by Jane Rosenblum LCSW, ACSW, CCM
Trust and trust-building encompasses a triad: values, ethics and moral standards that define society and relationships.
It’s the foundation of a person, a society and the norms that are accepted as right vs. wrong and good vs bad. Trust is the platform that needs to be continually stoked to be retained by the person.
Kohlberg’s theory of moral development is key to understanding how a person understands the invisible and unspoken rules of right and wrong, appropriate behavior (fitting in or not) and how to interact with others.
Kohlberg’s theory (an expansion of Piaget) goes into further detail about what makes someone act in the manner they do with various people. A summary of the six stages of moral development is below.
Level I: Preconventional: Moral values reside in external or in bad acts. The child is responsive to rules and evaluative labels, but views them in terms of pleasant or unpleasant consequences of actions, or in terms of the physical power of those who impose the rules (the parent or caregiver).
Level II: Conventional/Role Conformity: Moral values reside in performing the right role, in maintaining the conventional order and expectancies of others as a value in its own right.
Level III: Postconventional/Self-Accepted Moral Principles: Morality is defined in terms of conformity to shared standards, rights, or duties apart from supporting authority. The standards conformed to are internal, and action-decisions are based on an inner process of thought and judgment concerning right and wrong.
Currently the ability to develop this standard may be more difficult due to a myriad of issues such as: the increase in the nomad style of living; increase in the number of divorces; increase in the number of single-parent families; increase in stress economically; and society’s messages to people via social media, gaming, television and movies.
During a short period of time, schools were quite concerned about the unraveling of character traits and were invested in developing and teaching character skills. Yet, this has transformed into various derivations — reworded and even discontinued — seemingly to reassert that the responsibility lies with the parent(s).
It doesn’t help people to view dysfunctional relationships or to determine how terrible a relationship may appear or not, by watching the variety of talk shows, which highlight inappropriate styles of interactions and relationships. They do not bring in people with healthy and happy relationships because no one wants to see something positive and there’s no drama associated with happy people.
The talk shows bring people together who, on the surface, don’t seem to know how to trust others, who don’t communicate well, who don’t know how to problem-solve, who don’t have good control of their emotions, who don’t take responsibility for themselves and who don’t know how to trust themselves.
There is a glut of these television shows, which host participants who want to share their story in the public eye. Then there are the observers (whether they’re in the audience or watching this elsewhere) who are invested in hearing these conflictual situations and seem to take pleasure in each story of distress and pain and lack good judgment and insight.
Many people can be swayed and influenced by what they see and don’t question the veracity and appropriateness of the material being presented. There are many articles and discussions that try to evaluate the appropriateness or not of specific commercial media and its messages. Others suggest that the influence of the social media can lead people to make poor decisions, which can lead toward dangerous actions and consequences.
Take, for example, a child who hears the message from their parent that they are worthy, kind, good, smart and capable. They receive food and other necessary items without tension, they are listened to and asked their opinions. This child will grow up trusting others, have a good sense of self-esteem and worth and would be seen as trustworthy.
A person can develop trusting relationships if they consistently see others do as they say and follow through, no bluffing allowed. The communication between parent and child is essential to developing this necessary skill to enhance one’s ability to develop, retain and sustain friendships and emotional connections with others.
If a child is not treated in this manner, they are at risk of not understanding relationships and often the side effects are limited friends, isolation, bullying, depression and a disconnection with society.
Eric Erickson’s Stages:
Hope: Trust vs Mistrust: Will I be okay?
Will: Autonomy vs. shame and doubt: Is it okay to be me?
Purpose: Initiative vs. guilt: Is it okay for me to do move and act?
Competence: Industry vs. inferiority: Can I make it in the world of people and things?
Fidelity: Identity vs. role confusion: Who am I and what can I be?
Love: Intimacy vs. isolation: Can I love?
Care: Generativity vs. stagnation: Can I make my life count?
Wisdom: Ego integrity vs. despair: Is it okay to have been me? (Wikipedia.org)
Many clients I’ve worked with over the years don’t or can’t trust others based on their past experiences whether it’s with family members, friends, school personnel, relationships and community agencies.
One woman in particular comes to mind. I had worked with her daughter and herself for many years. At year 7, she was able to inform me of a particular situation, which has caused her to feel constant angst. She hadn’t been able to feel trust in me because of my license as a social worker, and the heartbreaking event that occurred earlier in her life.
However, she was able to explain to me what the event was and how her anguish had stopped her from discussing her fears. At this point, I was able to affirm with her ways I can help her adjust and cope. I wasn’t going to make any decisions to change her family constellation.
I was honored that she was able to discuss this event and she learned that she could trust me with the confidential information. Her perception of my role, regarding this specific event, was wrong. She realized that and actually apologized to me for not informing me earlier, years ago.
I found she felt better and relieved that, after discussing the situation with me and identifying a plan to deal with pending changes in her family life, this was positive and possible for her to achieve.
The 4 I’s in Mistrust:
Insecurities: This is your sense of who and what you are; you don’t have confidence in yourself. This person has poor self-worth and esteem and questions everyone’s intentions.
Image: How you perceive and are perceived by others. If you don’t see yourself in a positive light, then it will be difficult to sustain a good impression on others and believe in yourself.
Imagination: Some people may spend time creating fantasies of what they wish would occur and who they want to be with. They avoid the current situation to avoid dealing with reality in order to escape the pain, fear and discomfort.
Irrational ideation: One’s thinking process, regarding relationships, is faulty. It may have traits of narcissism, anxieties and depression. The ability to be introspective and have insight into oneself is limited.
The negative side of not trusting: Many people don’t trust and act out in order to control others because they have fears. People don’t want to be taken advantage of, used and abused. They don’t want to let down their defenses. People don’t trust due to past events, feeling wronged and failed attempts at personal connections gone wrong.
People fear closeness and intimacy and being hurt and use defense mechanisms and boundaries to protect themselves. Sometimes, an elaborate means of testing occurs to see if the person is or isn’t trustworthy.
The positive side of trusting: You will feel good about yourself. Your behaviors and communication is positive with others. You develop good solid friendships and have a strong internal sense of strength.
4 Ways To Be Truthful with Yourself:
Acknowledge why you find it difficult to trust. Take a look at the family of origin issues and determine how you came to have this difficulty. Then move forward to function and focus on now, work on those behaviors, attitudes and beliefs one step at a time.
Honesty is difficult but very important to have with yourself. Then, you can begin to be honest with others. You will learn to trust your decisions and judgments.
Express what bothers you, instead of keeping it inside where this can cause undue stress, pain, worry and angst. Use clear descriptive words. Don’t be afraid to state your thoughts.
Take responsibility for your actions and words are important. Being able to acknowledge we may repeat mistakes occurs. Being able to admit that you’re human is the first step in forgiving yourself for not being perfect.
Developing the ability to trust is important in one’s ability to trust yourself as the rewards are rich in self-worth and esteem and confidence. It just feels good and will help build positive relationships with others.
Trust needs to be nurtured and fed in order to grow. Practice techniques of strengthening yourself via journaling, talking with a therapist, reading articles on taking care of yourself, re-evaluating where you started and where you’ve progressed on your journey to be a trusting and trustworthy individual.
Then you can look in the mirror and say, “I trust me!” Then you may be able to say to another person, “I trust you, too.”
(NOTE: Jane Rosenblum is a licensed clinical social worker and freelance writer. Ms. Rosenblum has worked for 30 years in the field of social work in various settings and roles. Those settings and roles include the following: hospitals (including that of psychiatric geriatric patients); home health care facilities; an elder abuse task force; community health care services coordination; and school social work and case management for public and private organizations for those with medical, psychiatric and substance abuse problems. She holds a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Sargent College of Allied Health at Boston University and a master’s degree from the Simmons College School of Social Work in Boston. Ms. Rosenblum has also received a Type 73 certificate from the School of Social Work from Loyola University in Chicago. Her column on social work and education will appear regularly on TutorforGood.org’s News section as well as PharmPsych.com.)