Do you have a client who doubts nearly everything they did? The issue could be resolved yet they still question past decisions or actions. Their doubtfulness even extends into future choices parellizing them long before an act is required. How can they be free from this?
Erik Erikson in his eight stages of psychosocial development explains that between the ages of two and four a child learns either confidence or doubt. His second stage of development, Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt, recognizes the importance of the toddler to learn to do things or make choices on his/her own. Too often, this time is marked by the toddler’s repeated statements of “I do it” or “by myself” as an attempt to gain what little control they can. It is also marked by temper tantrums that seem to come out of nowhere, or do they?
The Psychology. A toddler is trying new things such as potty training, putting on their clothes, eating without help from a caregiver or pretending to read a book. They also like to mimic the behavior and attitude of the caregiver or other siblings in an attempt to learn more or do more on their own. But if the caregiver insists on doing everything for the child because they take too long or don’t do it the right way, the child learns to doubt their own ability. The child may choose mismatched clothing but the sense of accomplishment that they did it allows them to gain confidence. On the other hand if the caregiver reprimands the child, they feel a sense of shame and doubt.
The Child. As the child grows, this confidence allows them to continue to try new things and even though they may not do it right the first time. They have successfully learned that they can keep working at it and eventually get it right. If however they doubt, they may be fearful of trying new things, insist that others help them, or throw temper tantrums from too much or too little control. Either way, the child is not capable of controlling themself so they enlist the help of others using whatever means necessary.
The Adult. An adult who has learned to be confident is willing to go after the promotion, be bold when asking someone out on a date, or be comfortable in a room full of strangers. An adult who has learned to be doubtful questions the logic of even the most basic level of decisions, seeks other domineering people to make decisions for them or is insecure even in parties where they know most all of the people. This trail of indecisiveness and insecurity can sometimes cause them to feel shameful even when they have not done anything wrong.
The Cure. Once a doubtful person recognizes that they do not need to feel shame for their decisions, that they are entitled to make a decision and fail, or that they do not need input or approval from others, they can begin to heal. While an overly controlling caregiver can stifle the growth of a two to four year old, the now adult child can gain confidence from trying things in a manner different from how they were once trained. For instance, if the child was told they must match their clothing before leaving the house, the simple exercise of wearing mismatched clothing to the grocery store can become a new foundation.
It does not matter what childhood tragedy happened during these formative years, recovery is possible. They don’t need to be bound to a life of doubt and shame but rather can experience a life of freedom and independence.