Why Do We Trust?  Elements of Safe Relationships

Why Do We Trust? Elements of Safe Relationships

“I will never trust anyone ever again”

How many times have we said this to ourselves out of being betrayed or hurt by a relationship. We are so quick to judge; so quick to adopt a defensive self-protective stance against trust to ensure that we are never hurt again.  Commonly, the origins of this stance are in our childhoods when we are young, vulnerable and powerless to effectively change our circumstances.  Our survival mechanism kicks in and justifiably so. However as we grow up, we can miss out on valuable connections and relationships with others.

Someone, who I had known for years,  said to me “I don’t trust you.”  I was surprised and speechless because I felt that the relationship was solid. It was painful to hear; and I wasn’t sure what to do with the information. However, I knew that the statement “I don’t trust you” had ended any safety and security that might have existed on both sides of the relationship equation.

The conversation started a deep dive. Am I not trustworthy? Do I not engender trust in my relationships? What behaviours do I have that damage trust? Is there something I am not aware of? I wanted to learn more. What is trust? What are the elements of trust that we intuitive feel in  relationship.  

Definition of Trust

Trust is the belief in the reliability, truth, ability, and strength of someone or something. Because we trust, we feel safe and secure. When we don’t, we don’t feel safe.

Brené Brown – best selling author, storyteller and researcher in vulnerability and shame, – makes a beautiful analogy. According to Brown, trust is like a marble jar. It is built up over time; or it can be diminished through slights, hurts and misunderstandings. The filing and emptying image of the marble jar suggests that trust can be repaired and rebuilt with time and dedication.

Elements of Trust

Whether we are aware of it or not, we have our internal barometer of trust that is a check list for our relationships. Surprisingly, the behaviours that engender trust are not grand or big. Trust is built in small moments and gestures. Like adding marbles to the marble jar, our experience of safety grows in these moments.

In his book “The Thin Book of Trust”, Charles Feltman outlines the four elements of trust that are the foundation for trust in any relationship: sincerity, reliability, competence and care.

Sincerity / Integrity

Sincerity and integrity are created from being truthful and authentic. Can I trust people to say what they mean and mean what they say? Is what they say believable? There is someone in my life who says one thing, and then says, “I mean to say” and then says something totally different. He is not sincere in his communications and is not believable. At some level, he is out of integrity that is, somehow, he is internally divided. Our integrity is a measure of the degree we are internally congruent. When we are, our actions are aligned with our words. We can be believed to tell the truth as we see it.


Are we reliable to meet our commitments and keep our promises? This element is also connected to integrity. Can we be counted on to do what we say we are going to do? I believe that this is also about communicating when we know that this is not possible. Then reliability extends to being counted on to be in communication.


Competence is especially important in a professional context. Do we believe that people have the ability, capacity and knowledge to do what they say they are going to do?  Being seen as competent is a judgement and means that we have satisfied the standards of the person who is doing the judging. Of course, competence is relative and not true in all areas of our life. It also doesn’t mean perfection.


Care in the most important element for developing long term trust in relationships. In this element, we experience that others have our interests in mind as well as their own in making decisions and taking actions. If people prove that they are only concerned with their self-interest, then our ability to trust them is limited.


Anyway you look at it, relationships are hard and challenging. Being mindful of the elements of trust and the number of marbles in the trust jar goes a long way to help with breakdowns that will undoubtedly occur. Stayed Tuned for next month, I will explore the ways that we can restore trust in a relationship when that trust has been injured.

If you liked this, check out these blogs:

Finding Gold in the Mud:The Role of Integrity in Shadow Work

The Curious and Paradoxical Nature of Limiting Beliefs 

Complexes, Projections and Fear in Intimate Relationships 

Reflections on Intimate Relationships 



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