Ups and Downs of Trust Building: Trust earned and lost over time.

Yesterday, I spoke to Beth about trust. Recently Dave and I allowed Beth to stay in the house alone while Dave and I went for walks in our neighborhood.  She’s been irritated toward me and I asked her why and she said because I didn’t trust her to stay home alone for longer periods of time.

I told her that trust was something that could go up and down depending on what a person did.  Trust could be earned and lost over time.

The other night we were watching a movie with three kids in it.  I made a comment about this one kid who at a critical moment, left his two friends.  I said aloud, “that kid irritates me. He has no loyalty.  When things get hard, he always gives up.” Beth said, “He’s just like dad. Dad gives up.” I was blown away.  So she did make connections like that to her dad.

Recently Beth has been acting out at school and at home and this may or may not be related to her remembering and being upset about Dave’s August 2011 attempt. In 2011, she saw the police take her dad away, and she saw how scared and tearful I was, conflicted about calling the police. After the “dad gives up” movie comment I asked her if she wanted to talk about it but she said that night didn’t bother her. She didn’t notice much because she was in her room.  I gently confronted her minimization and said, you were in your room, but you were outside sitting with dad after the police came. And you saw the police take dad away in the police car. She continued to say it didn’t bother her.

In talking with Dave about her “giving up” comment, he recalled that when Beth was 5 he was packing all of his things into his car to move out, when my sister returned with Beth just as he was about to drive away. He said that my sister said, “You can’t leave. You can’t leave.” And Beth started crying. “Daddy, don’t leave!”  He was hoping he could leave without her seeing and without a scene, but Beth saw it.  Beth never mentions this, but something so traumatic must have affected her.

I would make a guess and say that Beth has an insecure avoidant attachment, based on Bowlby’s/Ainsworth’s Attachment theory, now acting as if she does not care and pushing me away.  She has not wanted me to kiss or hug her. She’s called me “ugly,” perhaps testing me if I will stay or leave too. Maybe the lack of security made her feel anxious and insecure and her defense was to build a wall of strength and not cry (she rarely cries even if it’s warranted).

Getting back to trust.
So yesterday I told her that trust can go up or down depending on the other person’s actions.  I let her know that for 6 years dad was earning my trust, working hard in therapy and I believed that he was better, then the police incident happened and my trust went down.  But he’s been working in individual therapy really hard and he is doing better.  Now my trust in him is going up again. I told Beth, when I allow her to stay home alone it’s because she does right things and I trust her.  As she continues to do right things my trust in her will go up.  But to remember that trust is not steady, it goes up and down depending on what the other person does.

Last night she seemed gentler towards me.  She was coming up to me wanting to share stories with me. Coincidence? Maybe. But maybe she too can be on the road to building her trust in Dave and I.  She’s going to restart therapy to address some of her acting out behaviors in school and at home.  Dave and I will fill her therapist in on the backstory.  In time, hopefully she can build trust in her therapist to talk about her fears and process the events of the past.

I also know that this may not be the last time she will need help processing these events. As she gets older the events will take on different significance to her and she may need to revisit her thoughts and feelings about them.  So in the future I’ll be watching for changes in her behavior and take her back to therapy.  And I think because she sees Dave and I go to therapy so openly, bringing her along to wait in the waiting room at times, and she’s witnessed us saying hello to our therapist in public, she is learning to trust that therapy isn’t shameful and stigmatizing, but that therapy can be a safe haven.