The Enigma of Trust in Relationships

What is trust?

We know we need trust in relationships but it’s hard to pin down what trust really means. People tend to think of it as an absolute – we either trust someone or we don’t. This can make decision making about relationships difficult as they are far from black and white. It can also lead to describing people as either “trustworthy” or “untrustworthy” and this is unhelpful as it muddles up the person and their behaviours, which prevents openness to and requests for change, a bit like saying, “You naughty boy” rather than saying, “That was naughty”. Separating the person from their behaviours avoids shaming them which can lead to defensiveness and resistance to change.

Perhaps what is more helpful is regarding trust as made up of different elements. This can help in identifying areas of weakness and damage. Once we have identified the elements that need some work we can then be specific with others in what we need in order for trust to be established, maintained or repaired. In her book “Rising Strong”, Brené Brown uses an acronym, BRAVING, that contains these elements.


Boundaries: Personal boundaries allow us to keep out threats and distinguish between what is ours and what belongs to others (and therefore whether we need to take responsibility for it or not).

Reliability: Our actions matching our words in a consistent way.

Accountability: Taking personal responsibility and ownership of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours (providing clarity for others). The ability to genuinely apologise for wrongdoings so that we can repair relationships.

Vault: In Rising Strong, Brené describes this as not sharing experiences that aren’t ours to share. In other words, avoiding gossip, showing empathy for others, and not becoming drawn into drama.

Integrity: This is when our actions match our words and we live our values rather than just talking about them. In Rising Strong, Brené also includes “choosing courage over comfort.”

Non-Judgement: Awareness and acceptance of others without imposing our opinions or standards as a measurement of someones goodness or worth.

Generosity: Keeping an open mind and heart to the overall good intent of others.


Trust is possible and necessary both with others and with ourselves. Sometimes trust in a relationship is damaged or shattered by the other person’s behaviours. We can then feel conflicted over whether we should maintain the relationship or not. In any relationship it’s inevitable that there will be times when hurts are inflicted as no one can be empathic and mindful 100% of the time. What is needed then is a leap of faith in ourselves. Faith and hope serve as stop gaps until our needs are once again met. It’s far easier to take that leap of faith in ourselves if we can trust ourselves, trust that we can voice our needs, maintain our boundaries, remove ourselves if the situation becomes too difficult or painful and know when it’s the right time to do that. This can help us to avoid sacrificing relationships that contain the possibility of repair. It’s the reparation process that can help us to grow and become closer to others, strengthening the relationship rather than rejecting it and experiencing the resulting loneliness and isolation.

Trust in others becomes possible when we can trust ourselves as the fear of hurt is managed.

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