Have you ever wondered why some people can’t trust anyone? Perhaps you are married to someone who, despite all your efforts of positive encouragement, is still having a hard time trusting you. Maybe you have a friend who doesn’t automatically trust everyone they come into contact with, including in presumed safe categories like police or pastor. Or you may have a child who doesn’t trust everything you say. Regardless of positive results, they persevere in distrust.
There are some concepts that psychology does really well and some that tragically fall short, but one that has stood the test of time is Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development. The first stage, from birth to eighteen months, is Trust versus Distrust, and this is the fundamental stage upon which all future problems lie. If a person learns to rely on others for nourishment, nurturing, comfort, and safety during this time, they will have an easier time trusting others in the future. But if they don’t learn to trust, the foundation of a lifetime of distrust has been laid.
Psychology. Simply put, Erikson concluded that since all babies, by nature, cannot take care of themselves between birth and eighteen months, they must rely on someone to take care of them. During these essential years, a baby must rely on crying to communicate all of their needs: food, comfort, pain, nourishment, and safety. It is the caregiver’s (hopefully parent’s) responsibility to lovingly meet these needs. The baby learns not to rely on his caregiver to meet his basic needs if he cannot meet his needs.
Child. A child who has learned to rely on a caregiver to meet their most basic needs can now rely more on them to meet their wants and desires. On the other hand, a child who learns not to trust the caregiver develops no more trust and then has difficulty bonding with the caregiver. There is an unnatural distance between the caregiver and the child, because neither interacts with each other, a distance that only grows as the child grows. However, a child who has learned to trust will naturally run to the caregiver whenever problems arise, and the bond between the two is obvious.
Adult. As a trusting adult, proof of trust will be seen in many relationships, but the most obvious will be in a marital relationship. However, as an adult, he may struggle to trust someone of the opposite sex if he only clings to the same-sex parent, and vice versa. What is more obvious is that the adult who did not learn to trust anyone as a child now struggles with trusting friends, family, colleagues, spouse, children, and especially spouse’s family.
Exchange rate. Growing up in an environment where one has learned to trust no one doesn’t mean it has to be permanent. It means it will be a struggle, even an ongoing battle, but it can be overcome with hard work, time and energy. Learning to trust God is one of the best ways to overcome insecurity, and while it may seem counterintuitive, it works. In some ways, God is easier to trust than humans because He is supernatural, not human, so the old wiring that says humans can’t be trusted doesn’t apply. God also provides a safe environment without criticism or rejection. For some, however, this is a difficult concept to grasp, because every fiber in their being tells them how can they trust God if they can’t trust a caregiver? Instead, it becomes a huge or frightening leap of faith. For others who take the leap of faith and trust in God, their confidence gradually extends to others as time passes and evidence is gained that some people can be trusted.
The next time you meet someone who has a hard time trusting others, spend some energy understanding their point of view and try to look at life from their point of view. In the early years between birth and eighteen months, you will often find some trauma justifying their position. So don’t give up on them, first be a light to people who are trying to find their way in a sea of trust and insecurity.