Trust in a Post Conflict Area

A little idea of what I’ve been working on lately…

Definition of Trust- Firm confidence on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing.

  1. Where trust is derived from—The basis to trust or distrust a complete stranger is social conditioning, which may be influenced by ethnic or cultural group, the characteristics and values of the society in which one lives or grew up, past experiences, and the historical tradition of the country. 
  2. Individual level—Theories have been advanced which suggests that traits such as optimism, life satisfaction, social status, and anxiety influence how trusting a person is of others. Other scholars feel that trust is less at the whim of the individual and more determined by circumstances beyond his or her control, such as association membership, networks of friends, community safety, and incidence of social conflicts.  Likewise, efforts to make a country more trusting in the midst of a divisive civil war or ethnic conflict are unlikely to meet success.
  3.  Post-Conflict Areas— During a traumatic experience, optimism can turn to pessimism and viewing life in a negative manner after living through horrific acts of violence and not knowing if tomorrow would come.  Life satisfaction is low and people are generally in survival mode concentrating on physiological and safety on the hierarchy of needs.  Previous social status can be irrelevant as outside sources are brought in to control and those who are in authority may abuse their power against others.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which involves increased anxiety raises lack of confidence in others, ability to function normally, increases paranoia, and heightens distrust among societies and individuals.

Interpersonal Trust (trust between two individuals)—the strength of the relationship is evaluated on the basis of time the individuals spend together, as well as on the emotional intensity of their relationship. They tend to grow and improve gradually, as people get to know each other and become closer emotionally.

  1. PCVs may face community integration setbacks due to living in a PC&T area.  Not only are they building relationships with people who have symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, they may also have to work through issues due to ex-pat influx in the area.  Host country nationals (HCN) within their village may be used to western Development workers coming and going for short amounts of time therefore resulting in a lack of interest in investing in a relationship with the PCV.   Intentions of friendships could be based on what the HCN believes they can get from the volunteer whether that is material or status. 

 Effects of PTSD in a Post Conflict Area and Volunteer Community Integration

Anxiety— creates suspicion and paranoia, worry of alternative motives towards the relationship, and lack of concern towards the individual.  Impulsive and misguided behaviors can lead to acting out in destruction, quickly jumping to conclusions, or making decisions that will not bring desired results.  Anxiety levels impair ability to trust because there is a sense of second guessing reasoning for the relationship to begin with.  If an outside country was responsible for facilitating a divide between two groups of people resulting in conflict, if the host country nationals felt estranged from the outside world and betrayed by the level and consistency of help during the conflict, if the host country nationals sense they are being viewed as helpless subordinates rather than active participants creating a belittling hierarchy, a quick jump of conclusions and stereotypes will leave the PCV in a hard situation to begin with.  Where conflicts had friends and neighbors betraying and killing each other, paranoia can be at an extreme high which won’t allow any emotional attachment and will keep them at a distant.  Be patient and understanding slowing things down and thinking thoroughly.  Extra reassurance of your purpose and commitment may be needed. Time and interaction will slowly break through stereotypes and barriers.

Nervousness— can be a symptom of anxiety.  Doubting care and empathy from another individual, insecurity about the relationship can prevent from taking on challenges or risks in life.  Low self-esteem is usually the chief cause of nervousness and insecurity problems.  Individuals get caught up in fears of “measuring up” or doing something embarrassing.  Can have their own picture of who they are and find it hard to accept others views that contradict.  Not only do they need to learn to trust themselves, but they need to trust that the relationship is non-judgmental.  Survivors of tragedy may not get a warm welcoming home because of family judgments which causes feelings of failure and isolation.  Be curious without being judgmental.  Through communication understanding begins, and through understanding we build a connection towards trust.  Accept the person as who they are in the moment and don’t think of them as a project to work on.  Show them friendly love and commitment as you spend quality time together.

Depression— anti-social and withdrawal from others.  Individuals may suffer from uncontrollable irritability causing them to lash out at on those closest to them as well as complete strangers.  Recurrence of depression can be triggered and progress which was made is regressed.  Lack of interest in activities or spending time with others.  Since time and interaction are key to building trust, if individuals lack interest in getting to know outsiders or get irritated easily, they may avoid contact debilitating any possible relationship.  If a whole community seems apathetic, organizing community events or empowering the community to go from passive to an active participant may become frustrating.  PCVs who feel a sense of responsibility over their work may start to feel incapable of productivity therefore adding to stress and feelings of uselessness.  PCV should research and try to understand what role they play so that they may maintain boundaries for their own sanity. Find the rare person who is motivated and latch on to them as a counterpart. Building trust with the right individual with authority in the community and who has connections will improve trust in the volunteer.

Isolation— pervasive withdrawal and avoidance of social contact or communication.  Individuals may perceive they live in relative isolation even though they are surrounded by many people creating a deep sense of loneliness.  Individuals who feel isolated have fewer interactions with others, fewer sources of psychological/emotional and instrumental support, and lower levels of religious activity.  An isolated person lacks the social networks and resources that are supportive to health and getting help.  They may isolate themselves because of extreme anxiety caused by overstimulation from outside sources.  Social relationships are important since they encourage health-promoting behaviors and discourage damaging behaviors but they are lacking these.  Seeking help may force them into discomforting situations, detrimental to the supposed help process.  Psychotherapy groups are a type of organized resource to address the issue, with the standard social venues such as bars, clubs, and religious gatherings the less formal option.  Create quality interactions with the person not pushing them to leave their comfort zone too abruptly. If they will allow and depending on the type of relationship, touching the person’s hand or physical touch in the case of perceived isolation can remind them they are not alone.  Interact in calm environments away from increased action and distractions as needed. 


Insomnia—lack of sleep which can be caused by nightmares and sleep disturbances.  Most noticeable effect of insomnia is in personality.  They become easily irritable and quick to snap than those who sleep well regularly.  Severity depends on the person, length of time sleep has been disrupted and the outside factors that can add to irritability.  Jobs as well as personal relationships can all be impacted.  Performance levels decrease because they become difficult to handle or can’t handle frustrations and stress.  Starting a new relationship can be hard since it takes concentration and work to understand cross-cultural differences. Finding what is causing the insomnia and dealing with it can help life return to normal. It might take time to get to the root cause, but doing so can be vital for the person. Nightmares go hand in hand with insomnia.  Anxiety and depression are much higher for those who have intense nightmares.  Nightmares have been found to be higher in women than in men.  If someone is showing severe signs of irritability and snapping on others, when greeting them ask them how they are sleeping with genuine concern.  If possible, ask what counseling services are available so they can have proper treatment.  If a whole community has been traumatized and aren’t sleeping well or are suffering from nightmares, work relationships will suffer.  Starting a new relationship and trying to train a new person can make them feel overwhelmed so keep at a good pace for them.   Taking charge and working on projects alone may seem easier than working with someone who is slow and has low performance, but that takes away the host country national involvement and is the opposite of capacity building and sustainable development. By putting yourself in leadership without a counterpart, you are placing others below creating an unequal relationship which hinders the building of trust.

Feelings of estrangement or detachment—may be taking place within the mind or psyche or may be a result of actual failures of the victim’s environment to be supportive.  Extreme trauma often includes the survivors and victims’ being ignored, actively avoided or rejected and devalued.  Family members can become frightened by the occurrence and want to avoid hearing about it.  The society as a whole often does not encourage either discussion of these events or reintegration.  Hostility within the community can be shown.  Social demands to feel and behave in ways that is unequal to their inner experience may contribute to their sense of estrangement from others.  As someone new to the community, you may be seen as a clean slate for a friendship since their traumatic history is unknown.  If someone is normally very quiet and disengaging because of their past experience, finding an outsider might give them an outlet of someone to talk to.  If you build a friendship and trust with a rejected person, the rest of the community may question you and why you would associate with someone “like that”.  This could be used as a lesson of acceptance and forgiveness yet could also put barriers up when hierarchy is very controlling and rigid.

Honesty, Competence and Trust: A Behavioral Approach—Perceived honesty and competence co-determine the trust structures the agents may have in interacting with others.

High Honesty + High Competence = Invest in the relationships with others (*Trustworthy*)

High Honesty + Low Competence = Minimize their relationships with others

Low Honesty + High Competence = Avoid making relationships with others

Low Honesty + Low Competence = Exploit their relationships with others

  PCVs who are perceived to have high honesty and high competency will be able to integrate and slowly build trust taking into account PTSD and its effects on relationships. When working in a post conflict area, emphasis in engaging, validating, and loving marginalized persons through genuine, intentional interactions will improve quality of relationships.  Actively build relationships with others as to bridge the gaps not only with the Western World and the Host country, but also with individuals who have become disenfranchised from the mainstream.  Create a mutually enriching relationship leaving both parties feeling equally participatory in a wanted relationship.

Societal Trust—Trust between an individual and their community or human kind in general.

1. Benefits of Social trust— gives momentum for social relations and interaction.  Brings about perceived honesty, objectivity, consistency, competence, and fairness and are maintained by evidence of these traits.  Even when there isn’t an immediate payoff or benefit, it is trusted that they will act as expected.  Can vary among cultures, between contexts, and across time.  Might foster greater levels of teamwork, knowledge-sharing, civic engagement, reciprocity, and efficiency.  Evident existence may signify internal peace and stability and therefore could be correlated with freedom, democratization, modernization, and other developmental benchmarks.  Fosters tolerance and community, allowing societies to overcome traditional dilemmas of opportunism and collective action.

2. Post- Conflict Areas— People may feel betrayed by society, community leaders, friends, and family.  (Thoughts may include: the international community isn’t doing anything to alleviate the conflict, national country government and military are not meeting the expected needs of protection of civilians, community leaders are not mobilizing for community action, friends and family members may be forced to betray each other leading to death or severe injury.)  Interaction, cooperation, and helpfulness rarely occur due to societal distrust and having been deceived, taken advantage of, and controlled in the past.  People create prejudices against certain tribes or people who were seen as the perpetrators or bystanders.  Inconsistent living compared to traditional life if having to relocate and live under different guidelines.  Parents may feel guilty for not being competent of protecting their child or family member from getting abducted and the child may feel anger towards those who were responsible for protecting them from harm.  Questioning of what is fair and just when injustice is surrounding them.  These linger and the thought processes are difficult to change even once there seems to be relative peace within the country. 

3. Cosmopolitan values— include open communication between groups, strong communities headed by progressive leaders or individuals who insist on change, rejecting stagnancy or a return to the past in favor of the creation of a new future (such leaders, for this reason, are often unpopular), and the involvement of the whole community in addressing societal problems. This is not to say that all groups must assimilate into a mass culture; it means that everyone in a society should reach a mutual understanding based on a belief in “common humanity” which creates a trusting environment. Fostering a cosmopolitan society can begin with leaders who encourage participation, involvement, and communication between groups, but it will ultimately depend on citizens willing to create commonalities with people from other communities. These leaders can be political but can also be community key holders.

  1. Difficulties for the Peace Corps Volunteer may occur where organizations are unwilling to cooperate or communicate with other organizations. Host country national individuals may be drawn to founding and directing an NGO for personal financial gains first and community benefits secondly.  In donor societies, NGO leaders may rather depend on outside funds than working to become self-sufficient and become stagnant in their process.  Beneficiaries may not trust the integrity and competence of NGOs in these cases.  Co-workers may be paranoid of an outsider’s presence or see them as a threat therefore reducing interaction.   Build cooperation between groups, help maximize trust and participation.  Exposure between different parties in neutral areas may help reduce prejudices that are built on false information rather than experience.    Create a safe place by suggesting a “what happens here stays here” kind of feel.  Eliminate subordinate connotations by having involved individuals referred to as participants rather than students creating equality rather than teacher/student relationships between facilitator and group.  When facilitating a session, open with icebreakers which can also be used as small instruments to create an atmosphere of trust. 

Building Trust— societies wishing to increase their levels of social trust must work at both bottom-up (individual) and top-down (institutional/societal) levels. They must realize that biases, cultural history, group associations, moral values, societal norms, and subjective emotions all have strong influences on social trust which commonly result in inefficient equilibriums that make groups of people less trusting.

  1. PCV knowledge and skills—NGO development, skills in management and leadership are useful in the top-down approach when wanting to improve competence and integrity which increases trust.  Anti-corruption and transparency are key words for evaluation and monitoring which are easier said than done.  Life skills focused on interpersonal relationships are useful for not only youth but also adults.

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