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Trust versus mistrust Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jan 14th, 2020


Erik Erikson’s model of psychosocial development is one of the approaches that are supposed to describe a person’s behavior across the lifespan. This model includes several important concepts that can be used for explaining the way in which an individual’s identity is shaped. In particular, one can speak about the stage, when a child learns to trust and mistrust.

This development stage can influence values, attitudes, and perceptions of a person. This is one the main aspects that should be distinguished. In turn, this paper is aimed at discussing these notions from biophysical, psychological, and social dimensions since they are important for the evaluation of a person’s development. These are the main questions that should be examined more closely.

On the whole, it is possible to argue that the choice between trust and mistrust has profound implications for the behavior of a person and his attitude toward other people. Additionally, parents and social workers should make sure that an infant is not exposed to significant hazards during this psychosocial stage.

This task is critical for promoting the socialization of a child, his/her self-esteem, and subjective well-being. This is the main argument that can be put forward.

Erik Erikson’s notions of trust and mistrust

According to Erik Erikson’s model, during the first fifteen months, a child should establish a “balance between trust and mistrust” (Ashford & LeCroy, 2010, p. 91). Provided that caregivers are responsive and consistent, an infant will be more like to treat the world as something secure or friendly (Sneed, Whitbourne, & Culang, 2006). Moreover, in the future, a child will be more willing to trust other people.

This is one of the possible scenarios that can be identified. In contrast, if a child’s needs are not met by parents, he/she will find it difficult to trust others. Moreover, such a person may often feel insecure. In the long term, this person will adopt a pessimistic attitude toward others.

These are some of the details that can be distinguished. At present, researchers carry out various studies that can verify the main premises of Erik Erikson’s model. It is necessary to identify the independent variables that can be used as the predictors of a person’s long-term development, and very often, this task is very challenging (Roisman & Fraley, 2013).

Nevertheless, Erikson’s model can be useful for explaining the legacies of early childhood experiences on the identity of a person and his/her perception of the world. This is one of the arguments that can be advanced.

Biophysical perspective

Erikson’s notions of trust and mistrust can be illustrated from various viewpoints. In particular, it is possible to the biophysical dimensions of this question. This approach implies that one should clearly evaluate the impact of biological factors on the development of an individual (Ashford & LeCroy, 2010, p. 50). These factors can manifest themselves during pre-natal and post-natal stages of a person’s life.

In many cases, researchers focus on the impact of genes on human behavior. However, in order to examine the relevance of Erikson’s theory, one should also look at biophysical processes that can be explained by external events. In particular, researchers note that during infancy, a person is particularly vulnerable to various biophysical hazards such as falls, burns, or even poisoning (Ashford & LeCroy, 2010, p. 242).

Ericson’s model implies that physical injuries sustained at an early can significantly increase a child’s sense of insecurity in the future. Such a person will think primarily about dangers or threats while facing various unfamiliar situations. Thus, parents should make sure that the risks of such events are eliminated or reduced to the minimum.

It should be kept in mind that at this age, a child acts as an explorer who wants to examine the properties of the surrounding world. This is one of the aspects that should be considered by caregivers. Overall, neglect is the main pitfall that they should avoid.

Among the main consequences of neglect, one can distinguish low-level of self-esteem, extreme risk aversion, and unwillingness to find creative solutions to difficult situations (Hildyard & Wolfe, 2002, p. 679). This is why this risk should not be overlooked by social workers. Moreover, such experiences as hunger can also prompt a child to mistrust other people.

On the whole, social workers should evaluate parents’ ability to meet the physiological needs of child because it is critical for long-term development of a child and his/her worldviews. This assessment is critical for the identification and prevention of possible hazards such as mental; disorders.

Psychological perspective

Apart from that, this issue can be examined from a psychological perspective. A child, who is only 15 months old, only forms his/her impressions about the world. Parents should attach much importance to the infants’ psychological needs. For example, they should be comforted, if they are frightened by something.

However, parents can fail to do it; as a result, infants learn to distrust other people. Furthermore, they may struggle with such problems as low self-esteem, continuous feeling of uncertainty in the future. Moreover, this individual may eventually develop a very pessimistic perception of the world. There are several factors which can make a child to be mistrustful.

For example, researchers point out that the exposure to parental conflicts can adversely affect the cognitive development of a person (Pendry & Adam, 2013, p. 502). This is one of the details that should be considered by parents as well as social workers.

These professionals should pay attention to several criteria, the possibility of attachment failure or the way in which the child responds to his/her parents. In this way, they will be able to identify potential problems at an early stage. These are the main strategies that can be adopted.

Social dimension

Social perspective is also important for understanding the formation of trust or mistrust. Infancy and childhood have not been closely examined by sociologists (King, 2007). Nevertheless, the ability to establish social ties is critical for the long-term development of a person. It should be noted an infant seeks to find a person who he/she can rely on. This role should be played by played by parents. Much attention should be paid to their responsiveness.

In this context, this term can be defined as the willingness or ability of parents to interact with children. Unfortunately, many children are deprived of this opportunity. For instance, one can mention that the children raised by drug-addicted, often feel alienated from their peers (Steinhausen et al., 2004). Additionally, this problem can be attributed to the failure of caregivers to interact with their children during infancy.

For example, researchers focus on mother-toddler relations because they can shape emotional development of a child and his/her socialization (Bocknek, 2012). According to Erikson, the problems, which can occur during the first fifteen months, can impair a person’s ability to establish social relations. In contrast, an infant, who learns to trust caregivers, has a better capacity to interact with other people.

This is one of the distinctions that can be singled out. Hence, social workers and educators should focus on the ability of parents to ensure the socialization of an infant. It should be borne in mind that the social threats to development often manifest themselves when a child grows older (Laucht, Esser, & Schmidt 1997).

One should not suppose they always become evidence during infancy. This is one of one of the tasks that should be considered by educators when they evaluate the development of a child. Moreover, it is possible to say that Erikson’s model can be a valuable tool for understanding the way in which a person’s identity can be constructed through various external forces.


It is possible to construct a scenario that can illustrate the relevance of Erikson’s model. In particular, one should focus on a situation which illustrates a child’s choice between trust and mistrust. For example, one can look at an infant who is breastfed by the mother. In this case, one should first speak about the biophysical needs of a child, for example, nutrition.

If these needs are consistently met, an infant will be more likely to trust other people and have a more positive attitude toward the external environment. In the future, this attitude can become a part of his identity.

In turn, he/she can become mistrustful, if the behavior of the mother is unpredictable, and she does not feed the infant regularly. Apart from that, the interaction with parents is critical for developing attachments. Provided that parents regularly play with the child, he/she will be more willing to take part in social relations.

Yet, he/she can become reticent if parents become irritant or emotionally distant. Thus, parents should remember that their display of emotions can have significant for the child’s later development. Apart from that, an infant can easily be frightened by sudden sounds or visual images.

In this case, parents should comfort the child, and if they fail to do it, he/she can become susceptible to various problems such as anxiety. This scenario is important because it illustrates the application of Erikson’s theory. Moreover, it throws light on various effects of this choice between trust and mistrust.


Overall, this discussion suggests that such concepts as trust and mistrust are critical for explaining various peculiarities of a person’s behavior. Certainly, at this point, Erik Erikson’s model still requires empirical validation, and it is necessary to carry out various studies that can highlight the strengths and weaknesses of this model.

However, its major premises can be important for explaining how the values or attitudes of a person are formed. According to this approach, an infant attempts to evaluate the world in terms of its friendliness, predictability, or physical comfort.

The main task of parents is to make sure that the child is safeguarded against various risks at this stage of development. It is critical to focus on biophysical, psychological, and social aspects because each of them can influence a child’s choice between trust and mistrust. These are the main points that can be made.

Reference List

Ashford, J., & LeCroy, C. (2010). Human behavior in the social environment: a multidimensional perspective. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

Bocknek, E. (2012). Maternal Psychological Absence and Toddlers’ Social-Emotional Development: Interpretations From the Perspective of Boundary Ambiguity Theory. Family Process, 51(4), 527-541.

Hildyard, K. L., & Wolfe, D. A. (2002). Child neglect: developmental issues and outcomes. Child Abuse & Neglect, 26, 679-695.

King, M. (2007). The sociology of childhood as scientific communication – Observations from a social systems perspective. Childhood A Global Journal Of Child Research, 14(2), 193-213.

Laucht, M., Esser, G., & Schmidt, M. H. (1997). Developmental outcome of infants born with biological and psychosocial risks. Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines, 38(7), 843-853.

Pendry, P., & Adam, E. (2013). Child-Related Interparental Conflict in Infancy Predicts Child Cognitive Functioning in a Nationally Representative Sample. Journal Of Child & Family Studies, 22(4), 502-515.

Roisman, G. I., & Fraley, R. (2013). Developmental Mechanisms Underlying the Legacy of Childhood Experiences. Child Development Perspectives, 7(3), 149-154.

Sneed, J., Whitbourne, S., & Culang, M. (2006). Trust, identity, and ego integrity: Modeling Erikson’s core stages over 34 years. Journal Of Adult Development, 13(3-4), 148-157.

Steinhausen, H., Mas, S., Ledermann, C., & Metzke, C. (2006). Risk factors for the development of emotional and behavioural problems in children born to drug-dependent mothers. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 15(8), 460-466.

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