Recently a therapist friend of mine forwarded me a link to Brene Brown’s talk on The Anatomy of Trust. I would love to say that I was basking in the warm glow of pride as I reflected on how great I am at providing trust in my important relationships. However my reaction to this incredible talk was more like a gut punch. Hearing Dr. Brown describe what she feels trust is really about made me realize that I still have some room to grow in that department.
Probably one reason I like Dr. Brown is that she loves definitions. So do I. I am actually a person who asked for, and got, a 900 page dictionary for her 30th birthday. That was back before Google. Don’t ask if you don’t know what I am talking about. Dr. Brown scoured the literature and found a great definition of trust by author Charles Feltman. He defines trust as “choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else.” Take the picture above. I am pretty sure that the kid in the air values his physical safety. Broken bones are no fun. And he is putting that physical safety in the hands of the dad and making his safety vulnerable to the ability of the dad to catch him. I cannot think of a more concrete illustration of what she is talking about. But of course when we are 20 or 40 or 60 it’s not so much about people catching us flying through the air as sharing a hope or dream with someone and not having them discount it or tell us all of the reasons it won’t work out. Or marrying someone and trusting that they will not go off and steal all of your retirement, buy a sports car and run off with the nanny/manny, crushing your dreams of a happy family life. Charles Feltman also defined distrust, which is “when something I have shared with you that is important to me is not safe with you.” Ouch. I think we can all conjure up examples of that.
Dr. Brown then broke down the idea of trust into an acronym: BRAVING. She went on to elaborate that B stands for Boundaries— we need to feel that another person knows what they are capable of and can stick to that as well as respecting what we are comfortable with and capable of as well. For example if I routinely can’t say no to anyone and get overcommitted I am not going to appear very trustworthy to anyone who needs some of my time (I personally don’t know anything about this…. Um, OK, actually– note to self to work on that one). The R stands for Reliability— that people know we will do what we say and do that repeatedly/consistently. Being there for someone once is great but doing it over and over is where trust is built. Accountability (A) is about being able to own our mistakes, apologize and make amends for them. The V is for Vault— as in, if someone confides in us we won’t betray that confidence. Interestingly Dr. Brown expanded this and pointed out that even if we are keeping one person’s confidence, if that person hears us spilling secrets other people have told us we can still end up not looking very trustworthy! She went on to talk about Integrity (I), which she defined as “choosing courage over comfort, what’s right over what’s fast, fun or easy, and practicing, not just professing our values.” Again she expanded this to say that not only does a trustworthy person act with their own integrity but they encourage others to act with it as well. Non-judgment (N) made her list, apropos of my previous blog on Acceptance. Dr. Brown elaborated that non-judgement means that I can fall apart and ask for help without being judged by you and vice-versa. She also said that it has to be a level playing field, meaning if I am OK with you asking me for help but I don’t like to ask you when I need it then I am not going to be perceived as trustworthy. Those of us who tend to gravitate towards the helper role (again, not that I know anything about that!) often don’t like to ask for help ourselves. At the core of this, however, is an implied power differential where we see the helper as being more empowered and the person asking for help, let’s be honest here, as somehow “less than”. This is NOT going to promote a feeling of trust. Finally Dr. Brown brought up Generosity (G) and as usual she had a very interesting take on that. She said that generosity in terms of trust means always giving me the benefit of the doubt. If I have screwed up, forgotten something, said something hurtful or generally been a schmuck you will assume that I did not have bad intentions. Furthermore, and this is great, you will CHECK IT OUT WITH ME rather than just avoid me and think the worst of me. Imagine how many relationships could be helped by just this one construct! As a person who is prone to nurse hurts (I know, I am working on it!) I really appreciated her reminder to assume that the person you are dealing with is a good, decent person who probably just screwed up by accident. So go ask them what’s up and don’t go in with guns loaded for heaven’s sake!
All in all I really loved this talk. Brenee Brown, if you have never heard her, is funny, smart, relate-able and just a great speaker. She has a number of great books out there also on topics like shame, vulnerability and learning to go a little easier on yourself. I hope you have found this review of her trust talk helpful.
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Wishing you trust in all of your deepest connections, including with yourself.