As an infant, trust may have served a developmental function for you. Considering that we humans all begin life as infants, the question is how does this apply to adults and society at large? How does the lack of trust affect adults? And what can society do to promote more trust?
Erikson’s psychosocial developmental theory provides a framework for understanding an individual’s ability to trust. The theory states that development occurs in a series of not necessarily chronological stages.
However, all people will pass through each stage at some point. A child moves from one stage to the next as they meet their basic needs and can deal with the challenges of that particular stage. Let’s have a look at the stage: trust vs. mistrust.
Defining Trust vs. Mistrust
According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory, trust vs. mistrust is important to human development. This stage happens during the first 18 months when babies learn to trust the world around them. They do this by looking to their caregivers to meet their basic needs and respond to their emotional cues.
If caregivers consistently provide for their babies and show them love and attention, they learn to trust the world and feel safe and secure. But if caregivers are unresponsive or neglectful, babies may develop a sense of mistrust and view the world as unpredictable and unreliable.
Examples of Trust Vs. Mistrust
How can we identify trust vs. mistrust in real life? Here are a few examples of trust and mistrust and the role they play in real-life situations:
1. Baby is consistently fed and comforted when they cry to trust that their caregiver will meet their needs. But a baby who is often hungry or left to cry for long periods may develop a sense of mistrust in their caregiver and the world around them.
2. A toddler who can explore their environment safely and securely learns to trust that the world is safe. But a toddler constantly told “no” and restricted from exploring may develop a sense of mistrust and feel anxious or fearful in new situations.
3. A child who is consistently praised and encouraged for their efforts learns to trust and feel confident in their abilities. But a child who is criticized or belittled for their mistakes may develop a sense of mistrust in their abilities and feel insecure or anxious about trying new things.
These are just a few examples of how it can impact our development from infancy through childhood. By learning to trust in ourselves and the world, we can build strong, healthy relationships and thrive in all areas of our lives.
Importance of Trust Vs. Mistrust in Human Development
The trust vs. mistrust stage is important in human development because it sets the foundation for how individuals view and interact with the world around them. This stage plays a crucial role in shaping an individual’s personality, emotional development, and future relationships.
If infants develop a sense of trust during this stage, they are more likely to feel secure and confident in themselves and their relationships as they grow older. They are also more likely to develop healthy coping mechanisms and resilience in facing challenges.
On the other hand, if an infant develops a sense of mistrust, they may struggle with self-doubt, anxiety, and difficulties forming healthy relationships in the future. Furthermore, the trust vs. mistrust stage is also important because it lays the foundation for future stages of development.
According to Erikson’s theory, each stage builds on the previous one, and the successful resolution of earlier stages is necessary for healthy development in later stages.
Therefore, if an infant does not develop a sense of trust during this stage, it may impede their progress in future stages of development, leading to difficulties in forming healthy relationships, identity formation, and achieving a sense of purpose in life.
Milestones Associated with the Trust Vs. Mistrust Stage
As discussed above, the trust vs. mistrust stage typically occurs during the first 18 months of an infant’s life. During this stage, infants completely depend on their caregivers to meet their basic needs, such as food, warmth, and comfort.
The milestones associated with the stage include the following:
- Learning to rely on their caregivers to meet their needs
- Developing a sense of familiarity with their surroundings
- Learning to differentiate between people and objects that are safe and those that are not
- Developing a sense of security and comfort in their primary caregiver’s presence
- Learning to self-soothe and manage their own emotions
- Developing basic attachment patterns, such as seeking comfort from their caregiver when distressed
These milestones are important for the infant’s emotional and psychological development as they learn to navigate their environment and form attachments to their caregivers.
The successful resolution of the stage sets the foundation for later stages of development, such as the autonomy vs. shame and doubt stage, where toddlers learn to develop a sense of independence and self-control.
The Role of Caregivers in Shaping a Child’s Sense of Trust and Distrust
Infants rely completely on their caregivers to meet their basic needs, such as food, warmth, comfort, emotional support, and stability.
Caregivers who are responsive, consistent, and loving in meeting their infant’s needs help foster a sense of trust and security in the child. This can be achieved by promptly responding to the infant’s cries and providing comfort, holding and cuddling the child to promote bonding, and maintaining a predictable routine for feeding and sleeping.
On the other hand, caregivers who are inconsistent, unresponsive, or neglectful may contribute to the development of mistrust and insecurity in the infant. For example, suppose a caregiver fails to provide adequate food, warmth, or comfort when the infant is distressed. In that case, the infant may learn that the world is unpredictable and unreliable, leading to mistrust.
The impact of trust vs. mistrust stage can have long-lasting effects on an individual’s emotional and psychological development. If infants develop a sense of trust during this stage, they are more likely to feel secure and confident in themselves and their relationships as they grow older. They are also more likely to develop healthy coping mechanisms and resilience in facing challenges.
On the other hand, if an infant develops a sense of mistrust, they may struggle with self-doubt, anxiety, and difficulties forming healthy relationships in the future. This can lead to emotional and psychological issues, such as low self-esteem, difficulty trusting others, and unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse or self-harm.
Furthermore, the stage can impact an individual’s future relationships and well-being. If infants develop a secure attachment to their caregiver during this stage, they are more likely to form healthy and stable relationships with others throughout their lives. They may also have a better sense of self-worth and be more resilient in facing challenges.
However, suppose an infant develops an insecure attachment or a sense of mistrust during this stage. In that case, they may struggle with forming healthy relationships and may be more susceptible to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Building Trust in Yourself and Others
Many of us struggle to trust others and tend to question other people’s intentions. We might also find it hard to accept when someone trusts us. We tend to question the trust of others and may not act in a trustworthy manner ourselves — such as lying or breaking promises.
Building trust is about building and developing trust with others and within yourself, as well as accepting that trust from others and giving it to them. Here are some ways to do it:
Honesty is an essential ingredient when it comes to building trust. It is crucial to be truthful in our words and actions and avoid deceitful behavior. This includes being honest about our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
When we are honest with others, we respect and value them. We demonstrate that we are trustworthy and dependable, which helps to build strong and positive relationships. On the other hand, deceitful behavior can quickly erode trust and damage relationships.
Keeping commitments is a critical aspect of building trust with others. When we make commitments, we promise to follow through on something. And when we keep those commitments, we demonstrate that we are reliable and trustworthy.
One way to keep commitments is to be punctual. Whether it’s a work meeting, a social gathering, or a doctor’s appointment, showing up on time demonstrates that you respect other people’s time and value their priorities. Being punctual also shows you are responsible and dependable, which can help build trust in your relationships.
Another way to keep commitments is to complete tasks on time. Whether it’s a work project or a personal task, following through on your commitments shows that you take your responsibilities seriously and have a strong work ethic. It also demonstrates that you are dependable and can be relied upon to get things done.
Effective communication is indeed crucial for building trust in relationships. When we communicate clearly and directly, we can avoid misunderstandings and build stronger connections. Here are some key points to keep in mind when it comes to effective communication:
- Be clear: Use simple language and avoid technical terms or jargon others may not understand.
- Be direct: Say what you mean and be honest with others. Avoid playing games or hiding behind hidden agendas.
- Listen carefully: Understand others’ perspectives and needs by actively listening and asking clarifying questions.
- Be respectful: Show maturity and respect by focusing on the issue and valuing others’ opinions, even when disagreeing.
Empathy is a critical component of building trust and connection with others. When we practice empathy, we can understand and share another person’s feelings, which can help us build deeper and more meaningful relationships. Here are some key points to keep in mind when it comes to practicing empathy:
- Active listening: Focus on their words and body language, and avoid interrupting or jumping to conclusions.
- Put yourself in their shoes: Imagine what it would be like to experience their feelings and see the situation from their perspective.
- Validate their feelings: Acknowledge that they are real and have a right to feel like they do.
- Be authentic: Be genuine in your efforts to understand others and to share their feelings.
Consistency refers to the ability to maintain a regular and dependable pattern of behavior. Consistency is important when building trust because it shows others they can rely on you.
By consistently showing up, following through on commitments, and demonstrating honesty and reliability, you can help others feel secure in their relationship with you. This can ultimately lead to a deeper trust and a stronger, more meaningful connection with others.
Vulnerability is the willingness to be open and honest about your thoughts and feelings, even if it means revealing your weaknesses or flaws.
This can be difficult because it involves being open to the possibility of rejection or judgment from others. However, being vulnerable can also be a powerful tool for building trust. When you are willing to be open and honest with others, you demonstrate that you are authentic and genuine.
It can help others feel more comfortable opening up to you in return, leading to a deeper level of trust and connection in your relationships. Showing others you are willing to be vulnerable sends a powerful message that you value honesty and authenticity in your interactions.
Final Thoughts on the Role of Theory
The theory of trust vs. mistrust by Erik Erikson emphasizes the critical role of early experiences in shaping a child’s ability to forge healthy relationships in the future. This particular stage of development serves as a foundation for emotional and social growth, and any problems with trust can harm a child’s mental and emotional well-being.
However, it is never too late to address trust issues and establish strong connections with others. Therapy and other support systems can aid in overcoming trust issues and forming healthy relationships. Ultimately, building trust is essential for leading a happy and fulfilling life.
What Is Trust Vs. Mistrust?
Trust vs. mistrust is an Eriksonian developmental stage where infants learn whether the world is safe and reliable. Trust develops when caregivers consistently meet the child’s needs, while mistrust develops when needs are inconsistently or inadequately met.
What Age Is Trust Vs. Mistrust?
The trust vs. mistrust stage typically occurs during the first year of life, from birth to about 12 months.
In Erikson’s Theory of Development, Which Stage Follows Trust Vs. Mistrust?
According to Erikson’s theory, the ‘Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt’ stage directly follows the Trust vs. Mistrust stage, occurring from roughly 18 months to 3 years of age.
Why Is Trust Vs. Mistrust Important?
The trust vs. mistrust stage is critical as it sets the baseline for the child’s view of the world, interpersonal relationships, and self-perception. Successful resolution of this stage leads to hope and confidence in the future.
What Happens When You Have Issues with Erikson’s Trust Vs. Mistrust?
Struggles with this stage can lead to mistrust, resulting in anxiety, fear, and a belief that the world is unpredictable and inconsistent. It can impact later relationships and stages of personal development.
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- Murphy, G., Peters, K., Wilkes, L., & Jackson, D. (2015). Childhood parental mental illness: Living with fear and mistrust. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 36(4), 294–299. https://doi.org/10.3109/01612840.2014.971385