Basic Trust vs Mistrust: Can I Feel Secure in My LIfe?
Basic trust vs mistrust in life can be an issue that comes to the fore extremely powerfully in our lives at times of major life transition.
Everyone at some point or other in their journey confronts the question of whether life is trustworthy, whether I can place my hope in it. Certain situations, like mid-life transition, can bring those questions powerfully to the fore. Also, for certain individuals, because of their life experience, this question is much more to the front and center than it is for other individuals.
Erikson and Basic Trust vs Mistrust
Trust vs. mistrust represents the first stage in Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. This stage begins at birth and lasts through one year of age. In it, either infants learn to trust that their caregivers will meet their basic needs, or, if basic needs are not consistently met, the infant may learn to react out of mistrust and suspicion, and may develop strong anxiety.
While the issue of basic trust vs mistrust is rooted in early life, it often would not confine its impact to earliest life. It can certainly raise its head in potent ways at much later stages in the life journey.
The Issue is Larger…
Issues of basic trust vs mistrust can easily present in the form of a complex. Jung in his research on complexes posited that a complex originates in “a trauma, emotional shock… or moral conflict which ultimately derives from the apparent impossibility of affirming all of one’s nature [italics mine]”. A complex involving basic trust vs mistrust might entail an inability to live out the parts of oneself that want to trust and to be secure — when one is conflicted by radical insecurity.
Depth case studiess know that complexes take us back to the unresolved issues in our lives, leading us to see current life events through the lens of the past. With each new occurrence of the complex, its emotional power can become more intense.
As /a-midlife-transitions well know, a powerful complex, such as a complex rooted in the experience of certain negative experiences of the mother, could easily block or completely bar the way to basic trust.
How Can I Move Towards Trusting Life, and Myself?
Taking the power out of a complex that orients a person to mistrust of life is much more than just an intellectual activity. As psychoanalyst Theodore Jacobs puts it, “Understanding and insight… are only part of the process of change…. Also important is experience: the patient’s lived experience with the analyst, which along with insight, has the effect of altering fixed positions, fixed views and fixed automatic responses.” The analyst has to take an active role in helping to take the energy out of the complex.
As Daryl Sharp tells us, the role of the analyst is to work with the person to create a “container” where the intensity of the conflicting feelings of basic trust vs mistrust “can safely play in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.” This atmosphere of positive regard and the experience of being trusted and giving trust is a central part of the journey toward compassionate self-acceptance, which is essential to moving from mistrust to trust, and is a central part of the journey towards wholeness.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst