Jerry Duncan

Jerry N. Duncan | PhD, ABPP

As we continue from last week, let’s look at Erik Erikson’s second stage of emotional development.

Remember, his premise is that the stage preceding our current stage must have been successfully completed. Therefore, we will assume that we have come to this stage with a general sense of trust for the world.

Erikson believes this second stage is ideally resolved successfully between the age of 18 months to three years. The issue at this stage is autonomy vs. shame and doubt. This is a time in the the life of a child when skill mastery for self- sufficiency is typically occurring. Children at this age are learning to walk, talk, feed themselves and be able to go to the bathroom on their own.

If a child is encouraged and praised for progress they make, they develop a sense of autonomy that positively feeds their self esteem. If, on the other hand, a child is shamed, or too much is done for the child, the child develops feelings of shame and doubt and stays stuck at this stage of emotional development, in spite of the fact that physical growth and maturity is continuing.

Dependence on others for things we are capable of can be a crippling experience. The sad thing is, if we look hard enough, we can find individuals (or they find us) that are willing to “take care of us.” We never “grow up” emotionally.

It is also important to realize that we tend to become like the people we spend the majority of our time with. A person willing to “take care of” an emotionally dependent person is rarely healthy enough to model our behavior after. and sometimes that person’s need for control and appreciation creates a painfully abusive relationship.

God encourages our independence from the world. His directive is to “be in it, but not of it.” That means that we are to be present and involved with others, but to find our strength and purpose for living in our relationship with Him. He wants us to be confident that He will meet all of our needs as we are willing instruments of His in practical acts of love to those around us.

Again, it is never too late to do a stage correctly. If you were not encouraged to learn basic self-sufficiency skills as a child, you can learn “self-sufficiency” as an adult.

The statement is made, “The healthiest relationship you can have with another person is to not need them, but to want them. To know that you can meet all of your needs in healthy ways alone. That this person is a bonus — not a necessity.”

God has promised to those who choose to follow Him that He will make sure all of their needs are met in healthy and appropriate ways. He allows every person the opportunity to independently choose this relationship with Him so that as we trust Him to meet all of our needs in healthy ways, we will then be free to have self-sufficient, healthy relationships with those around us.

It is an interesting thought that in our trust and dependence in Him, we can be our most autonomous and independent selves with those around us.

Are you ready to declare your independence?


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