Erik Erikson: Trust Versus Mistrust

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Introduction
Erik Erikson was a Danish theorist famous for his work regarding the eight stages of psychosocial development of human beings (Cote & Levine 2002, p.91). The first of these stages is ‘trust versus mistrust’ (birth -1 year of age) which he termed and developed in 1963 (Ziegler 2005, p.51). This suggests that once trust is established, the ego strength of hope in an infant will develop, resulting in the basis of successful future relationships throughout adulthood (Engler 2009, p.154) and ‘form a cornerstone for all manifestations of faith later in life’ (Peterson 2010, p.51). This exercise will (firstly) endeavour to explain how the first stage of Erikson’s theory relates to the development of attachment between the infant and their parent. Secondly, some strategies that could help parents develop that secure attachment with their child will be explored. There is a conflict that arises within this first stage of ‘trust versus mistrust’. In this stage the struggle is between two opposite personality characteristics within the infant (ie. trust and mistrust). This conflict is resolved by the child’s ego (Cuthbertson 2010), which can determine either a positive or negative outcome. In order for the infant to achieve a healthy socio-emotional identity each stage must be achieved successfully (Thomas 1985, p.236). The essence of Erikson’s theory is whether or not an infant can trust their world (Engler 2009, p. 154). How this occurs is through the experiences in which the infant has been subjected to and how the main caregiver (usually the mother), responds to the infants needs (Erikson 1963, p.249). Infants are completely dependent on their caregivers, so it is vital for the infant’s needs to be met sufficiently and efficiently (Gowen & Nebrig 2002; Erikson 1963; Ziegler 2005). The level of trust that emerges in this first year of life will not only play a large role in their emotional development but also, lay the foundation for Erikson’s next developmental psychosocial phases (Ziegler 2005, pp.122-130). Neglecting and being unresponsive to the infant’s cues is where the ‘mistrust’ can be established and consequently, the infant views their world as hostile and volatile. Psychosocial development can be hindered, which in turn can have negative effects on future relationships (Ziegler 2005, p.125). Therefore, forming a strong and healthy affectionate bond, known as a secure attachment between the infant and parent is crucial (Grant 2010). There are 4 main types of attachment: secure attachment (where the child is confident to explore their own world - the most favourable of all attachment forms), resistant attachment (the child will stay close to the parent and will not venture out), avoidant attachment (the child will avoid the parent as they feel it is not a ‘safe haven’ for them) and disorganised attachment (the child will alternate between resistant and avoidant attachments) (Gowen & Nebrig 2002, pp.17-18). The contributing factors that can affect the quality of attachment include the environment, such as the condition of the home. Issues of safety, sanitation, and parental situations (eg. mental illness/substance abuse) can all put secure attachments at risk. Without adequate care regarding these issues the infant may not feel as if his/her needs are being met (Gowen & Nebrig 2002, p.40). Other issues such as the parent’s knowledge of normal sleep patterns for a baby, the awareness of known cognitive development issues with their infant and the effects of post natal depression, are all significant when establishing a secure attachment between infant and caregiver. Being informed on the after effects of childbirth is certainly of the upmost importance (Dalton 2001). An infant’s temperament is also a deciding factor in the type of attachment acquired. The three temperaments are; easy, difficult and slow- to- warm- up (Peterson 2010, p.131). The main caregiver experiencing an infant whose...
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