Can trust be measured or only felt?

I spent this week reading about attachment and the importance of relationships. From studies showing that rejection shows up in our brain in the same manner that physical pain does, to those that show humans perceive challenges differently when in the presence of trusted others, it is clear to me that the forms of attachment we are able to create from early life and all the way through the present shape the way we perceive our reality and even increase our chances at living a healthier life.

But human relationships are so complex and it is very seldom that “what you see is what you get”. How do we know when to open our hearts to bonds with other humans? How do we know to trust and how do we dare do that when rejection and loneliness are equalled by our brain with a sore tooth ache?

I came back to The Anatomy of Trust, a talk by Dr. Brene Brown. And not just because I understand and love Dr. Brown’s work. Because the way she breaks down the concept of trust makes me hopeful that we can in fact measure it and doesn’t support the idea that trust is only felt in the gut. While I am a fierce advocate of listening to the body and the “gut feeling”, I do acknowledge that there is so much baggage we carry and, especially when it comes to attachment, there is a way we are built that might distort the messages we receive internally. So, it is helpful to know that there are questions we can ask about a person, a relationship or ourselves that, when answered honestly, provide a good measure of trust (or lack thereof).

In her viral talk about the anatomy of trust and later in podcasts and other discussions, Dr. Brown unpacks trust into elements that can be measured. Below I have turned her definitions into questions which we can address to ourselves when we are wondering whether we should trust others, trust ourselves or be trusted. It is very easy and very hard at the exact same time.

To break the concept of trust into manageable ideas, Dr. Brown created the acronym of BRAVING.

If we think of trusting others as question category A, trusting ourselves as B and being trusted as C. The list of questions would be:


A: does this person know and respect my boundaries? am I able to share boundaries with them without fear of rejection? does this person ask when they aren’t clear about boundaries (in other words, do they care)?

B: am I clear about my boundaries? do I have the words to express my boundaries firmly and clearly?

C: do I respect other people’s boundaries?



A: does this person do what they say they will and when they say they will do it?

B: do I follow through with committments I make to myself?

C: do I follow through the committments I make to others? do I do what I say I will, when I commit to doing it?



A: does this person own their actions? when needed, are they able to apologize, make ammends?

B: am I honest with myself and others about my intentions and actions? am I able to recognize when I made a mistake and set the record straight?

C: do I own my actions in front of others and am I able to recognize when I made a mistake and own up to it?



A: can I share information with this person without the fear of it being shared further?

B: am I prone to oversharing? am I sharing in a way protects my integrity?

C: can people share information with me and not fear that I will share further?



A: does this person have and do they practice values I also share? are these values manifested in the way they act?

B: do I act according to my values? do I choose truth, courage over comfort?

C: when interacting with others, do I stay within my values? do I choose the values road even when it is very hard?



A: can I ask this person for what I need or speak my mind without fear of judgment?

B: do I allow myself to act and not judge my every step?

C: do I judge people around me? can poeple be themselves around me?



A: does this person presume positive intentions behind my actions and words?

B: when I think about my actions and words, am I able to find positive intentions even when I am displeased with my results?

C: am I able to presume positive intentions when it comes to the actions and words of others even when (especially when) they are not what I would want/like?

While these questions look simple and straightforward, the hardship truly lies in the answer: for the framework to actually help, we must be 100% honest in answering these questions. And yes, that honesty (or the lack thereof) we will feel in our gut.

Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

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