According to Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, the trust vs. mistrust stage is a crucial phase for any infant. It begins at birth and continues until approximately 18 months of age.
Trust/mistrust is formed in an infant’s communication with adults and contact with the environment through the perception of sounds, light, heat, cold, and touch.
Erickson points to the key role of the mother in solving the problem of building basic trust in the world. The degree to which an infant trusts the world depends on the care shown to them.
When a child’s needs are fulfilled instantaneously, they feel well and are able to interact with others freely. It motivates them to think of the world as being comforting and that people around them are sympathetic and helpful.
The results of observations indicate that the lack of basic trust can seriously affect the professional activities, emotional stability, and personal relationships of an adult.
Overview of Erikson’s Trust vs Mistrust Stage
The trust vs mistrust stage is the first stage in Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development, which covers the period from birth to 18 months of age (Erikson, 1963).
During this stage, infants are confronted with the challenge of establishing trust in their caregivers and the world around them or developing a sense of mistrust and insecurity.
The key crisis or challenge in this stage is developing a sense of trust.
So, the main question of this stage is:
“Can I trust the people around me?”(Erikson, 1963)
Infants rely on their caregivers to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, and comfort, and they need to feel secure and safe in their environment.
When caregivers are responsive and consistent in meeting the infant’s needs, the infant develops a sense of trust and a belief that the world is a safe and predictable place.
On the other hand, if caregivers are inconsistent or unresponsive, the infant may develop a sense of mistrust and become fearful, anxious, or withdrawn.
It can lead to a lack of confidence in oneself and the world, making it difficult to form healthy relationships and establish a sense of security in later stages of development (Orenstein & Lewis, 2021).
The basic virtue associated with the trust vs. mistrust stage is hope, which Erikson defines as “the belief that a positive outcome will result from effort.” It refers to the infant’s faith in themselves and their ability to navigate the world around them.
Finally, an important event that occurs during the Trust/Mistrust stage is the formation of attachments between an infant and their caregiver (Ogden et al., 2022).
For example, feeding and sleeping together are important in helping an infant form strong emotional bonds and a sense of security.
10 Trust vs Mistrust Examples
- An infant who is fed regularly and comforted when upset learn to trust their caregivers and the world around them. They develop a sense of security and confidence in their environment.
- When a child is not given the attention and care they need, they may become uncertain of those surrounding them and their place in the world. In turn, it can manifest itself as fearfulness or nervousness, which will likely follow them into adulthood if unresolved.
- A baby who is left to cry for extended periods without comfort or attention may develop a sense of mistrust in their parents and the world. They may feel unsupported and unimportant in their adult life.
- When a caregiver is reliable and tenderly attends to their baby’s needs, the infant builds trust that they will be taken care of. As a result, babies foster a feeling of security through this dependable consistency.
- If a parent is inconsistent or unpredictable in their responses, the baby may develop a sense of mistrust in their ability to get their needs met. They may become wary and uncertain in the future.
- When an adult is excessively protective or authoritative, a baby may struggle to develop trust in their ability to explore and learn. They may become clingy and dependent for fear of the unknown.
- When a caregiver provides a safe and nurturing environment for a baby, they learn to trust their surroundings and develop a sense of security. It is especially important for developing a sense of autonomy later in life.
- If a parent provides an unsafe or chaotic environment, the baby may develop a sense of mistrust in their surroundings and become more withdrawn and fearful.
- Through regular cuddles and embraces, babies gain a sense of security in knowing they are deeply loved. As a result, these little ones develop into more affectionate and outgoing people.
- An infant who is neglected or rejected by their caregivers may develop a sense of mistrust in their ability to form close relationships with others. They may become more isolated and withdrawn when faced with unfamiliar situations.
Factors Causing Children To Succeed in Trust vs Mistrust Stage
Responsive caregiving, positive reinforcement, a safe environment, positive experiences, and supportive parents can help a child succeed in the trust vs. mistrust stage of development (Erikson, 1963).
Here are some factors that can help a child to develop trust:
- Responsive Caregiving: Infants need responsive and consistent care from their caregivers. When they promptly attend to the baby’s needs, the latter learns to trust that their needs will be met, and it fosters a sense of security.
- Positive Reinforcement: Encouraging positive behaviors and interactions, such as smiling and cooing, helps build a sense of trust between the infant and their caregivers. For example, when caregivers respond positively to a baby’s smile, it reinforces the notion that the world is safe and secure.
- Safe Environment: Ensuring a safe and stable environment for the infant is of utmost importance. By feeling secure in their world, babies will foster trust as they grow.
- Positive Experiences: Exploring and playing can help instill confidence in infants as well as foster their curiosity. Parents who allow babies to interact with the world around them are setting the stage for a trusting relationship.
- Supportive Parents: Caregivers who provide emotional support and are attentive to the infant’s needs help foster a sense of trust and security in the infant.
Trust vs Mistrust Positive Outcomes
The successful development of trust during the infancy stage can have a more positive outlook in adult life, can help develop self-esteem, and build healthy relations.
Firstly, children who develop trust during infancy tend to have a more positive outlook on life and relationships. They are more likely to feel secure in their relationships with others and to develop healthy attachments with caregivers and peers.
Additionally, infants who are nurtured through trust form a robust foundation of self-esteem and worth. They understand that they are cherished and honored, which leads to greater self-confidence and belief in their capabilities.
Finally, children who develop trust are more likely to form healthy relationships with others throughout their lives. They tend to be more open and receptive to forming connections with others and value the importance of relationships in their lives.
Factors Causing Children To Fail in Trust vs Mistrust Stage
Without the proper encouragement and development, a child can become highly distrustful due to unstable caregiving, negligence, mistreatment, separation issues, or even excessive protection (Erikson, 1963).
Here are some other factors that can impact a child’s ability to develop trust:
- Inconsistent Caregiving: When children do not receive consistent and reliable care from their primary caregivers, they may mistrust others and the world around them.
- Neglect: When parents fail to provide their children with the basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter, it can cultivate an atmosphere of mistrust toward others and their surroundings.
- Abuse: Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse can severely damage a child’s ability to trust others and feel safe in the world.
- Separation: Separation from a primary caregiver, whether due to divorce, death, or other reasons, can cause children to feel insecure and develop a mistrust of others.
- Overprotectiveness: When parents become overly protective, it can impede a child’s capacity to foster trust in themselves and others as they are not given the space or permission to explore the world around them.
Trust vs Mistrust Negative Outcomes
The failure to develop trust during infancy can have significant consequences on a child’s psychological and emotional development, leading to issues such as anxiety, depression, and even aggression.
Children who do not feel safe and secure may develop anxiety and fear. They may become overly clingy and dependent on their caregivers or may withdraw and become avoidant (Pitula et al., 2016).
Importantly, infants who do not experience consistent and responsive caregiving may struggle to regulate their emotions, leading to intense emotional outbursts or a lack of emotional expression.
Adults who did not develop trust in infancy may struggle with trust issues in their personal and professional relationships. They may have difficulty trusting others or may have a fear of abandonment (Pitula et al., 2016).
If one lacks trust, it can be difficult to form meaningful relations and experience intimacy in adult life. Being exposed emotionally may even be a source of anxiety for those who don’t have an established level of trust with others.
Overall, the failure to develop trust in infancy can have significant and long-lasting consequences on a child’s emotional and psychological well-being.
|Stage||Age Range||Key Question||Description|
|Trust vs. Mistrust||Infancy (0-18 months)||“Can I trust the people around me?”||The child develops a sense of trust in their caregivers if their needs are consistently met, or they develop mistrust if their needs are not met.|
|Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt||Early Childhood (1-3 years)||“Can I do things myself, or am I reliant on the help of others?”||The child develops a sense of autonomy and control over their environment, or they develop shame and doubt about their abilities.|
|Initiative vs. Guilt||Preschool (3-6 years)||“Am I good or bad?”||The child learns to take initiative and plan activities, or they feel guilty and anxious about their actions.|
|Industry vs. Inferiority||Childhood (6-12 years)||“How can I be good?”||The child learns to feel competent and confident in their abilities through school, sports, and other activities, or they feel inferior and incompetent.|
|Identity vs. Role Confusion||Adolescence (12-18 years)||“Who am I?”||The teenager explores and develops their personal identity, or they experience confusion and uncertainty about their role in society.|
|Intimacy vs. Isolation||Young Adulthood (18-40 years)||“Will I be loved, or will I be alone?”||The young adult forms close relationships with others, or they experience feelings of loneliness and isolation.|
|Generativity vs. Stagnation||Middle Adulthood (40-65 years)||“How can I contribute to the world?”||The adult develops a sense of purpose and meaning in life through work, family, and community involvement, or they feel stagnant and unproductive.|
|Integrity vs. Despair||Late Adulthood (65+ years)||“Did I live a meaningful life?”||The older adult reflects on their life and experiences a sense of fulfillment and acceptance, or they feel despair and regret over missed opportunities.|
Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development describes the trust vs. mistrust stage as the crucial stage for any infant.
This stage’s primary crisis is establishing a sense of trust in the world and caregivers, which sets the foundation for healthy development in later stages.
The consequences of failing to trust during infancy can be detrimental, while the successful development of trust can have a positive outcome on an individual’s adult life.
Factors such as responsive caregiving, positive reinforcement, a safe environment, positive experiences, and supportive parents can help foster trust in infants.
Ultimately, trusting relationships established in infancy can help children develop self-esteem and form healthy relationships with others throughout their lives.
So, when raising an infant, it is important to remember the importance of trust and how nurturing relationships with infants can help shape them into healthy adults.
Erikson, E. H. (1963). Childhood and society. London: Vintage Digital.
Ogden, N., Boyes, M., Field, E., Comer, R., & Gould, E. (2022). Psychology around us. John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.
Orenstein, G. A., & Lewis, L. (2021). Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556096/
Pitula, C. E., Wenner, J. A., Gunnar, M. R., & Thomas, K. M. (2016). To trust or not to trust: Social decision-making in post-institutionalized, internationally adopted youth. Developmental Science, 20(3), e12375. https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12375