Trust is one of the most important things in any relationship. That much most can easily agree upon. Lack of trust was named one of the top four reasons for the breakdown of a relationship according to the relationships indicator survey 2011.
It is more difficult to specify what we mean when we say: We want to trust, and be trusted. Nor is it easy to understand the meaning of betrayal, until it is felt distinctly and unmistakably.
The importance of trust goes beyond desiring the safe keeping of a secret or fidelity. When we open our heart to another, be it friend or partner, we expect them to treat our thoughts and feelings with respect and good will, to make an effort to understand that which is innately ours, and to accept without judgement our quirks and flaws and often times messy past. Trusting another means to bare ones weaknesses to them, to expose the soft flesh of our soul and feel safe in the knowledge that they will protect, not strike us.
In her TED Talk “The Anatomy of Trust“, Brene Brown takes a close look at our understanding of the word.
She describes trust as follows:
‘To trust is to make that which is important to us vulnerable to the actions of others‘.
In that vulnerability lies intimacy and emotional security. To be known by someone, flaws and all, and still to be accepted, and to accept in return, is the foundation of deep human connection. By trusting, we make another person unique to us.
In turn, distrust is to know that that which is important to us is not safe with another.
Brown deconstructs Trust and identifies what criteria must be met to establish it. The acronym ‘BRAVING’ describes the relevant traits.
Boundaries: We who have known ourselves our whole lives have learnt over the course of time what is, to us, acceptable and what is not. We have examined our comfort zones. In order to let another person into our lives and allow ourselves to be vulnerable around them, we must be able to tell them our boundaries and trust that they will respect and consider them. Similarly, it is important that we too respect the boundaries of others. Beyond this, we want to trust someone to set boundaries so that the relationship we are building is not subject to failing for a lack of communication of these discomforts. We need to trust our loved ones to let us know how we can stay a positive part of their lives.
Reliability: In order for any relationship to work, effort is required from both parties. As such it is essential that commitments are kept and words fulfilled, not just once, but reliably over the course of time. We need to be able to trust another person’s word, to know that when they say they will do something, they will do it.
If reliability and truthfulness are betrayed, two parties can quickly grow distanced. In that case, it is necessary to display Accountability: Humans are flawed, failable creatures, and when we make mistakes, as we will certainly do, we need to be able to ask for and accept forgiveness. Accountability between two people means that when one commits a wrong doing, they accept responsibility, apologize, and make amends. In turn, mutual trust will create an environment in which an apology can be heard and the chance for amends will be given.
Vault: A trustworthy companion must be safe space for us to confide in. This means that we must keep confidential what is being told to us in private. Being trustworthy with secrets is not only important in the relevant relationship. A person that will gossip about others is immediately identified as someone who may very well share our own secrets too. I shall begrudgingly lift my hand here and admit: I am too quick to talk and too quick to confide, and have a long way to go before I am a safe vault to others. Displaying confidentiality both with our trusted friends and others, so that we may never be found betraying privacy, aids our Integrity.
Integrity is established by upholding one’s own values and hence creating a reliable personality. Our friends and loved ones must be able to trust us to not change our stance flippantly and whimsically. Integrity is found when we act with ‘courage over comfort’, and choose what is right over what is easy.
Non-Judgement: As any relationship deepens and progresses from a superficial connection to a trusting and intimate one, we are bound to reveal those things that we consider strange and unfavourable about ourselves, or simply fear others to dislike. Non-Judgement is an essential element to feeling loved. We want to be accepted and understood the way we are. This does not mean that we must never disapprove, but that we will view our loved ones with understanding and Generosity.
We trust in their virtues and personalities and hence look to find justification and reason behind their missteps, allowing that an ill temper may be caused by a bad day or stressful circumstances, or that a misunderstanding may have influenced their actions. We must recogize that another person is not perfect, and that any wrong doing was not intended, but a result of the twists and turns of life that can sometimes influence our behaviours. In turn, we too want to be examined with understanding when we act uncharacteristically. In other words, give and be given the Benefit of the Doubt.
Many of these traits are not the first things that come to mind when trust is mentioned. Yet over the last year I have felt many forms of betrayal and find myself reevaluating the elements of trust that I consider the most significant in a relationship. A betrayal of reliability, or a lack of accountability, can lead to a great deal of frustration and the inability to move forward from an issue. We may grow slowly, over time, irritated by the inconsistencies of our friends, who are not present when we need them, cannot be trusted to be truthful, and will make promises they forego too easily. To me, repeated missteps in these matters slowly drive a relationship apart.
More painful and long lasting is a lack of generosity and non-judgement. When we open up to another all that which is important to us, and make vulnerable our private thoughts and feelings, our hidden desires and worries, our secret joys and admirations, and we are met, unexpectedly, with judgement and suspicion, it is a deeper betrayal. Judgement and suspicion from a loved one surrounding the things we truly and innately care about, make us feel unloved. When not only our expectations or plans are rejected, but in fact what we believe to be our true selves, we come, suddenly and painfully, to the realisation that we are not respected and not appreciated for who we truly think we are.
Now that we have at length discussed why trust is integral to a relationship and what it consists of, it is worth thinking about how trust is gained and lost. Brown used an experience in her daughter’s life to form a fitting metaphor to explain the general idea:
Trust is like a marble jar we share in each relationship. When the elements of trust are displayed over time, in small, reliable measures, and we experience consistent kindness and reliability from a companion, we add marbles to the jar. Trust is built, not through grand gestures and leaps of faith, but through small, consistent steps until the jar is filled. Acts of betrayal on the other hand can remove several marbles from the jar at once. But here too, small inconsistencies and broken words can slowly wear down the foundation we have thus far built.
Finally, Brown remarks that in order to trust others, we must first trust ourselves, just as we must love ourselves before we can truly love others. Often we project the opinion we have of ourselves onto others, and expect their behaviour to match our expectations for ourselves. When we trust ourselves and know that we are worthy of trust and love, it becomes easier to identify and expect similar treatment from another.
Think about the people in your life and the ways they have earnt your trust. Have they done so through great demonstrations? Have they simply been consistently there for you over time? For me, it is the people that are there for me when I need them and give me their open and honest opinion when I need it. Or the people that have recognized when Iw as sad, and taken measures to check that I was alright, or surprised me with a small kindness to make me feel a little better. It’s the people I can count on to pick up the phone, the people that remember how I like my tea, and the people that will share aspects of their lives with me readily and excitably so I know they want me to be a part of it all.
Next time you feel yourself disappointed or betrayed in a relationship, maybe think back to BRAVING and see if you can identify where you feel your connection lacking.