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If you think about it, you’ll realize that every interaction you have, from negotiating with your parents about that party that they think is a bad idea to talking about your crushes with your friends, from swiping right to meeting in real life, has some mix of TCB. When trust, compassion, and boundaries are all in the right balance, being with someone feels effortless. You are relaxed about being yourself. You look forward to spending time together. You care about them and trust that they care about you. You have deep feelings, but there’s no drama. But if just one of these three elements is out of whack, things can become problematic.
TCB: WHAT IT MEANS
Trust is the ability to feel safe in a relationship. It is a belief you have in a person or situation that you will be safe. Trust is guided by instinct (after all, babies trust that their mother will care for them just seconds after they’ve met), but it is also affected by experience, and it has everything to do with how you approach relationships later in life. A baby who cries because they are hungry is expressing a feeling. And if their cries are ignored, they learn two things: they can’t trust that the people closest to them understand them, and they can’t depend on having their needs met.
Trust is something that must be earned, based on shared respect, clear communication, and lack of exploitation. Where there is mutual trust, compassion naturally follows, and boundaries are respected. Trusting someone means you know that your feelings are valued and appreciated by the other person.
For such a powerful thing, trust can be fragile. Think of it like a tower of blocks. You can spend a lot of time building a complicated structure, but with one false move, everything can come crashing down. It doesn’t even have to be on purpose. Sometimes, an outside force sets things in motion. The most common example I can think of is someone who cheats in a relationship. Maybe they had been slowly pulling blocks out of the relationship with other untrustworthy actions (lies, evasions, omissions) until the structure was weak and one obvious act wrecked it all. Maybe they made a bad decision in a single moment. In any case, as soon as they cheated, they destroyed the trust between them and their partner. Breaking someone’s trust can feel terrible, and losing the trust of someone you love feels even worse.
It can happen in friendships, too. The little things start to add up. It can start with your best friend still following your ex-boyfriend on Instagram, even though he lives in another state. Then you notice that they are posting pictures of group hangouts that you were not invited to. Little signals are being sent: you are not prioritized. If there isn’t an open line of communication, this thing could lead to a blowout. Or even the end of the friendship.
Like a tower of blocks, trust can be rebuilt. Just like you can rebuild a tower one block at a time, you can begin to restore trust one consistent act at a time. Repairing trust that has been damaged takes patience. And, just like your tower of blocks, as you start to rebuild, you might question whether it is as sturdy as it was before. You might worry it’s going to crumble every time you place a new block. It might wobble or sway. It might take longer to rebuild than it did to build the first time, but you keep building. Or you might even decide that it is going to take too much time to build it up again. You might just walk away. Once trust is damaged, there is slow, steady work that must be done to repair the relationship. And whether you keep going until you have something as strong and steady as before is mostly up to you.
Compassion is the ability to be open to the experiences of others without judgment or prejudice. For instance, if your friend tells you that their family cat died, you should extend your support in whatever way they need. You can be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or whatever the situation demands. Compassion goes hand in hand with empathy, which is the powerful ability to step into another person’s shoes. Empathy doesn’t mean that you have had the same reaction to any particular experience as someone else, but when you have empathy, you can feel what someone else feels, and understand it fully, without being personally overwhelmed.
People who are empathetic pick up on other people’s feelings easily. People who are less empathetic may have to start by imagining what the other person might be feeling. Either way, active effort to feel empathy leads to compassion, helping you to be aware of your own biases. Learn how to listen to different experiences. Compassion without empathy can feel patronizing, and empathy without compassion is essentially impossible. There are definitely times when I wish I had more empathy and compassion. Especially for my brothers when we were growing up. One time, Douglas had been playing Crash Bandicoot and he was on the final level, but I wanted to watch the TV. YOINK! I pulled the plug to the game console out of the wall. He immediately started crying—weeks of working on getting to that level, gone. When I did it, I was only thinking of myself. I didn’t take that important second of imagining how my actions would affect him. I don’t think he will ever forgive me for that one. (This episode might also have done a number on the trust my brother had that I would control my impulses!)
Boundaries are invisible protective lines around your feelings and your body that you create based on your experiences. Boundaries give you feedback on what you can tolerate in interactions with others—beginning even before you can talk. Can you ever remember your parents telling you that you had to hug your uncle with the scary beard, even though you didn’t want to? Or scary-bearded uncle ignoring your frantic head shaking no and coming in for a big hug anyway? Classic lack of respect for a preverbal tot’s boundaries. It’s a well-intentioned attempt to demonstrate family affection, but if your clear messages about your own space and desire—or lack thereof—for contact are ignored, it can shape your attitudes toward physical touch in ways you don’t even realize.
Healthy boundaries are what allow trust and compassion (and empathy) to coexist. Your boundaries keep you comfortable in your physical body and also help protect your individual identity by allowing you to remain present but in control when you are exposed to the feelings and experiences of others. It is perfectly normal, and even important, for you to test and define and redefine your boundaries. But be aware: if your boundaries are wobbly, when another person expresses strong feelings, your brain can react as if those are your own feelings and experiences. You’ll be perfectly fine, and then someone with drama comes into your life, and if your boundaries are not strong, the next thing you know you’re dragged down with them. Someone else’s strong feelings can break through weak boundaries, putting you at risk of catching those feelings—like an emotional flu.
TCB IN ACTION
Knowing how something is supposed to work and seeing it in action can be two different things. Let’s take a look at how using TCB can help in even the most awkward situations.
Alex and Mia were