Trust: Why Be Vulnerable and Risk Betrayal?

“Trust is the glue of life. It\’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It\’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” 
~ Stephen R. Covey

After providing training on life skills to the UN employees’ children for one week, Parents’ Session was organized to inform them about what their children had learnt and sensitize parents to provide continued support  for sustained results.  During the question and answer session, one of the parents told me the conversations she had with her daughter.

Teenager: “Mom, tomorrow you will have parenting session and our trainer will tell you to trust your children.”

Mother replied, “Really?  She must have never had teenage children for her to recommend so.”

Then she directed her question to me, “My husband and I have wide ranges of experiences and knowledge to protect our kids from the danger outside.  They are supposed to listen to their parents’ ideas.  Why do we trust them, rather they trust us?”

I asked the mother, “How would you teach your child to trust herself when you don’t trust her?  What did you build in her for her to face life realities for you trust her?  How can she learn to trust her judgment when you are not around, and for that matter, how many hours do you spend with your child per day to impart your knowledge?”

This mother and teenager’s conversations kept me wondering about the value of trust vs. working from the positon of fear and insecurity.  The widely used definition states that trust is willingness to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations about another’s behavior. In other words, if you trust someone, you are accepting that while it is possible they may act to disappoint you, they are not likely to.  Trust involves vulnerability and risk; however trust is crucial for interpersonal relationship formation, maintenance and survival.

Psychologist Eric Erickson theorized that children learn trust or mistrust in early childhood.  When parents fulfill their child’s physical and security needs, that child learns unconsciously that this world is trustworthy.  If not, the child learns mistrust.  As the child grows up to adolescence and adulthood, this will be reflected in intimate relationships and how he/she views the world.  In addition, when an insecure parent raises his/her children, the control issue will be greater not allowing children to be confident and trusting themselves and others.  Studies show that children of divorced parents and those from abusive households are more likely to have intimacy, commitment and trust issues in future relationships as well.  Hence trust is basic for children’s development.

While trust issues sometimes develop from negative interactions experienced during early childhood, social rejection during adolescence or traumatic experiences during adulthood can also lead to trust issues for an individual.  Betrayal in the form of infidelity in couple’s relationships is also another cause for trust issues which tampers with a person’s life.  The usual expression “Trust is like paper, once it is folded, it can never be straight as the original one.”

Interactions between governments, social groups, and trading organizations all rely on trust.  For organizations, trust is necessary for cooperation and communication, and the foundation for productive relationships.  In organizational setting, the need for trust arises from our interdependence with others. We often depend on other people to help us obtain the outcomes we value (and they on us). As our interests with others are intertwined, we also must recognize that there is an element of risk involved insofar as we often encounter situations in which we cannot compel the cooperation we seek. Researchers identified trust as a key element of successful conflict resolution including negotiation and mediation for this is associated with enhanced cooperation, information sharing and problem solving.

Trust may be the single most important ingredient for the development and maintenance of happy and well-functioning relationships.  However, a belief system marred by violations of trust can significantly be burdensome to an individual both mentally and physically. Overwhelming anxiety and stress can easily become everyday companions, facilitating the gradual erosion of both mind and body.

In some cases, a single trust violation may seriously damage or irreparably destroy trust. In other cases, one trust violation may not be that damaging when considered in isolation. Rather, a pattern of violations may be needed to create serious damage to the relationship.  So why trust when it hurts so badly and mess up with our expectations? What does it really mean to “trust,” and perhaps more importantly, how can we live with the potential heartbreak that lurks in our lives?

Trust is vital for internal harmony and positive social functioning. The ability to effectively trust others helps people live happy and meaningful lives. As I mentioned before, trust is the foundation of most healthy relationships, but sometimes that foundation is shaky because of events in the past.  Hence we may need to work through past wounds that shook our trust or increasing our capacity to trust ourselves.

Operating from fear or trust has different impact on the self as well as the one we trust.  Since trust influences our lives, our success, and our interactions with those around us, we must work on to rebuild it if redeemable but it requires efforts on both parties.   Recent studies show that we can rebuild trust in interpersonal and business relationships if we are open and honest in our practices; communicate more clearly, effectively and straightforwardly; visibly demonstrate concern and considerations for others, and become involved.

I am not at all advocating for blind trust, but if our initial mode of relationship is trust as opposed to fear, we can lay the ground for relationships.  Second, trust is something that we build by being trustworthy.  Hence, we need to focus on our character.  Third, in cases our trust is blown up, we do not have to over generalize and operate from hate and fear mode.  We can learn from that experience and move on to facing challenges to build better relations.

Imagine how life will be different if we all are trustworthy?  As individuals, we can work on our character to live by truth and build trust collectively.  Risk is inherent with trust but would you take it to exercise the power of trust for better life?

“Everyone suffers at least one bad betrayal in their lifetime. It’s what unites us. The trick is not to let it destroy your trust in others when that happens. Don’t let them take trust from you.

~ Sherrilyn Kenyon

By Seble Hailu