Do you have problems with trust?
Perhaps you suspect your besties might spill your deepest darkest secrets all over the tinter webs…
Or maybe you don’t trust yourself enough not to divulge some hilarious gossip.
Not to mention deeper trust tectonics that often separate families and partners.
In every case, trust issues can have massive implications for general mental health and wellbeing.
Cue celebrated researcher, speaker and author Brené Brown, who addresses the issue by breaking it down into the anatomy of trust, in a process she calls “braving”.
You might know Brown from her seminal TED talk below, which has been viewed over 45 million times.
The rest of the article is based on notes taken from the Brown’s SuperSoul TV talk, entitled ‘The Anatomy of Trust’.
I recommend you head over to Brown’s website to listen to the full talk, but for a summary of what she has to say and how you can apply it, keep reading.
Here’s a snippet of the talk:
As a researcher who studied shame and vulnerability, Brown says she would have likely analysed trust, but there was a personal reason she became interested in the topic early in her career.
When her daughter, Ellen, was in 3rd grade, she shared something with two friends who then betrayed her trust to the class.
When the rest of the children started making fun of Ellen, the teacher had to take marbles out of the classroom jar, a symbolic container that awarded good behaviour and disincentivized bad behaviour via the addition and subtraction of marbles.
Upon returning home, her daughter said that she would never trust anyone again. Thus began Brown’s personal foray into the world of trust.
To soothe her daughter, Brown used the metaphor of the marble jar to signify trust,
“Trust is like a marble jar. For every moment of trust earned, one marble goes in the jar. You only share the important stories with friends who have filled up their marble jars.”
But after giving her daughter this analogy, Brown started wondering how people collected their marbles…
As a grounded theory researcher, she crunched the data and looked to the work of John Gottman, who said that, “trust is built in the smallest of moments” and it’s the seemingly insignificant acts of kindness that really count.
Gottman calls them sliding door moments, like the Gynyth Paltrow film from the noughties.
He argues that trust is one of those sliding door moments, saying,
“There is the opportunity to build trust and there is the opportunity to betray”. To choose not to connect when the opportunity is there is a betrayal”.
Brown provides the following as examples of small ways that trust is built:
- Remembering the names of family members.
- A significant trust-building factor is when people attend the funeral of a loved one.
- People develop more trust in others when they ask for help.
What is trust?
Fast forward five years and she’s got the marble jar analogy dialled in – we have to share our stories and hard things with full marble jar folks.
However, her new question became, what are those marbles made of and what exactly is trust, a vague and nebulous term at the best of times.
In essence, she wanted to study the anatomy of trust.
So, she looked into the research and found a definition from Charles Feltman,
“Trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else”.
He goes on to say that distrust is, “what I have shared with you that is important to me is not safe with you.”
With definition in hand, she determined to break trust down even further into its core components and produced the acronym, ‘braving’, which we’ll explore now.
The acronym explained
Trust thrives within boundaries that are clear and consistent. Each party knows where they stand,
“I trust you if you are clear about your boundaries and you hold them and you are clear about my boundaries and you respect them. There is no trust without boundaries.”
Researchers are always looking for things that are valid and reliable. A set of scales provides a valid measurement.
A reliable scale is one where if you got on it 100 times, it will return the same result every time.
You cannot gain someone’s trust if you are reliable only once, because that’s not the definition of reliability.
In our working lives, we have to be clear on our limitations so we don’t take on so much that we don’t deliver on our commitments.
In our personal life, same thing. You can’t overpromise and underdeliver.
“I can only trust you if you do what you say you are going to do. And not once, but over and over again.”
Own your mistakes and allowing for the transgressions of others,
“I can only trust you if, when you make a mistake you are willing to own it, apologise for it and make amends. I can only trust you if, when I make a mistake I am allowed to own it, apologise for it and make amends. No accountability, no trust”.
Research shows that when someone gossips with you about a third party, your trust in the gossiper is completely diminished.
Many times we share things that are not ours to share as a way to hotwire connection with a friend.
If you have a friend like that, your closeness is built on trash talking others. Brown refers to this as ‘common enemy intimacy’, which isn’t a real connection.
The vault means you respect my story, but you respect other peoples story.
“What I share with you, you will hold in confidence. What you share with me I will hold in confidence.”
Brown came up with her own definition of integrity, with three core components:
- Choosing courage over comfort
- Choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy
- Practising your values, not just professing your values
“I cannot be in a trusting relationship with you unless you act from a place of integrity and encourage me to do the same.”
Brown says it’s vital to be able struggle, fall apart and ask for help without being judged by another and vice versa.
This is hard, she says, because we’re better at helping than asking for help.
If you can’t ask for help and those around you can’t reciprocate it, that is not a trusting relationship.
When we assign value to needing or giving help, there’s an issue,
“Real trust doesn’t exist unless help is reciprocal and non-judgmental.”
According to Brown, it’s essential to be compassionate and make a generous assumption if someone inadvertently betrays your trust.
In this way, it’s better to address the situation early, rather than bottling it up and saving it as blackmail for a later date,
“Our relationship is only trusting if you can assume the most generous thing about my words intentions and behaviours and then check in with me.”
Have you ever suffered from trust issues in a relationship, personal or professional?
How do we talk about such issues if we can’t break them down?
Comparing your intentions and actions to a consistent framework can help analyse behaviour impartially, demonstrating areas for improvement so you can start to trust yourself and others can do the same.
Ask yourself, where specifically is the interaction breaking down and can you communicate using a common language to address the problem?
You can zero in on the issue and talk about it, and outline exactly what’s not working and what that relationship needs.
One of the biggest issues with disappointment and failure is the loss of self-trust.
When something hard happens, we become self-critical and lose trust in ourselves. You can use this framework as you reflect on these incidents.
“If braving relationships with other people is braving connection, self-trust is braving self-love, self-respect.”
If your own marble jar isn’t full and you can’t count on yourself, you can’t ask other people to give you what you don’t have or feel worthy of receiving…
So it all starts with self-trust.