Trust is an ongoing dance. It’s a slow and patient practice in authenticity. We cannot coerce trust, we cannot fake it. Trust is not just a result of liking or even loving someone. My horses may really like me and still not totally trust me. So, what is trust?
Trust, in a herd, is basically the ability to rely on another individual to make the best decision regarding safety. This requires emotional congruence, moment-to-moment awareness, and consistency.
Trust in a relationship is not something you gain and then own. Trust is a subtle dance that takes constant reaffirming through honest actions and sensitivity.
One of my horses, Tango, is really skeptical of spray bottles. He hates me using fly spray anywhere near him, and he will actually run away from me. I’m not 100% sure what his past experience of spray bottles is, it’s quite possible that someone sprayed him in the face, burned his eyes, etc. He may have a totally legit reason not to trust someone with a spray bottle.
If I tie Tango up, and come at him with the fly spray, and say “hey, this is for your own good, I’m not going to hurt you.”, do you think that makes him trust me? The short answer is no. He may learn that he has to be submissive when he is tied up, but as soon as I unhook his halter, he will still run away from me and the spray bottle.
That would not be a truly trusting relationship, and it is not the one I am seeking. Instead, I give him the opportunity, time and time again, to experience me with the fly spray in a different way than he expects. I may start by just walking somewhat near him with the bottle in my far hand, and if he gives me any indication that he wants to leave, I move away first. We do this sensitive dance, me getting closer and farther away– depending on his moment-to-moment expression –until one day, he decides that he trusts that I’m going to listen before I act.
Now, this is a really simple example of one way that trust is a dance. And honestly, maybe he will never learn to feel safe around spray bottles again, and that would be okay– because that’s not really the point. The trust comes from my listening to him in the moment, from being totally present with him, and therefor trustworthy.
But here’s the thing. Are we really consistently trustworthy in most of our relationships? Do we really respond authentically in the moment? Are we even aware of what that really takes?
Let’s be real. I’m not that patient of a person, and I can get really frustrated in the moment with Tango and the fly spray. I see the flies annoying him and biting him, and I think I have this solution for him, to help him– and all I want is for him to recognize that my intentions are good and to give in to me. However, what message am I sending him if I totally ignore how he feels in the moment because I think I know best?
Certainly I’m not as sensitive as he is– I can’t smell a cougar a mile away, I don’t notice every shift in energy or subtle body language cue. So, how am I to keep him safe? What trust have I earned? How am I really superior as a herd member? I’m not. But, as I like to quote the Harry Potter series:
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
I may not have the heightened survival abilities that my horses possess, but it is in my choices that I earn the right to be trusted.
Some days I’m more trustworthy than others, and I know this is a fluid aspect of relationships. Therefor, the best we can do is tune in to our authenticity as often as possible. We can try to listen first, and respond in a way that feels safe for all parties.
Now, if I do something to break that trust with Tango, and I just spray at him even when he’s afraid, it’s probably going to set us back a few steps in our dance of trust. The more I can consistently show up and be present with him, fostering our sense of security in each other, the more likely he is to trust me– even sometimes when he’s skeptical. The beauty in horses is that this is fairly straightforward. They respond authentically in the moment, mirroring our intentions, and show us whether or not we’re truly trustworthy in a given moment.
But when we begin to apply this approach to our human relationships, it can seem a bit fuzzy. People aren’t always as honest in their reaction to the present moment, and the lines can blur a bit when it comes to emotional congruence.
No one said this was going to be easy… however, worth it? YES. I challenge you to start noticing when you’re really trustworthy, and when you’re not. And hey, who knows, maybe by practicing this awareness you’ll actually gain your own trust in the process, and maybe that’s what it takes.