Trust vs Mistrust: Erik Erikson

PsychologyPersonality Psychology

Trust vs Mistrust: Erik Erikson

Childhood is considered one of the most important stages of psychosocial development. Within this period of one's life, the role that the initial one year plays are even more crucial. This period has been a part of the stages of development within the field of modern developmental psychology since Freud's theory of psychosexual development. Building upon his theory, Erik Erikson further elaborated on the relevance of this stage in his theory of psychosocial development. The upcoming sections will explore the first stage of Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, i.e., trust vs. mistrust.

Trust & Mistrust

During the first stage, trust and mistrust develop hand in hand. At this stage, children need extra care; therefore, depending upon the behaviors of their parents, children develop a sense of being emotionally attached or detached, which becomes the source of trust or mistrust accordingly.

The characteristics of First Stage of Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory

The first stage of psychosocial development is the initial stage of personality and identity formation. The characteristic features of this stage are as follows −

  • This stage involves the first year of one's life.
  • The resolution of the crisis and conflict of this stage plays an important role in the development of personality in the upcoming stages. It is also characterized by the beginning of the development of ego identity.
  • The major personal conflict during this age is building trust in others; thus, the strength of the identity developed during this stage is the virtue of trust.
  • The stage is characterized by dependence on the primary caregiver for basic needs, affection, security, and thus survival.
  • This stage coincides with the oral stage of Freud's psychosexual development, and the center of all pleasure is the mouth. A child, as Erikson concludes, "lives and loves through the mouth."

Why is this Stage Important?

The first stage of one's psychosocial development is significant for personality and basic ego identity development, and it also influences the interaction with others in the upcoming stages. For example, if a child lacks affection in his initial years of life, he may seek too much validation or affection from others or become excluded from others. Both such sensors are not adaptive. Further, such maladaptive resolution of an individual in the first stage can lead to problems in resolving conflicts in the upcoming stages. For example, a child who develops mistrust in the first year of one's life and therefore seeks a lot of validation is more likely to develop an inferiority complex in the later stages of his personality development.

Reasons for Developing Mistrust

Following are some of the significant reasons of developing mistrust −

Why do Some Babies Develop Mistrust?

There could be many reasons for maladaptive coping in the first stage of psychosocial development, leading to an attitude of mistrust in the child. The four major reasons for the development of an attitude of mistrust are −

  • Inattentive behavior of the mother or primary caregiver towards the child.
  • Expression of rejecting the baby through one's verbal or non-verbal behavior is receptive to the child.
  • Inconsistency in mother's behavior. For example, loving the child sometimes and rejecting the child at others.
  • Lack of exclusive focus on the child, for example, by resuming one's job soon after giving birth to the child.

Consequences of Mistrust

This stage is characterized by virtue of hope. When one cannot resolve the first personal conflict of one's life, i.e., trust vs. mistrust, adaptively, one develops the attitude of mistrust. This maladaptive resolution in the first stage has a life-long effect. Some of the consequences of mistrust are as follows −

  • It can make a child fearful and less open to people other than their primary caregivers. Children who usually cry when with strangers may have developed an attitude of mistrust during the first years of their lives.
  • It can also make a child suspicious and anxious in unknown places, among new people, and in new situations.
  • Such children may have attachment issues and may find it difficult to form healthy relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners in later stages of life.
  • Throughout development, it may affect the resolution of conflicts in later stages of life, leading to negative consequences like poor support, loneliness, isolation, and maladaptive attachment to certain people and objects.

How to Help Resolve the Trust vs. Mistrust crisis

Trust vs. mistrust is the first crisis one experiences in life and needs to be resolved adaptively. As Erikson suggested, development at this stage is determined by biological and social factors; therefore, its optimum resolution will also require a positive role from the family and society.

The family is the first to come into contact with the child, and the primary caregiver's role is the most imperative. Thus, the primary caregiver holds much responsibility when it comes to catering to the child's basic needs, giving him affection, loving him, and providing him with a conducive environment to develop. The family can also play a role, not only by sharing the responsibilities of the child but also by providing a positive environment in the family.

The social unit of which the child is part has both direct and indirect roles to play. To begin, society can provide support to child caregivers by, for example, providing maternity leave to both fathers and mothers. Further, society can provide a positive environment for both the child and the caregiver so that the caregiver is in good health (both mentally and physically) to nurture the child. Society can also educate the caregiver about child care so that the caregiver can take the best care of their wards.

Mistrust once developed during infancy, can also be resolved in later stages of one's life. This requires the companionship and love of a patient friend, teacher, parent, or romantic partner.


Trust and mistrust, when in excess, can lead to undesirable results. Therefore, the child must be given optimum affection and exposure so that the child is not only hopeful and expectant of consistency, continuity, and sameness but is also open to changes and only optimally trustworthy. This stage is important for developing one's ego identity and personality; therefore, it should not be neglected. An adaptive resolution during the trust vs. mistrust stage also leads to better outcomes in the upcoming stages. Overall, the first stage of psychosocial development is very relevant and has long-term impacts on the child's development.

Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47