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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.

Communication-person.people talk, think

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?

12 responses to “Are you a Person of Character?”

  1. Philip J. Malebranche says:

    The memory of trust from others in earlier years helps mitigate the mounds of distrust that accumulates in the experience of a homeless person. Positive exchanges also help counterbalance the negative ones. The effects of good relationships help ward off the effects of the bad. Love–even the fumes of it–is an antidote. And the promise of love assists in wading through the challenge of the cloud of distrust that may linger or looms ahead.

  2. Philip J. Malebranche says:

    The memory of trust from others in earlier years helps mitigate the mounds of distrust that accumulates in the experience of a homeless person. Positive exchanges also help counterbalance the negative ones. The effects of good relationships help ward off the effects of the bad. Love–even the fumes of it–is an antidote. And the promise of love assists in wading through the challenge of the cloud of distrust that may linger or looms ahead.

  3. Erin Dupuis says:

    An answer to your question… well, first thing that comes to mind is I make mistakes and that makes me look human! Second thing that comes to mind is that I have a big heart and genuinely want to connect with the people on the fringe and show them that there are trustworthy people out there. The part of your blog that struck me today was , “Traumatized clients are very sensitive, not only to 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.” Well, I am guilty of this! My CHARACTER however has become more resilient and committed and humble over time, and I find that I have built skill around pausing before I speak with a client or individual like this, because unfiltered honesty is not going to be helpful in building connection if it’s going to trigger this defensive reaction. And for me, I have learned how to pause and see if what I a want to say is really necessary and kind or is just my ego wanting to take control somehow, and possibly damage an already hurting person. My CHARACTER says, “take a step back, Erin” and find another way that is kinder to approach a difficult topic.

  4. Erin Dupuis says:

    An answer to your question… well, first thing that comes to mind is I make mistakes and that makes me look human! Second thing that comes to mind is that I have a big heart and genuinely want to connect with the people on the fringe and show them that there are trustworthy people out there. The part of your blog that struck me today was , “Traumatized clients are very sensitive, not only to 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.” Well, I am guilty of this! My CHARACTER however has become more resilient and committed and humble over time, and I find that I have built skill around pausing before I speak with a client or individual like this, because unfiltered honesty is not going to be helpful in building connection if it’s going to trigger this defensive reaction. And for me, I have learned how to pause and see if what I a want to say is really necessary and kind or is just my ego wanting to take control somehow, and possibly damage an already hurting person. My CHARACTER says, “take a step back, Erin” and find another way that is kinder to approach a difficult topic.

  5. JoAnn says:

    Years ago we had a client who developed trust in me and no one else on our team. Due to our trust relationship she gave another part of the program a try and developed a trust relationship there. Due to that trust relationship, she tried another part of the program and developed a trust relationship there and so on until the client ultimately worked through MANY issues and out of homelessness. This was a pregnant homeless high school grad with 2 children in an abusive relationship. Over a decade later I can tell you that she has a master’s degree and is in leadership at a local hospital. Her children are all grown. She is not in an abusive relationship and is a home owner. I re-tell this story to myself when I am dealing with some of the more difficult patients.

  6. JoAnn says:

    Years ago we had a client who developed trust in me and no one else on our team. Due to our trust relationship she gave another part of the program a try and developed a trust relationship there. Due to that trust relationship, she tried another part of the program and developed a trust relationship there and so on until the client ultimately worked through MANY issues and out of homelessness. This was a pregnant homeless high school grad with 2 children in an abusive relationship. Over a decade later I can tell you that she has a master’s degree and is in leadership at a local hospital. Her children are all grown. She is not in an abusive relationship and is a home owner. I re-tell this story to myself when I am dealing with some of the more difficult patients.

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