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Why Some People Never Learn to Trust Others
Have you ever wondered why some people cannot seem to trust anyone? Maybe you are married to someone who despite all of your positive efforts of encouragement still struggles with being able to trust you. Maybe you have a friend who automatically distrusts everyone they come in contact with including supposed safe categories of people such as the police or a pastor. Or maybe you have a child who mistrusts everything you say. Regardless of any positive outcomes, they remain steadfast in mistrust.
There are some concepts that psychology does really well and some that it tragically falls 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 vs. Mistrust and it is the foundational stage upon which all future issues lie. If a person learns to trust others for feeding, nurturing, comfort, and safety during this time, then they will have an easier time trusting others in the future. But if they don’t learn to trust, then the foundation has been laid for a lifetime of mistrust.
The Psychology. Simply put, 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. If the infant fails to have his/her needs met then they learn not to trust their caretaker for meeting their basic needs.
The Child. A child who learns to trust the caretaker to meet the most basic needs now is capable of trusting them even further to meeting his/her wants and desires. On the other hand, a child who learns to mistrust the caretaker fails to develop any further trust and subsequently has a difficult time attaching to the caretaker. There is an unnatural distance between the caretaker and the child as neither one engages with the other, it is a distance that only grows as the child grows. But a child who has learned to trust will naturally run to the caretaker whenever there is trouble and the bond between the two is unmistakable.
The Adult. As a trusting adult, the evidence of trust will be seen in many relationships but most evident in a marriage relationship. 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 anyone as a child, now struggles with trusting 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 anyone, does not mean this must be 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. Learning to trust God is one of the best ways to conquer mistrust and while this may seem counter-intuitive, it does work. In some ways, God is easier to trust than humans because He is not human but supernatural so the old wiring that says people cannot be trusted does not apply. God also provides a safe environment free from criticism or rejection. But for some, this is a hard concept to grasp as every fiber in their being tells them that if they cannot trust a caregiver, how can they trust God? So instead it becomes a leap of faith that is too big or scary. For the others that take the leap of faith and trust in God, their trust extends slowly to others as time has passed and evidence has been gained that some people can be trusted.
The next time you run across someone who has a hard time trusting others, spend a bit of energy in understanding their perspective and try to see life from their point of view. You will frequently find some trauma in the early years between birth and eighteen months that justifies their position. So, 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.
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