Are you a Person of Character?
Posted on March 11, 2016
Trust is the bond that holds people together and is the foundation for change and healing. The absence of trust paralyzes people and groups, and shifts the focus to self-centered survival. Trust is a word that is thrown around so much that it has lost its power. I have seen many definitions throughout my clinical and leadership research, and have put these together to come up with the following definition:
Trust is the assured reliance on the character, ability, and strength of the person in whom confidence is placed.
We know that trust is important, and most clinical interventions provide strategies to build it. While it is important to do what we say we are going to do, and complete tasks with a high degree of consistent quality, the focus on action misses the most important part of trust: character. A question that should be in front of your mind each and every day is: “Am I a person that deserves my clients’ trust?”
Trust does not come easily for many clients who have been hurt and traumatized by others and let down by systems that were supposed to help them. A traumatized individual has very little capacity to establish trust after a lifetime of experiencing relationships as painful and disappointing. Yet, every day you reach through this pain and find ways to connect with the person behind the suffering, and bring hope into their lives.
The bridge of trust is not permanent, but something we strengthen and reinforce with every interaction. Some bridges go up quickly, as the client is desperately seeking someone to connect with, who understands and cares about them as a person. Other bridges take months, if not years, to construct. Every time you feel the final pieces are going into place, the client seems to pull back or put up barriers, as ways to continue to test whether you will actually continue to care, when so many others have turned their backs.
Trust, and the character necessary to establish and maintain it, is one of the greatest reasons why I believe we must prioritize our own health and well-being. Burnout and vicarious and secondary trauma prevent us from bringing our best selves to our work. Traumatized clients are very sensitive, not only to our words, but to the energy behind them. Small shifts in energy can trigger a defensive and reactive response that can damage or destroy the bridge of trust that took so long to build.
As a helper, you are a person of character, ability, and strength. That is why so many trust you. It isn’t that you ask open ended questions (those help!). Instead, the person sitting across from you senses that you care and are present with them in that moment, and have the strength to hear their struggles, pain, and hopes for the future. Only when the bridge of trust is strong can the intensity of the past come forth and paths to healing found.
This week, my question is: What is it about your character that allows the bridge of trust to be built with clients who have been hurt and traumatized by others in the past?