Trust As An Embodied Experience

by Kris Kile


In the previous blog post, I mentioned that in the Reinvent Training we do an extended exercise on trust. It is done during the first day, and we spend close to two hours doing the exercise and then unpacking what people experienced during it and what they are noticing as a result. We then connect how this ties directly into how our inherent survival strategies get built into the fabric of our lives, as well as our relationship with trust.


Survival is primarily an instinctual dynamic in all humans (and other mammals, too). The instinctual drive to survive tends to operate automatically, and instantaneously without the need to think about it. In many, many ways, that is a very good thing.


But, our mind sometimes cannot distinguish between what is a true survival-threatening stimulus and what is an imagined survival-threatening stimulus. And our “emotional brain” tends to be biased towards assessing threats to our survival. So, often, we might instinctually think our “survival” is threatened, when in fact it is not. We tend to think our “survival” is threatened any time our need and ability to stay in control, be right, look good and be comfortable is threatened.


This instinctually (and usually unconsciously) greatly impacts our relationship with trust.
  • It can impact my willingness to trust another individual if I perceive them as the initiator of the threat (to my survival-real or imagined).
  • It can accelerate my choice to only trust my ability to respond to the threat by withdrawing, being defensive or “laying low.”
  • It can create angst if I not only do not trust the other, but also am not confident in my ability to stay safe and in control.
This can occur in something that is significant (someone threatening your employment, standing in a group, future plans, or physical threats) or something as simple as an uncomfortable conversation that you feel lost in navigating well.


My point is that much of the way we relate to trust is instinctual, tied to unconscious survival strategies, and not thought out in any significant way. And, it can create all sorts of emotions in the moment that are involuntary-meaning they just arise, whether we wanted them to or not. Case in point is the example above…if your standing in a group is being publicly challenged (you are being shamed, accused, judged, denigrated, etc.) you are normally going to automatically experience a range of emotions-possibly including shame, anger, embarrassment, contempt, and hostility.


So, that incident triggers a strong emotional response, and an instinctual response prior to your “thinking brain” getting on line to try to make sense of it, if it can.


You normally would naturally mistrust the person initiating the challenge, the situation, perhaps the group involved, and even perhaps your ability to manage it well. And all of this would occur in a moment’s time.


That is why I say trust is an embodied experience. It is not just a cognitive decision and conclusion. It is influenced by our instincts (body intelligence) and emotions (emotional intelligence).


And these are influenced by:
  • Our genetic tendency to favor survival over all,
  • By our history and previous incidents that put us at risk
  • By previous betrayals, disappointments and wounds
It is fascinating that the emotional center of the brain is physically located in the center of the brain next to the long-term memory center of the brain. They are “next door” to each other. So, when you get emotionally triggered, it is a very short distance for your brain to unpack memories of previous betrayals, disappointments and wounds to justify an emotionally influenced instinctual response to maximize “safety.”


Of course, this defensiveness and reactivity can wreak havoc in relationships, often based on misunderstandings or wrong reads of a situation. It also directly influences whom we tend to automatically trust and whom we don’t.


In a previous blog post, I asked several questions about how you relate to trust. This kind of self observation and self reflection helps us on the path to discovering what we don’t know that we don’t know about how trust is wired into us, in our minds, hearts and instincts.


This is an amazingly powerful support to the possibility of not falling into embracing blind trust, but rather building our ability to engage mature trust. It also supports us in being able to restore trust when it has been broken.


Instincts and emotions will always be in the mix. Over time, we get to choose whether they are going to drive the show are whether they are simply going to be additional sources of intelligence to pay attention to, but not be blindly driven by.


Post on Facebook what you notice regarding trust being an embodied experience.
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