Loss of Trust After a Death

| Grief Author and Speaker

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Loss of Trust After a DeathWe just came through the time of year based on peace on earth and goodwill to men. This is also a time of year that goads us into tackling our own personal inner demons. Unless we have a silver bullet, which is defined by Webster’s as “a magical weapon that instantly solves a long standing problem”, we need something else to help us. We would first need to measure our human ability to trust. Trust is faith and faith is loyalty and loyalty begins at each of our individual homes with our families and friends.

When I originally started this column, I wasn’t writing it from a personal point of view. Then on Dec. 12, the meaning of this column changed in light of a friend who was in a serious car accident, which resulted in physical injuries along with heavy emotional damage partly due to the death of her much beloved pet.

Accidents happen all the time. They are unfortunate and life changing. Some are fixable and some are not. In this case the person who caused the partly fixable accident showed neither concern nor responsibility for her actions or the finality of the resulting death and wreckage of her actions. On the other side of this situation were people who took upon themselves the trustworthiness for getting the mangled pet lying motionless on the floor of the car to a vet. Those compassionate people refresh the feeling of trust in our fellow humans but what about the person who caused the accident? What did they refresh in us? Outside of some cringe inducing head shaking, the answer would be; it is better to consider what is lost when a person behaves in that manner. Could it be trust?

When you are catapulted into a situation caused by another person’s actions especially which result in a zip level of responsibility being taken, trust jet propels itself right out of your heart. My friend lost her preciously adored pet that had been a long time member of the family and suffered many injuries and now is dealing with a loss of trust. It is only natural to question and lose trust when looking for answers as to why things happen.

People are always searching for answers when they lose a loved one. I start the first workshop in my series of Grief Workshops with a challenge of trust. I ask each person to consider and trust that they too will die someday. If you accept that to be a truism, then it is a truth that your loved ones too will die some day. It is natural to try to connect the dots in yearning to understand the loss. Being human, we like things to make sense, for them to be neat and tidy so we can compartmentalize everything. In order to move beyond trying to make sense of a situation, we have to accept the fact that we are not God and have no power to change what happened.

Losing trust is very normal. A person gaining back your trust is a slow process. A process filled with fears, tears, and gambling. Gambling once again on the concept of trust. It reminds me of the little dainty flower that wiggles and struggles its way through the seams in the concrete driveway. That is what it takes for trust to be acknowledged again. It takes time, consistency and persistency in those around us and in the life we lead everyday.

How do you measure trust or define the concept of trust? How do you trust someone after feeling betrayed by them or by life in general? How is trustworthiness measured?

When people are trying to come to grips with loss whether from divorce, friendship, a loved pet or deceased loved one, trusting life again and the people in it is perplexing. Do we automatically trust someone? Is it in inner gut feeling or is it a conscious decision to enter into a trusting relationship with another?

I live in an area where we can still leave our first floor windows open at night. Why do some of us chance that? We believe those who live around us will take on the obligation of looking out for one another. It is part of our neighborhood concept of trust. We all put decorative flowerpots out and several artists have creations in plain sight, which could be easy pickens. But still, we have faith that people will understand that with this freedom comes the guardianship of watching over one another.

The variables in your life will determine your level of inclination for choosing to trust. There are also different levels of trust which is being circumstances conditional. Example, you might give someone money to get you lunch but you might not trust that exact same person with a large sum of cash to deposit for you. There is a level of responsibility that you would trust someone with. You generally gauge others level of responsibility somewhat with your own level of social responsibility. Add in what you interpret about their behavior, their reputation, and the sum of those parts will determine the amount of trust you give to them. So, to trust someone is to rely on them to do what you expected them to do.

We become vulnerable to another when we determine to trust. When you really think about it, trust gives rise to beliefs that are remarkably rebellious to evidence. Sometimes it certainly seems blind. What we find is that trust is powerful, enduring and genuine. It ordinarily takes a long time for one person to earn the trust of another but it can be swiped away in minutes.

One definition of trust is “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something”. Let’s break each one of those down. By trusting someone’s character, we believe that they will act honestly and beyond their own interests. We believe they care about us and will consider us in their decision-making processes. We must be of the opinion that the person has the ability to carry out our trust. The person needs to be capable and competent to successfully accomplish the task they are trusted with. We believe the person to have the strength of character and determination to make a commitment to the task at hand. We need to know they can follow through on the task and be supportive in need. We believe the other person to be truthful and not to filter the information shared.

In order to trust someone, it is like the old saying, you have to love yourself before you can really love someone else kind of thing. Yes, you must trust yourself in order to trust others. Grasping your personal core of values and motivations is consequential to building trust with yourself. We must trust our own senses, our own minds, and our experiences in order to make decisions we can trust.

Building relationships is a case study in faith. The key word is building. As you build anything concrete or emotional, you need to start with a solid foundation. If you build a home, you formally trust the materials and the workers to do exactly as expected. You trust as the home goes up the foundation will not crack. The same is true when building a relationship with another, although the trust is more on an informal basis.

For a relationship to succeed it must be based on honesty, legitimacy, competency, and character of the people involved. It takes time and a history of experiences with the person to feel the freedom to trust. You have to go beyond your own personal fears to be able to trust. You have to communicate clearly, as they need to communicate clearly with you. That way the needs can be met and trust is communicated and enacted.

Trust in a relationship becomes entertwined with communication and the willingness to give of ourselves. Trust is magical in its vibrations that reflect your core values. Trust is a binding factor with another human being. To trust someone you have to understand them. Trust can turn a person’s life around, especially if they have been prone to believing everyone will leave them or make an effort to cause them pain or harm. Back in the early 70’s we used to have a trust exercise we would do at school parties. Unfortunately, we failed at the trust issue right away considering we should have been studying and not partying. Of course, as usual we would certainly pay the price for our behavior and losing the trust of your favorite teacher is always a hard lesson to learn. Anyway, the exercise was called the Fall. One person would stand in front of another and then would allow themselves to fall backwards keeping themselves as rigid as possible. The idea was for the person behind them to safely catch them. There would always be the one jerk who thought it mighty funny to allow their person to actually fall down to the floor with a boom. Gracelessly, many of us would laugh and want to do it all over again to see who would let us down this time around. Therefore, trust isn’t something that you can give out to simply anyone. There are people who you might be able to trust with getting donuts in the morning for the group but you may not want to trust falling back into their catching hands.

There are many trust building exercises that if met with seriousness are very helpful. The basic idea is to give each person an experience of absolute trust. Afterwards, you talk with your group about what it felt like to trust someone in that exercise. How would that relate to trust in your own life with your own friends, family, and professional people? Trust building exercises also help you to dissect trust into different areas such as physical trust, mental trust, and emotional trust.

In grief it is so important to find someone you can trust. Someone you can say all the lingering secrets to that haunt you at night when you can’t sleep. Someone to share all the anxieties, the ifs ands and buts with. Someone you can believe will not slam your words back at you at a convenient time for them. Someone who can toss in a little more than a pinch of compassion your way. That is why sometimes paying a professional who has no emotional investment in your situation works for so many. A professional person should be a person who is non-judgmental towards you. You should feel safe and supported as if you had a secure net under you to catch you when you let it all out.

When we lose someone we love, trusting life again is hard. When we find a relationship was not built on a strong foundation of honesty and caring, trusting another person is difficult. Trusting yourself is complicated when you believe you make bad decisions. Trusting a professional to not judge you and to be sensitive is hard. How is it possible to rebuilt trust?

Here are some ways to help build trust:

First realize the trust builds over time. You can rebuild trust in broken relationships when you make a choice to do so. It isn’t easy but you can do it with commitment to purpose.

Make commitments. Know your core values. Know what is acceptable to you and what is not. Don’t straddle fences. If you know where you stand and you allow others to know where you stand then people can rely on you and remember trust starts from within. Also remember you will get wounded in a most sensitive place if you straddle the fence so it is a no win situation. Know who you are.

Practice following through on all of your commitments no matter how small. Practice makes following through on larger commitments easier. It helps to build faith in yourself to know you have the ability and strength to carry out promises.

Adjust your expectations of others. We are all human. Sometimes a person isn’t as strong as they need to be. Sometimes a person will let you down due to circumstances beyond their control or due to their own frailty. Putting people on pedestals only sells more chain saws to cut them down. It makes way for a double fall. One fall is when the person plunges off the dang thing and the second when you fall from feeling they have failed you.

Be clear about your expectations. Be truthful about what you expect and define your boundaries. Again if you know your core values, you know where your boundaries are. By defining your boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not in your life, others will know how to treat you.

Give love unconditionally. When someone knows they are accepted and loved for who they are, trust develops. A person can allow himself or herself to be vulnerable and honest about their feelings in a safe nurturing environment.

Examine your own motives. Do you have any hidden agendas? If you do why is that? Dissect it, understand it and figure out how to rise above it.

Image it. Look into a mirror and take heed for one day you most likely you will fall short of someone’s expectation too. Accept that you are only human.

In looking deep into ourselves, I think there is one more question we need to answer. Do we really want the truth in trust? It is said that all families are dysfunctional, the level of dysfunction is what makes the difference. Sometimes I think we don’t want to know the truth about ourselves, others, or the level of dysfunction in our relationships because it would force us to change. It would force us to open another door to an unknown realm with unknown outcomes putting us in a rather husky uncomfortable zone. It would force us to redefine ourselves and that can be plain outright scary. Sometimes I think we believe the show X-files too much and adhere to their saying of “trust no one”. We get bent on thinking someone will run amok with our feelings.

Life is a mixture of vibrant and dull energies. We laugh and we cry. We live and we die. We take fancy flight with glee and we fall on our knees in prayer. Life is complicated but without trust life can’t be truly lived and enjoyed. Trust in the super glue for our lasting relationships. Even for the ones who have gone before us in death. We trust their memories will be with us in our hearts and dreams day and night forever and ever. The power of trust enhances the quality of our world. It gets us through the death of loved ones, through turbulent relationships, and through our own self doubt. The powers of trust carts with it hope and inspiration for the future and for the moment we are living. We have access to unlimited free and clear trust by simply looking inside.


Copyright Sherry Russell 2004


| Grief Author and Speaker

Sherry Russell has worked in Grief and Crisis Management for over twenty years. She is the originator of a series of educational Grief and Trauma Workshops(R) which are currently being utilized in Funeral Hom...