Jerry Duncan

Jerry N. Duncan | PhD, ABPP


I was recently inspired by someone’s act of selflessness.

As I thought about it later, I remembered that a man by the name of Erik Erikson developed a theory of how we develop emotionally. Where we are in our emotional development affects how we treat those around us.

Developmental theorists have, through the decades, attempted to explain how we develop intellectually, emotionally and morally. Erikson’s theory of emotional development sheds some light on how our growing up impacts our behavior as adults.

Erikson’s premise is that we have periods of time in our life that are critical for developing the necessary building blocks for the next stage in the development of our emotional maturity. At each stage we have a specific task to accomplish.

If we accomplish it successfully, we are then able to move on to the next stage. If we do not successfully resolve the issue at each new stage, we get stuck at that stage indefinitely. We may grow up physically, but we stay stuck at our last successful emotional stage of development with contamination from the failure of the stage we resolved poorly.

The first stage, “Trust vs. Mistrust,” occurs between birth to 18 months of age. If an infant’s basic needs of being fed, being held, having diapers changed when needed, etc. are met as the need occurs, this baby develops a general sense of trust for life, and a confidence in the future.

If basic needs are not met, or are met unpredictably, the baby will develop a general sense of mistrust for the world and the people in it. This emotional quality not only makes relationships with others difficult — Erikson believes that until this issue is resolved, a person cannot move on to the next stage. They become stuck.

It seems so unfair that we can be so negatively impacted by experiences in our life that occur at an age when we are at the mercy of someone else’s decisions. But, there is hope.

How we are at any particular moment in time is a result of what we have learned up to that moment. Anything can be unlearned, and something else learned in its place. Trust can be learned.

Independent of Erikson’s theory, doesn’t it make more sense to be a truster than a mistruster? Trusters get hurt and betrayed like everyone else, but they seem to be happier more of the time than mistrusters.

The Bible is full of encouragement to be a “truster.” The Bible calls it being “a person of faith.” I think the terms are interchangeable.

God has always had our best interests at heart. Trusting that that statement is true is the most significant and all-encompassing step of faith that we can make. It will help us in every area of our lives of trust/faith.

Anything God calls us to do, He helps us to do. And, he has called us to trust Him. He will help us develop a sense of trust that our own experience has robbed us of, if we will only ask.

As I mentioned earlier, anything we have learned can be unlearned, and something else learned in its place. You can learn to be a truster. You can develop the habit as a practiced act of your will.

And, when you are ready, you can ask God to help you with it.

He will.

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