The Values Essays

The Value of Trust

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


As hard as I've worked (and as much money as I've spent on therapy!), I'm scarred by the slings and arrows of life---in recent years the scars manifest in panic attacks. I go to bed to relax and recover from ongoing panic attacks and to do important thinking on The Value of Trust. While lying there, I have two more attacks. Debilitating, scary, feeding-on-each-other---that's my experience of the attacks. I resolve, once again, to deal with them via exercise, meditation, cutting back on sugar and caffeine, and working The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. (see Recommended Reading List)

Suggestions from friends compel me to put trust among the Top Twenty Values. But I have to force myself to zero in on what it means to place value on trust.

Memory transports me to the Nineties when a friend (he later becomes Husband Number Four) asks to use my personal life to complete a seminary assignment on the Geno-gram. The Geno-gram is based on family systems theory. I'm game. Oh, buddy, do I have a family system for you! But I suggest that we will have to make up a presenting problem because I am in such a good emotional space at this time. The question becomes "Why, if I have little or no anxiety about public speaking, acting, dancing, teaching, do I, sometimes, have all-consuming anxiety when I sing publicly?"
The methodology of the Geno-gram involves creating a family tree. For ease of illustration, let's say the family tree will have a circle around all addicts, a square around all abusers, a triangle around those who were abused, a trapezoid around mentors, etc., etc. My family tree is a geometry teacher's dream. We fill it all out and end that session.

My friend returns days later. It's a casual visit. We are sitting at the breakfast bar on Summershade Court. He nonchalantly requests, "Tell me more about the aunt who taught you a song and prepared you to sing in public for the first time when you were five years old." An electric shock radiates from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I can barely form the words but I finally respond, "She sexually molested me on a regular basis that fifth year of my little girl life."

I have known this fact all my life. The molestation was not suppressed. I pooh-poohed the significance of the actions and certainly did not name it "abuse" or connect it with singing. I excused her because she was a teenager herself at the time. But shortly after this revelation, I read a newspaper article on sexual abuse. I identified strongly and clearly with the feelings described by survivors. I knew those feelings. I made an appointment with a therapist to begin again the process of healing.

While the manifestation of this breach of trust relates to singing publicly, I realized with time this abuse was one of the first of many episodes that eroded my trust in humanity in general and family more specifically.

Security plays a major role in the development of trust. All by its self, the instability of my childhood (fourteen different elementary schools) could have trained a small country in the art of mistrust. But I dig further to find the origins in my own life of Good Reasons to Mistrust People.

The year I turned twelve comes to mind. I start the school year living with my Dad and gorgeous, young stepmother, Nona. They want me for a babysitter for my four year old stepbrother but I'm game for that. It's a clean house, organized and she loves clothes as much as I do.
The day after Christmas, there is a knock on the door. Step mom, little stepbrother and I all run to the door. Dad is at work. The stranger at the door says, "Mam, I think you should know your husband is having an affair with my wife."

All hell breaks loose. Dad and I are tossed out that evening. He dumps me at the tiny apartment where my Mom, step dad and three other siblings are living. And gorgeous young step mom takes all my Christmas presents----including that fabulous little baby blue and brown dress---back to the stores.

Another chink in the armor of trust.

So how does one build trust when the slings and arrows of life bombard your shield and armor?
One person at a time. Find a person whom step by step by step you can trust. Go gently into that scary dark tunnel, but GO. Trust enriches life multiple ways. One of the strongest by-products of living a life of trust is the ability to access creativity. I'm still learning every day how strong is the bridge between the two.

Frequently teachers and Sunday School teachers built that bridge for me. As I developed my own theology in adult life, I went through a stage of intense anger at the Southern Baptist Church for serving up really bad religious beliefs. A friend during my seminary years remarked, "Brenda, you need to get over your anger at the Southern Baptist Church, girl. Those churches provided you with role models, values, safe places, and more." He's right on the one hand. And I am grateful to many adults in those churches. But, I also experienced the shallow, prejudiced, narrow beliefs as another violation of trust. The bad theology also becomes a valuable lesson in defining my own theology not blindly accepting any organizational thought. The nurturing of the adults from those years remains a gift.

However, the biggest gift on my personal road to trust is Husband Number Two.

Robert "Bart" Bartella provides for me ten years of a marriage based on secure trust. Because he was thirty-two years older than I, some remarked that he was my Svengali because the security and trust of the relationship unlocked creativity, drive and energy that found outlets in all manner of creativity and achievement. He teased that I worked more than forty hours a week; I just didn't get paid for any of it.
I honestly thought that all the "issues" of my childhood were ancient history at that point in my life. I was mowed down when they reared their ugly heads after Bart's death.

Trust must be renewed on a regular, if not daily, basis…especially for those of us who have had the concept of trust battered about. The renewal process proves worth every ounce of effort.

Try on for thought this metaphor of trust.

A man asks his friend, "Do you believe I can push a wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls?" The friend didn't answer. The man proceeded to string a rope from one side of Niagara Falls to the other and walk across the rope pushing a wheel barrow. Then he asks, "Now do you believe I can push a wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls?"

"Of course, I saw you do it," replies the friend.

"Then get in the wheelbarrow."

Now the two friends moved from belief to trust. What creates trust? It remains far easier to answer what destroys trust than what creates trust. Betrayal, deceit, lies and more can destroy trust in a moment. Building trust takes time, action, and more.

One of my favorite seminary professors was fond of saying, "God's love is unconditional. I have witnessed some, but not all, parental love that is unconditional. And marital love is absolutely conditioned upon exchanges."

So what does such a proclamation mean for trust? Can we trust no one but God?

My dear, dear Husband Number Five, John, spent much of his work life in very politically correct environments. Yes, I believe political correctness serves us well in many instances. However, phrases that he learned in this culture become jokes between us when he portends to use them in our marital circumstances. Try these on for practice:

You might want to consider…

Have you thought about…?

How do you like to receive evaluation?

Being more direct in style (a politically correct portrayal of my type), I vomit my views freely. On occasion, they are as welcomed as throwing up. However, the underpinnings of my judgments rest solidly on trust. Ok, ok, occasionally I'm known to spew the errant estimation before the cement dries on the foundation of trust. But philosophically, I maintain that if trust exists, the relationship merits forthrightness in lieu of artificiality.

The by-product of relationships based on trust is space for both persons to live authentically (see chapter on The Value of Authenticity). While building trust certainly requires time, patience, effort, patience, love, patience, skill…did I say patience…living authentically spells freedom. Freedom through knowing that this person to whom I'm relating understands and trusts the worst of me and, thereby, grants me the space to be the best of me.

updated: 8 years ago

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