“When I don’t feel good about myself, my partner still sees the good in me. This is a bond I can trust.”
How is emotional trust formed? In a moment, a day, two months? By never being sad or getting angry? With perfect manners? To answer these questions, we must understand the relationship between stress and the building of trust.
Emotional trust develops in proportion to our capacity to resolve interpersonal conflicts. It develops not just when things are going well. Trust develops through repairing ruptures and continuously returning to friendship, fairness, vulnerability, and openness. Trust is developed and maintained by returning to knowing and feeling that we are “good”.
Trust is the physiological and psychological food that a child needs; even in the womb. Over time, self-esteem becomes internalized as physical, emotional, and intellectual confidence. Confidence, first and foremost, is a feeling that gets established in the child’s body and nervous system; long before the child begins to speak.
Since a baby’s brain does not yet know how to manage stress, the baby needs an adult caregiver brain to help her come back to a state of safety and calm. The child expresses herself with intense emotional reactions if she is hungry, hurt, bored, in pain or afraid as she cannot speak yet.
Each time a child is in distress and the adult calms the child down, the child’s nervous system experiences support. Over time, with this repetition, the child builds the internal belief “This world is a safe place. Help comes when I’m struggling. I can affect my surroundings. I matter. I’m safe.”
These beliefs are internalized somatically and psychologically. We can psychologically translate this message of trust encoded into the nervous system as “I am good to my core”, ” I exist”, ” I matter”.
Games, curiosity, limits, emotional stress, repairs, solving problems, managing disagreements, daily separations and reunions are all occasions to build trust. As the child experiences secure attachment for months and years, she learns to soothe her own distress and feels safe to just be herself.
The child learns to be self-confident over time through the eyes, face, voice, posture, touch and words of the people with whom she is most closely connected. As this child grows up, she can communicate with the people she has close ties to because she feels safe. The taste of secure attachment in childhood enables secure bonds in adulthood. Adults can access, cultivate, and maintain trust.
What can an adult do now if they did not get secure attachment in the past?
Trust can be cultivated consciously. Effective ways to develop trust are awareness and insight-based practices. These practices can be physical (somatic), psychological, or spiritual.
In mindfulness-based somatic practices, we can experience a calm and safe state of being and a sense of wholeness in the body. Through conscious movement, the sense of physical wholeness increases. This deepens one’s ability to know what one feels and expands one’s view of the world.
Being psychologically aware of our own functioning enables us to recognize automatic patterns in ourselves. These patterns can be emotional, mental, or behavioral. Inner trust is cultivated by slowing down to examine a behavior, a thought, a feeling — and learning to express and contain emotions. We can trust ourselves to be with what is.
Eventually we can feel our capacity to give direction to our life rather than just being shaped by whatever is around us. This is a secure intimacy with life. It develops with our strengthening of physical, emotional and mental connection to ourselves.
The most powerful place that trust can be built is in a close relationship. Trust in a close relationship can be constructed as a conscious choice. Although it can be built in any close relationship, the healing potential of a couple is especially vast. This is because an intimate partner has as much attachment power as our early caregivers.
As a couple, we can practice recognizing automatic reactive patterns that do not serve the relationship. Just like learning to walk again, we can change dynamics that are no longer serving us through awareness and practice. We can learn to support each other in managing distress, repairing emotional wounds, and building a safe emotional home where we can function securely as a team.
Being able to feel we have choice in our relationship is an important ingredient of trust. Being able to say “no” as much as “yes”, expressing our feelings and needs clearly, and accepting the same transparency from each other; all these foster trust.
In this way, a mutual message is given in the relationship: “When I cannot think of myself well, my partner sees the good in me. I will also see the good in them. We trust that we will get back to our core goodness and support each other over and over again. This is a safe bond. We can trust.”