How Emotions Build or Destroy Trust in Your Family

We all want to have a home environment that allows us to trust one another. You know, a home in which spouses trust one another, siblings trust one another, children trust their parents, and parents trust their children. A home environment in which we can trust what someone says. We know they will not lie. They will follow through on what they have promised. We know they have the best interest of the family in mind. 

A trusting environment in our homes requires more than trustworthy individuals. It also requires our capacity to trust others. Interestingly, that’s not as simple as it sounds. For example, emotions impact our capacity to trust others. A recent study suggested that negative emotions like anger or frustration reduce our willingness to trust other people even when these negative emotions were elicited by events that did not even involve the person we struggle to trust. For instance, annoyance created by sitting in a traffic jam may reduce our capacity to trust other people in our lives.

That study aroused my curiosity, so I looked at another group of five studies. These studies revealed that:

  • Happy emotions increase our trust more than sadness or anger.
  • Only “experienced emotions” increased or decreased our trust of others. Thinking about an emotion did not impact our trust. But, dwelling on an incident that arouses happiness, sadness, or anger did. And, once again, happiness increased trust while sadness or anger decreased trust.
  • Gratitude also increased our capacity to trust others while pride, guilt, and anger reduced our capacity to trust others. And, those emotions that involve others (like anger and gratitude) had a greater impact on our levels of trust than emotions that were more personal (like pride or guilt).
  • If the cause of the negative or positive emotion is made known, it does not impact our capacity to trust the person we are currently with. For instance, if I am talking to a coworker after having experienced the annoyance of sitting in a traffic jam, I may have a reduced capacity to trust him. However, if one of us points out how annoyed I am about sitting in the traffic, the impact on my capacity to trust the other person disappears. I can now trust based solely on the current interaction.
  • Finally, the more familiar we are with a person, the less our emotions will impact our capacity to trust them. We are more likely to base our trust on past experiences with the person we know rather than any momentary emotion we might experience.

What does this have to do with families? We can apply several principles from these findings to increase levels of trust in our family.

  1. Focus on building relationships with each family member. When we have a relationship (when we are familiar with a person) our capacity to trust them is less affected by immediate emotions and based more on our long-term experience with them. Build a history of trustworthiness with your family. Follow through on your promises. Tell the truth. Act in accordance with the best interest of your family. The more our families know us, the less their immediate emotions will impact their capacity to trust us.
  2. Fill your home with positive emotions like gratitude, joy, and curiosity. Make it a practice to show gratitude daily. Become curious about each family members interests and likes. Encourage their interests and hobbies. Play. After all, positive emotions increase our capacity to trust. 
  3. When your spouse, child, or parent is upset, tired or angry, postpone any discussion and simply remain available to them. Set aside your own agenda and respond to their emotion. Offer support and encouragement. Doing so will allow them to work through the negative emotions they are feeling and preserve the trust you have in one another.
  4. When you or another family member experience a negative emotion, make it explicit. Label the emotion and identify the trigger of that emotion. By doing so you keep it from interfering with the trust in your immediate relationship and interaction.
  5. Finally, enjoy the trust you have nurtured and built in your family with the help of emotions!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.