Establishing Trust in Grief Management Groups

Trust is the basis of all human relationships. Trust can be thought of as a tool that can measure the positive and negative nature of a relationship. The more positive one feels about others in the group, the more likely they are to share feelings, thoughts, ideas and suggestions. Those persons who cannot trust others in the group at even a basis level will have great difficulty functioning in the group.

Trusting the Facilitator and other group members with their fears, dreams, and feelings is not easy to do and should be understood as such. Just as when we were infants, our trust in others builds as we learn through experience that others will be accepting of us. The more we are exposed to positive trust experiences, the more trust in others will develop.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Facilitator to encourage an environment of trust at all sessions. If the trust bond cannot be developed or is abused in any way, the group will dissolve itself. Participants absolutely must feel that all their feelings and thoughts are accepted non-judgmentally.

The building of a trusting attitude goes hand-in-hand with the development of positive self-esteem, a key goal in grief management groups.

Imagine a young woman on a tropical beach dressed in heavy winter clothing. As the sun comes up in the morning, she begins to get warm and takes off her muffler and gloves and feels better. The sun continues to shine and the young lady sheds more of her heavy clothing. Each time she gets rid of a layer of protective clothing, she feels more comfortable, more in tune with her environment. If the weather changes and it gets cold again, the woman can put on a layer of clothing for protections.

So it is when we learn to trust others with our pains, our fears, and our sense of helplessness. There is a period of time in every group when each member begins to peel off layers of protection in response to the growing warm feelings in the group. But, as each participant shed his or her ego protective coats they become more vulnerable to hurt or betrayal. facilitators must be aware of this and put forth every effort to not tolerate abuse of any kind to exist within the group..

I have found that in most grief groups there are periods of pulling away and periods of growing closer within the group. Capitalizing on these moments is essential for helping members learn about themselves, particularly in those areas where they appear to be most sensitive. Feelings of insecurity often indicate areas of our personal lives in which trust has been betrayed or about which we feel negatively. Taking the risk to trust sharing feelings about painful issues is often scary, but with big risks come big gains.

As adults, we learn to trust through observation, experience and self-awareness. Each group member earns each other's trust by exhibiting trust worthy behaviors and communications. We help participants to understand that two people can experience a death of a loved one in much the same way and yet have very different responses. In order for trust to grow, these different perspectives must be acknowledged and accepted even if not understood. It is the Facilitators duty to ensure that this happen.

All human beings tend to trust the people with whom we feel secure. When we know we can be ourselves and say what we really think and feel without repercussions our trust builds. A requirement to walk on eggs is a metaphor for the fragility of that security. If a griever feels insecure in being able to express him or herself or feel that there are some things he/she cannot say in the group for fear of attack or repercussions, he or she will shut down and probably not be back to the group.

It takes time to develop trust in others, especially for people who have been hurt by the loss of their loved ones. When group members can trust the Facilitator to protect them from hurt or ridicule from others in the group, they will share and be open to grow beyond the limitations imposed by their loss. They will let their guard down and open their hearts to group bonding and healing.

This trust and mutual vulnerability forms the very foundation of grief management groups.

Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, veteran social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, will be available in July.

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