Monday, January 25, 2016

Thoughts on "Trust" and relationships

A friend and I were talking about what we each believed is the most important element in a relationship, and we both agreed that trust was that essential component to a strong relationship - no matter what type of relationship it is.  We expanded that discussion just a little bit and talked about what that means to each of us in a relationship, about faithfulness and honoring each other.  

Since that conversation, this topic has swirled in my mind - begging me to write more about it.  I thought about it for weeks, reviewing my own thoughts and feelings about trust and conversations with others about trust over the years.  The common denominator that I was finding was that lots of people have different definitions of what trust is.  The word trust is one of those words that carry such a heavy meaning to it yet when really challenged to define it, most of us are not able to find the words.  

Years ago I heard the infamous Dr. Phil saying that "Trust is a function of how much you trust yourself to be strong enough to deal with their imperfections".  Sure, if I cannot handle the fact that you are a human and will likely mess up with me at some point in our relationship, I could diminish my trust in you.  But this didn't help me get to the root of what trust is.  What does it mean to trust myself?  What does it mean to trust another person?

If you ask a seven year old kid, you will likely hear something like "I can tell Joey about my secret and no one else will know."  If you ask an adult you might hear something more along the lines of "I know that Daisy will not break my curfew rule and will be home by 10pm tonight", or "I believe my husband will not lead that beautiful woman on that is sitting across from us flirting with him" or maybe "I know that this person is going to obey the red light they have as I go through my green light".  As I thought about it more, I could think of so many different examples of trust that expanded the answer to what it means to trust myself or others.  

Remember the old saying that "trust is earned not freely given"?  Repetition of actions over time that help prove to another that trust is there.  Trust really was a word that isn't easily explained and definitely needed more context.

I looked up the word in the dictionary and didn't find a good clear answer as to what trust is.  So I took the next logical step.  I googled it, and found more than 976 million hits - many with different answers.  Then, I decided to go see what one of my favorite relationship researcher says about the topic, Brené Brown.

From Brené's perspective, trust is such a big word that we need to break it down in order to understand the components and identify what part of the trust is broken when we feel like our trust is broken.  Yes! Her definition was exactly what I was looking for.  And it also brought up some interesting self-reflection that I needed to face (more on that later).

Brené explains trust as having seven dimensions, and she brought them all together in a very nice tight acronym:  BRAVING.  Her book "Rising Strong" defined it very clearly (the below is directly taken from her book):
  • B – Boundaries.  You respect my boundaries and when you are not clear about what’s OK and what’s not OK, you ask. You are willing to say no.
  • R – Reliability.  You do what you say you’ll do.  At work this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so that you don’t over-promise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
  • A – Accountability.  You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
  • V – Vault.  You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share.  I need to know that my confidences are  kept and that you are not sharing with me information about other people that should be confidential.
  • I – Integrity.  You choose courage over comfort.  You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy.  And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.
  • N – Non-judgment.  I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need.  We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
  • G – Generosity.  You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others.
This acronym applies to self trust as well as trust for others.  It bears repeating that of course, if there is no self trust there is no trust for others, and if there is partial self trust there is partial trust for others, further clarification of Dr. Phil's quote above.  Finally, a clear concise breakdown, providing me language I can use when I am feeling distrustful.  I can more discretely explain what is not working so that it can be zeroed in on and addressed.

I mentioned earlier that this multi-dimensioned definition brought up some self-reflection.  I started thinking about my own behavior towards various people I have had relationships with and myself in the past, and I recognized some areas where I am not as consistent as I'd like to think.  All part of yet another level of self-improvement for me.  Luckily, I'm armed with a more defined list of components to have better conversations with myself and the people in my life.

In case you'd like to see the video of her talk:

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