Attunement is Essential
In my first blog post of this series, I laid a strong foundation in regard to why trust is an essential part of our human existence. I believe it is beneficial to follow up in this article with how trust can be established with others throughout our lifespan. While Cloud (1) outlines many qualities to be aware of throughout his book, I believe one of the most important ingredients for trust is “listening to and understanding what [an individual] wants and what [he or she] is feeling – in short, knowing what matters to them” (p. 42).
Psychologists refer to this act of being “in-sync or paired” (3, p. 19) as attunement. Hutcherson defines attunement as “when you feel understood, or rather, you feel seen. When someone can recognize what you’re feeling and respond just how you need them to…” (3, p. 19). This does not mean responding perfectly, but rather responding with an openness to come alongside another individual and engage curiously regarding their emotional experience. Remember in “Trust: Part 1 – The Journey of Connection, Construction, & Healing,” I wrote about the baby trusting the caregiver enough to provide nourishment when he/she is hungry. The caregiver understands the baby’s needs because the parent knows what it feels like to be hungry! They first understand before they act.
It is amazing what happens inside the brain whenever we feel known or seen by someone. It’s an experience we are unlikely to forget when we experience someone truly desiring to understand our emotional experience. According to Cloud (1), “the suspicious or closed-off brain that is driven by fear begins to shut down and the upper brain gets engaged. When we feel understood, fear and resistance calm down and we open up” (p. 43).
Staying out of Enemy Mode
The act of attunement also helps us stay out of enemy mode, a term coined by Jim Wilder (4), which also helps build trust. According to Chris Coursey (2), “enemy mode is a reduced version of our personality where we become relationally restricted” (p. 32). It’s when the problem becomes bigger than the person, and it becomes more difficult to be kind, compassionate, and patient. According to Cloud (1), “leading someone to trust you does not begin with convincing you are right” (p. 41). You can have all the knowledge in the world and miss truly knowing the person who sits right in front of you. You have likely heard the concept that when two people are arguing to win, they both lose. When people argue to win, trust’s growth becomes restricted, and we become relationally disconnected. When we are in this nonrelational states, Coursey (2) states, “our brain amplifies negative emotions. Our peace is gone. Problems feel big, even scary” (p. 58). Staying relational in our pain is key to building trust and a sign of healthy maturity.
According to Wilder (4), “one of the greatest threats to a working relational circuit is feeling alone. We will inevitably feel alone when people try to fix our pain instead of listening, validating, and sharing our distress… People do not need us to fix their distress. Rather, people need to feel connected, so they become relational” (p. 81). Staying relational builds trust and changes the brain from being in a guarded state to an open state. Practically, this can look like intentional eye contact with the individual. Hutchinson (3) states how this act alone can help rewire the brain toward healthy attachment and “for most kids and teens, this works to promote safety and reduce anxiety, especially when in a heighted place of stress and despair” (p. 58) It is a way we can communicate to others, “I see you. I hear you. You are important to me.”
Staying relational during our pain, especially when trust has been broken, can certainly be difficult, yet it is a crucial brain skill that has the potential to pave a path towards healing. This blog series is not meant to reduce the pain that a breach of trust can cause. Rather, my hope is for you to gain greater insight into why trust is vital to our human existence and to know how to build and maintain trust with others so that you can walk toward the journey of healing when trust is broken. I look forward to meeting with you again in the next blog to touch on how God can use the very thing that has hurt us to grow, heal, and restore us.
- Cloud, H. (2023). Trust: Knowing When to Give It, When To Withhold it, How To Earn it, and How to Fix it When it Gets Broken. Worthy Publishing.
- Coursey, C. (2021). The Joy Switch: How Your Brain’s Secret Circuit Affects Your Relationships- And How You Can Activate It. Northfield Publishing
- Hutcherson, W., & Williams, C. (2021). Seen: Healing Despair and Anxiety in Kids and Teens Through the Power of Connection. Parent Cue.
- Wilder, E. J., Khouri, E. M., Coursey, C. M., & Sutton, S.D. (2021). Joy Starts Here: The Transformation Zone. Joy Starts Here.