Cassatt, Mother and ChildHave you ever wondered why some people can’t trust?  Maybe they are a client, a spouse, or a friend. Despite positive efforts of encouragement, they still struggle with being able to trust. It seems they automatically distrust everyone including safe people.

There are some concepts that psychology does really well. 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 vs. Mistrust. It is the foundational stage upon which all future issues lie. If a person learns to trust others, then they will have an easier time trusting and have hope in the future. But if they don’t learn to trust, the foundation has been laid for mistrust and withdraw.

The Psychology. Erikson concluded that all babies by their nature need to trust someone to care for them as they are incapable of self-care between birth and eighteen months. During these foundational years, a baby must rely on crying to communicate all needs: food, comfort, pain, nurturing, and safety. It is the responsibility of the caretaker (hopefully the parent) to meet those needs in a loving manner. When the infant fails to have their needs met, they learn not to trust.

The Child.  An infant who learns to trust the caretaker in meeting basic needs, depends on them to meeting other wants and desires. The bond developed between the child and the caretaker is unmistakable. On the other hand, an infant who learns mistrust fails to successfully attach to the caretaker. This unnatural distance only widens as the child matures.

The Adult. As a trusting adult, the postive evidence is seen in several relationships but most evident in intimate relationships. However, if the adult as a child attached only to the same sex parent, they may struggle with trusting someone of the opposite sex. The same is true in reverse. More obvious is the adult who never learned to trust and now struggles with friends, family, colleagues, spouse, children, and especially the spouse’s family.

The Cure.  Just because someone grew up in an environment where they learned not to trust, does not mean this is permanent. It does mean that it will be a struggle or even an ongoing battle. But it can be overcome with hard work, time and energy. They can begin by learning to trust one person at a time. It should be a person who provides a safe environment free from criticism or rejection. Then take every negative mistrusting thought captive and balancing it with reality. Trust is built slowly and requires patience.

The next time you run across someone who has a hard time trusting others, spend a bit of energy in understanding their perspective. Try to see life from their point of view. Frequently there is trauma in the early years between birth and eighteen months that justifies their behavior. Don’t give up on them. Trust them first and be a light to others who are trying to find their way in a sea of mistrust.