Did you know that your ability to trust others has been shaped and developed since the time you were born? From the moment we emerge from the womb, the world around us sends messages; we interpret those messages, which in turn impacts how we view the world around us.
Trust v. Mistrust
Erik Erikson, a well-known developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, believed that people pass through eight stages of development throughout their life. The first of these stages he labeled “trust versus mistrust.” This stage, which occurs from birth to approximately one year of age, is especially important for building trust, as infants are completely reliant on caregivers to provide for their basic needs. For example, when an infant cries, if a caregiver picks her up and soothes her, the child builds trust that her needs will be met.
During this stage, however, if a child’s needs are not met, she will begin to mistrust the people around her. If food is not supplied when she is hungry, if her diaper is not changed when she is dirty, or if she is not soothed when she is frightened–all of these experiences send her the message that the world is an unfriendly place, that trust cannot and should not be given.
Mistrust’s Impact on Later Life
Erickson believed that the development of trust during one’s early years could have a powerful influence on that individual’s interactions with others for the remainder of their life. Those who have positive, trust-filled interactions with their caregivers are more likely to have trust-filled relationships throughout the course of their lives. However, those who develop mistrust as young children are more likely to have a hard time being trusting as adults.
Mistrust’s Spiritual Impact
Unfortunately, this mistrust can also impact one’s relationship with God. When the Bible tells us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5), that might sound to someone like the biggest challenge in the world. Trusting someone who you cannot see or feel or touch–especially when your experiences tell you that no one is trustworthy? Impossible!
However, there is good news: you can grow your trust even now–trust in people, trust in God. But how can this be accomplished? Nancy Rockey of Life Renewal suggests an activity that can help process past mistrust, as well as move forward to a more trustful future.
1. Look at your past. “Go back to your very beginnings and study the relationship you had with those persons who were the most impactful in your life. Write about the experience and about how that has affected your ability or inability to trust now. Once you have written it all out, take it to a pastor, counselor, or trusted friend (same gender as yourself), and read it out loud to that person. Then take that document to your shredder, burn it, or tear it in tiny pieces and flush it. Then take the courage to add a bit more trust in relationship with your trusted friend–trial and error, so to speak. Place all trust, however, in your Heavenly Father, because He knows what is best for you, now and forever” (Nancy Rockey, 2017).
In addition to this activity, here are some other ways to develop and build trust.
2. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. The point of developing trust is for others to believe what you say, and vice versa. Keeping your word builds respect as you show others that you mean what you say; this will also encourage them to reciprocate. In this way, mutual respect and trust can be grown.
3. Take it slow. It can be hard to be vulnerable in relationships, but remember you don’t have to be in a rush to trust someone. It takes times to build trust, so don’t rush the process. As you and the other person make small commitments to each other–and as you both follow through–you will begin building a trusting relationship.
4. Don’t hide your feelings. While it is tempting to hide your feelings away when you feel mistrustful, showing your feelings is actually a good way to build trust. However, if you feel like you’re showing too much emotion at once, refer to suggestion #3, and take things slow.
5. Communicate. If there is someone in your life who has hurt you and given you reason for mistrust, it is often healthy to communicate with them about the pain they have caused. This should be done in a non-blaming way. However, this process also includes settling healthy limits and boundaries. Communication is not the same thing as freely giving trust to someone who has hurt you in the past.
6. Seek therapy. Speaking with a counselor or therapist can be a great way to process through past trauma and get to the root of mistrust. If you feel like you need to talk to someone about your experiences, seeking therapy can be extremely helpful.
If you need help selecting a counselor, please use this FREE DOWNLOAD that offers questions to ask a prospective counselor before diving into therapy.
Developing trust can be extremely hard, especially if you have been shown from the beginning of your life that people are not worth trusting. However, this mistrust can impact you for the rest of your life. I hope and pray that you can more forward through your pain, towards a brighter, more trust-filled future.
Cherry, K., & Gans, S. (2020). Trust vs. mistrust: Psychosocial stage 1. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/trust-versus-mistrust-2795741
Rockey, N. (2017). Trust in the Lord with all your heart–#1. Life Renewal. Retrieved from https://fixablelife.andrews.edu/2017/12/05/trust-in-the-lord-with-all-your