – is anything but a platitude we tell ourselves to be able to make it through another day.

And yet this doesn’t mean I don’t live moments of joy, moments of pride, moments of giving – and to the extent I am capable, with generosity. It doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize good in people around me, and cherish those qualities while cherishing them.

These days, I am grateful. My sons are healthy. I love a good man. I have allowed myself to become vulnerable – truly vulnerable – for the first time in many years. It’s eye-opening, terrifying, wondrous.

And yet yesterday, in conversation with a friend, I uttered these words and surprised myself when speaking them: I trust him, but I don’t know that I could ever trust the institution of marriage again.

Clearly, I have yet to let go of certain shadows. Too many beliefs have been irrevocably broken.

  • Have you had your trust broken?
  • Have you been able to put the pieces back together?
  • If you give up certain foundational beliefs, with what do you replace them?
  • Where is the line between self-protection and self-limitation?