I was horse mad as a child.
I was born and raised in Australia until the age of nine and, along with a modest collection of pony books and stickers, I had an imaginary horse I kept tethered in our backyard. Truth be told I had about fifteen imaginary horses – all with their own names – but that’s another story.
More than anything, I wanted to ride a real horse.
When I was about eight, I came across a brochure for a kids’ activity camp. I can’t remember how but it immediately caught my eye because there on the front cover was a photo of children smiling as they rode horses through the countryside.
This is it, I thought: this camp is my ticket to Ponyville.
My parents agreed I could go (I suspect I nagged them a LOT) and the day finally came when I bid farewell to all fifteen of my imaginary horses (took a while) and headed off to realise my dream. In no time at all, I thought, I’ll be one of the happy kids cantering blissfully through the sunny landscape.
It turned out to be one of the darkest weeks of my young life.
I can’t remember much about the camp. I know it was big and overwhelming with lots of older kids. I know I felt shy and scared. I can’t remember where it was or what time of year.
What I do remember is a pair of twin girls with red hair about my age.
The reason they were memorable is because, from the time we got up in the morning until we went to bed at night, they followed me around, calling me names, making spiteful comments and ensuring my life was utterly miserable.
Their bullying was relentless and I felt so diminished by it I stopped talking. I had no voice to ask to go riding so I never did fulfil my ambition. I never told my parents what happened. In fact, I never told anyone until I was having counselling as an adult.
To be clear, this is not a sob story designed to elicit an outpouring of sympathy. I’ve processed this experience thoroughly and don’t feel at all vulnerable sharing it with you. The reason I’m telling you is because, as a consequence of this and other negative experiences in childhood, there’s still a small part of me that really likes to come home, close the front door and shut the world out.
And I’m aware many people who struggle with emotion-driven overeating feel the same.
Getting to Know your Wary Side
If you were bullied as child, or if the people around you when you were growing up weren’t trustworthy, you can develop a side to your personality that believes no one is worthy of your trust. This Wary Side cautions you to be careful in your interactions with others in case you’re taken advantage of or you get hurt. In this way, it believes it’s helping you. “That’s a good thing”, you might say, and it some ways it is – it’s not wise to blindly trust everyone we come into contact with.
What’s the Downside?
The Wary Side is suspicious of everyone’s motives and is constantly on the lookout for evidence of dishonesty and disloyalty – and will find it. If a friend lets you down in some way, instead of stopping to consider if their error was simply because they’re human, the Wary Side can have you cut ties with them altogether. It doesn’t evaluate if there’s a strong underlying trust in the relationship, it just wants to protect you.
The Wall of Protection
Taken to extremes, rather than help you construct clear and safe boundaries, the Wary Side erects a wall around you that doesn’t just keep the untrustworthy people out, it guarantees no one can really get close to you. Which is fine and dandy except human beings are all about connection, and without it you feel lonely and isolated. In an attempt to deal with the disconnection and loneliness, you turn to food. While that might help you detach from the feelings, it doesn’t help you resolve your trust issues.
The Trust Inventory
It’s a good idea to think back over your entire life and all the people you’ve come into contact with. How many of them were truly untrustworthy? I can hear some of you answering “all of them!”. But let’s be realistic. If you were to draw a pie chart of all the people you’d met in your life, what percentage of them would have proved themselves untrustworthy? 7%? 5%? 2%?
Close, Closer, Far Away
Think about the people in your life right now. If you like, you can get a piece of paper and draw a small circle in the middle with your name in it. Then you can draw another circle around that. Who might be in the circle closest to you? You can keep drawing circles outwards and figure out where you’d like to put people. Some might be far away, others closer – you get to decide. Some people lack the awareness to understand they violate personal boundaries, others try intentionally to hurt – it’s OK to keep people at a distance if you don’t feel safe with them.
There are many people in this world who are not only trustworthy but have the potential to enhance our lives in amazing ways, as we can theirs. We can’t let the Wary Side make us see only the worst in people, otherwise we miss out on the best. If we let negative experiences put us off everyone, food becomes the only thing we trust.
While we don’t have to trust everyone, it’s worth working out who we do trust and where our boundaries are.
My Wary Side may like to close the front door and shut the world out, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what’s inspiring, life-affirming and downright fantastic about people.
For me, that’s worth trusting.