Who do you trust? Ideally, family, friends and co-workers in our inner circles would be first among those to whom we offer our vulnerability. As children, we are taught to trust police officers, clergy and doctors. Sadly, those in all categories have been known to exhibit behaviors that betray our confidence and safety. Letting youngsters know that they have a “Spidey Sense” and can detect when they are being lied to, or are in danger, is an important parenting skill. When children have go-to people, whether in their family or extended community, they are more likely to trust — and with good reason.

How can we grow trust?

A 2008 study conducted by Danielle Kassow, Ph.D., found a correlation between caregiver sensitivity and secure infant attachment.

“The parent-child relationship is the first social relationship,” says Kassow. “It teaches the child that he can communicate in order to get his needs met, which transfers to forming relationships later in life.”

In the toddler stage of development, a phenomenon is witnessed during which the child will wander from the parent’s immediate site and play and then check back to make sure that the adult is still present; as if her or she doesn’t want them to get lost. Once assured that the caregiver is there, the child will again step away. If the parent is encouraging, that is likely to build trust.

Children are also more inclined to trust a consistent caregiver. When a child is reassured that needs will be met (even if wants/requests are not always), he or she will develop a greater sense of autonomy and a willingness to take safe risks. In speaking with clients, a therapist discovered that many of his clients did not have this experience. Several were provided the basics of food, shelter and clothing, but were lacking the most rudimentary skills necessary to master adulthood and independence. Parents who modeled fear and hesitation and portrayed the world as an unsafe place, often raised children who sat in his therapy office and sought support for overcoming anxiety.

Helicopter parenting may also inhibit a child’s ability to become autonomous since the verbal or non-verbal message is, “You can’t be trusted to make your own decisions and I know what is best for you.” This can be emotionally crippling and feed low motivation to mature. Giving a child tasks to complete to the best of his or her ability can build the metaphorical muscles to carry them successfully to adulthood. When parents provide parameters — roots and wings — the child is more likely to exhibit trustworthy behavior.

Keeping the Faith

A study conducted in 2013 indicates that most Americans’ faith in each other has plummeted precipitously since 1972. Robert D. Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone, states that our social disconnect is what is behind it, but it can be repaired through civic engagement and networking. In his book, which was released in 2000, Putnam contends, after conducting 500,000 interviews in the past 25 years, that we “sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We’re even bowling alone. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues.”   

So, how do we re-establish that faith? One is through seeing those whose paths we cross as being ‘like us,’ rather than being considered ‘other/foreign’. The current political climate in the United States has been feeding mistrust of those perceived as different, whether they hail from another culture, are divergent in gender, worship in other ways, or voted for someone we wouldn’t have chosen. We need to find common ground.

In a powerful You Tube video called The Anatomy of Trust, Brené Brown, author of Rising Strong, The Gifts of Imperfection, and Daring Greatly, speaks of the establishment of trust. She tells the story of the sense of betrayal her daughter Ellen felt when a friend shared personal information that she had asked to keep private. Her daughter then explained something that her teacher used to maintain appropriate behavior in the classroom that involved a marble jar. When the students did something positive, a marble got added to the jar. When they did something negative, one got removed. The same is true of our friends. They need to ‘earn our marbles’ (trust).

Consider those in your life. Are there people who have invested enough in your friendship that you can trust them with your most intimate secrets?

Another analogy is an ATM. To withdraw funds, you need to have placed enough in the account.

Brown also uses the acronym BRAVING to describe the paradigm of building and maintaining trust.

  • Boundaries: Setting up parameters for what you will and won’t permit in your life. We each have a bubble of comfort into which we allow some people and from which we hold others at bay. We have the right to say yes to what we want and no to what we don’t want without guilt.
  • Reliability: Knowing that we can be counted on to do what we say and say what we mean.
  • Accountability: Owning up to our feelings, words and actions, rather than placing blame on others.
  • Vault: Holding our tongue and only sharing information that is ours to share or that we are given explicit permission to tell others if it is another person’s story.
  • Integrity: Living according to our values.
  • Non-Judgement: Speaking our truth and allowing for others to do the same without making them or ourselves wrong for it.
  • Generosity: Assuming that the other person has our best interest at heart and vice versa.

I use this descriptor for the word TRUST:

Truth – factual, not relying on perception.

Reliable – consistency, walking the talk, accountability

Understanding – fueled by empathy. Can I walk a mile in your moccasins?

Sincerity – coming from the heart as an example of true caring about another person.

Time – developed over a series of moments with proven reliability.