Podcast # 10 Trust and The Life Cycle


If you prefer to read rather than listen, here is a transcript of the podcast.
(Also available in PDF format.)
Note: portions of the text may be slightly edited for clarity in written form.
Good morning. This is Dr. Gerry in The Psychotherapist’s Corner, 1490 WGCH. Last week I spoke to you about everyday unhappiness. What Freud meant by that term was that if we don’t really come to terms with everyday unhappiness, we’re just going to be subject to neurotic misery. Today I’d like to speak about some of the ingredients for happiness.

One of our great psychoanalysts, I’ve alluded to him before, Erik Erikson, came from Germany, taught in Harvard for many, many years, and wrote about the eight stages of man. How we humans grow in strength and confidence, and therefore are prepared for a certain sensible amount of happiness, and more specifically, so that we can experience a realistic form of freedom. Now, no one is absolutely free. In fact one of the goals of therapy is to enable a person to have more emotional freedom. And, if we have more emotional freedom we have more de facto freedom. Erikson spoke about eight stages we human beings grow through. And I’m going to talk this morning about a few of them, and we’ll finish them off next week.

Let me just mention the most basic stages, and then I’m going to double back and talk more specifically about each. The first stage he speaks about is basic trust versus mistrust. The second stage, around three to five or six years of age, is the experience of autonomy, versus shame and doubt. After that, from six probably up until about eleven or twelve years of age, is initiative versus guilt. The fourth stage, again eleven to twelve years of age, the specific ages are not that important, is industry versus inferiority, identity versus identity confusion. The next stage is capacity for intimacy versus isolation. As we grow older, the next stage is generativity versus stagnation. The capacity for what Erikson calls generativity. It’s his own term. Generativity mean’s a capacity to be wise, to be generous and to be emotionally sober. Generativity versus stagnation….and finally, in our last periods of our lives, ego integrity versus despair.

Now what Erikson is trying to outline here is that all through what we call the life cycle, nothing is set in stone. Even though therapists focus on our childhood and on our unconscious, what we deny and don’t allow into our awareness, nothing is set in stone. We are continually growing. We are continually facing issues in our life. And the role of the therapy or the role of maturity is to enable us to handle those issues so that they don’t overwhelm, but rather we’re able to integrate them so that we grow and expand. We should keep growing, really, right up until the day we pass.

Erikson speaks about the basic materials that make up the personal identity. And therefore go into what we call the experience of freedom. In order to do that, we have to actually start in the beginning. We have to go back to each of our childhoods to our individual Eden, the first months and years of life. It is really here, that it is believed that really some of the most formative years of our life. Think of a great oak tree. A great oak tree has very deep roots. So when I allude to what happens to us growing up in our childhood experience, all I’m talking about is the roots. I’m certainly not denying the tree. Sometimes in some of the psychology that we are exposed to in the media, we are given the impression that we can be a great oak tree, with very, very shallow roots. That’s not possible. Each of us never stands alone. This is one of the basic premises that we all recognize today. We exist in community from the first moment of birth on. Mother and child create a mood, as it were. And from their interaction, the child gradually builds up an emotional image of the world.

Now what’s particularly important for young mothers to realize, and for us to remind ourselves of, is that we don’t just know reality as if we’re a movie or TV camera just filming what’s out there. Our experience of reality depends on how we experience the world, in those first years of life. It doesn’t totally depend on that, but it certainly has one of its foundations in that. If the mothering environment is personal and stable, if it’s what Erikson and Winnicott call “good enough,” then the child will experience the world as fulfilling. What does that mean? It means that a child is not left crying too long, a child is not left wet in its diapers too long, a child is given enough food to satisfy its hunger, a child is held enough, a child is not exposed to wild noises, that there is a level of consistency. All of those everyday seemingly simple things, go into allowing a child feel that the world is reliable and safe. Namely, his or her inner needs, such as hunger or discomfort or love, are not overwhelming but are met by outer satisfactions.

But what makes us unhappy, when our inner needs as children or as adults are not met in the world? If they’re met, just “good enough” this is what Wainnicott says, we don’t have to be perfect parents. That’s just an illusion. If we start worrying about being perfect parents, we’re liable to drive our children and ourselves crazy. But we do have to be “good enough” parents. And “good enough” parents have consistency and stability. The gradual and repeated harmony of what Erikson speaks about as inner and outer interaction. Inner needs that the child has, outer responses of the mothering environment. The mothering environment can be Daddy as well as Mommy. Will be a source for a sense of the world as trustworthy, as a reliable place. If a child does not experience this, if the mothering environment is highly unstable to the child, varying her or his emotional and caring responses, then the child is not going to be able to experience the world as reliable. A person’s objective experience is going to be a basic mistrust in him or herself.

Now that mistrust, namely will generate later on, it’s not just for how we have to take care of kids. How we handle our first relationship, for instance, is going to affect how we handle our relationships in late adolescence and in marriage. As you know, sometimes many marriages founder because one or the other of the partners can’t really trust, can’t experience reliable stability in their relationship. They are always suspicious of their spouse. They’re always nervous about their spouse, or they’re always complaining that their needs are not being met. They will throw this out to the spouse and very frequently what they are complaining about is an inner discontent that has very deep roots.

In the technical language, inner needs that are unmet by outer confirmation, they wander aimlessly, as it were. If this happens an individual will develop a sense of homelessness and foreignness in the world. I think it is difficult for adults to understand that as infants and small children each person has to learn reality. Now, what does that mean? Each person has to learn how to interpret and respond to his or her experience, it is not automatic. This makes up the differences that we have. It’s the foundation for some wonderful experiences in life, and some dark experiences in life. When we get reversals as adults, even simple reversals such as we lose a sports game and refuse to shake the opponent’s hand, or we don’t come in first in a music show, if that suddenly throws us for a loop, what we’re really saying is that there is no inner stability by which we can accept reversal and still hold onto the experience that the world as trustworthy and that we are good, even if we have happened to have lost a game, for example. Basically, the capacity to trust a world and not to regard it as hostile, to have hopes and dreams and to work because one feels that one’s dreams can come true, means that in that the first six months to a year or a year and a half of life, the environment was stable enough to guarantee basic trust.

A lot of times, I’m speaking here about family. But on a wider framework, which I alluded to a couple of programs ago, is society. You know one of the signs of being civilized, and I used a kind of humorous example, was it was 12 o’clock at night, you’re in Vermont, you come to a red light, and you stop for a red light. You put a limit on yourself and you go when it turns green. There’s a side to that which I think that our society is fairly falling down on. We owe that to society. We obey laws because we owe that to society. Society also owes something to us. Society has to guarantee, citizens a stable environment and I’m not talking in political terms as in “the dole.” Society owes its citizens a stable environment. Society owes its citizens an environment where they can live, where their basic needs are met and the opportunity to meet those needs is given to them. That’s how we guarantee a basic trust and cooperation in society. I’m concerned that we have lost a certain amount of cooperation in our society and I’ve spoken about that before in terms of our capacity to cross-identify with one another.

Trust versus mistrust is not obviously an absolute alternative. In each of us there is a balance of moods. What we’re trying to describe here, is a preponderance of one mood over the other. If distrust is too predominant, we really become paranoid. We can’t connect with another human being. We’re distrustful that anyone could really care for us. We’re suspicious when we get reversals or setbacks. That’s a predominant mood of distrust. This is not to deny that people have moments of mistrust and doubt, but for a person to have autonomy or direction in his or her life, basic trust has to predominate. It has to predominate in different experiences. When a child goes to school, how do we know that they have basic trust or that they have an inner conviction that they can learn? Now the school has to promote that, and that has to encourage that, but without that inner conviction that one can learn, a person is going to have a lot of difficulties in school. When an individual gets into adolescence, and they start dating or going out with members of the opposite sex, they have to have an inner feeling that they’re good, that they are worthwhile, and not that they are hopelessly lost. Later on, when one gets to adulthood, one has to not experience setbacks as personal punishments. One has to experience that when someone disagrees with one, this doesn’t mean that they are disrespecting one.

These adult manifestations of mistrust really go back early in our life. People have to be able to disagree with us without our feeling that they’re against us. That’s something that we constantly have to remind ourselves of. Because as I’ve said many times, I think we’ve lost a little bit of that. I’m a man in my seventies. Certainly the political climate in our country has changed significantly in 30 years. We don’t seem to be able to allow disagreements, without impugning a person’s motives, without assuming hostility. Those are all signs of distrust and it concerns me, because we have to take care of the body politic, as well as the body personal. So the mothering environment has to try to be stable, has to try to be consistent. Which means that mother and father, or single parent, has to be happy enough, “good enough,” to try to convey that to the child. The relationship has to be “good enough.” Also, the mother has to realize that in the first few years of life, children take a lot of our time. They take a lot of our concern, they take a lot of our money, and we can’t resent it. It’s very important, particularly in the first few years of life. It’s like planting a tree, for those of you who are gardeners. You know you have to plant it and stake around it so it grows straight. Once it starts growing it’s okay on its own, but it needs help in the beginning. Almost all living creatures are like that. So when a person decides to have children, it’s important that they realize that children are not just a gift, a profound gift, but they are also an obligation.

Let me go into the second stage and then we’ll take a brief break. Erikson speaks about autonomy versus shame and doubt. The second stage comes between 15 months or so, and three years of life. When our emerging selves along the path of autonomy or shame have to be resolved. It is a time when as a child we have to learn to crawl. We have to learn to walk. We have to get away from mother. It is a time when a child has some rudimentary language and is able to distinguish him or herself from others. It’s very important during this stage that the child can start doing things for himself that earn a reward or a punishment. One has to survive humorously the “Terrible Twos.” But the “Terrible Twos,” those of you who are parents know this, is an enormous turning point in a child’s experiences. Am I allowed to have autonomy, or are do my actions simply produce Mommy yelling at me, Daddy yelling at me, and I’m a bad person”. We’re going to go into this a little bit more, but we’re going to take a break now for just a minute. [Commercial Interruption 00:16:35]

Dr. Gerry: Welcome back, Dr. Gerry, The Psychotherapist’s Corner. We’re talking about the eight stages of man, we’re talking about childhood now. We’re talking about different ways that we integrate learning reality, that’s really what we’re talking about. And why are we talking about it? Because how we learn reality as young kids is obviously going to affect us as adults. It’s very easy to say, “oh that doesn’t make any difference.” The image I’ve tried to suggest to you to keep in mind is that of a great oak tree. Hopefully we can all grow to be great oak trees, in whatever way that makes sense for our personal life. But, if we’re going to be oak trees, we have to have deep roots. We can’t have shallow roots. We can’t deny that there is a great deal under the ground. In fact, there is more under the ground than there is above the ground.

We’re talking about the second stage that Erik Erikson speaks about, autonomy versus shame and doubt. Anyone that’s been a parent knows that the Terrible Twos are comparable to adolescence. One of the first tasks of parents is that they have to survive. After they survive, they have to then convey to the child that their growing sense of doing things is not bad. They do have to be trained and they have to be given direction. In their mastery of the body in potty training, they have to be given the experience of mastery, not shame. In such a basic, simple human task as mastering our bodily functions, if the environment shames them too much, you lay the groundwork for an inner alienation from their own bodies. As if there is something bad or disgusting about our bodies, rather than we just have to learn mastery of our bodily functions…..very big difference.

You have to allow a child a certain amount of initiative. If they go under the sink and take out all the pots and start trying to fit them together, it’s not helpful to scream at them for disturbing your kitchen. It’s much better to appreciate in your mind, that they’re really growing in curiosity and then try to direct that curiosity someplace else. These are very simple everyday examples, but believe me, life is mostly made up of these very simple, everyday examples. If over and over again, a child is yelled at for crayons on the wall, you have to give him a piece of paper. For pulling the pots out, if you yell at him, if he or she is constantly yelled at, they’re going to develop a sense that their initiative is not good. This would certainly be groundwork for a depression later on in life, and for not really accomplishing as much as our God-given talents really enable us to accomplish.

This second stage of autonomy versus shame and doubt really introduces a child to history. In the first period of life, if we assume a stable environment, it is like a child is living in paradise. His needs are met, his desires for the most part are fulfilled. And, he’s living without time, without a real experience of time. It’s like our common “Garden of Eden”. Progressively in the second and third years of life, the infant begins to process a separation from the mothering environment. Separating both muscularly and verbally, and begins to develop some rudimentary awareness of the here and now, different from before. This creates a lot of difficulty as a child alternates between these states of awareness. You have to allow a child to separate, to slowly begin to have a sense of themselves and the mothering environment must allow this. The person in adulthood who can’t be without another person, the person who is constantly anxious that they have someone around them, has never worked out separation individuation. It’s a paradox that it is only when we know who we are, only when we separate, that then we can join with someone else. There’s a paradox but it’s true. If we know who we are, then we can join, then we can cross-identify, and then we can unite with another person.

During these years from two to three to four, a child is faced with a profound problem. Namely, the child discovers a good mother is also bad mother. Good Mother, who provides food, care, warmth and love, and who plays with him or her, is also depriving mother, Bad Mother. Depriving mother will not feed him or her immediately when they’re getting super ready. She says that he may not climb on the bookshelves and takes the paintbrush away and says, ‘I’m sorry you can’t paint the couch’. Bad Mother puts him to bed early. These are very everyday simple experiences, but Good Mother and Bad Mother is really the foundation of a lot of the myths such as the Good Witch and the Bad Witch. Though it sounds simple, one of our primary tasks in life is to bring these two mothers together, knowing that the world is sometimes depriving but without personalizing it.

This joins up with what we were talking about last week. Everyday unhappiness is not a term that we Americans particularly like. But everyday unhappiness means that we recognize that we don’t always get our way and that’s okay. I don’t have to always get my way. If I don’t, it doesn’t mean that the world has turned black. In adulthood, if a person experiences that when they don’t get their way, the world turns black, this really goes back to not integrating good and bad.

Winnicott, the English pediatrician psychoanalyst, has written about this stage between ages two and four. He talks about it as ‘the fall from grace’. A more complex reality now confronts the child, and conflicts between good and bad have to be resolved. Am I a Good Self, or am I a Bad Self? Is the world a good world, or is it a bad world? Am I welcomed into the world? When the world says “no” to me, does that mean I’m bad, or is the world just giving me a boundary? These are very simple examples I’m giving you. Yet, just think about it, especially those of you who are young mothers raising young children. Negotiate boundaries with love, with care. Do not make your child feel guilty. If a child doesn’t master potty-training right away, he’s not bad. He may be upset, his musculature may be growing slowly, he may be angry at you, but you must try not to be angry back. Because the mood that you set there, as the great St. Augustine said, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” So how young mothers and I include fathers in here today, because today many fathers take care of your children. How you handle these early stages, and handle the stage of autonomy, the breaking away and the “Terrible Twos” and the growing autonomy of the three and four year old, really sets the stage for how your child experiences adulthood.

Next week we’re going to get back to the fantasy stories that I’ve alluded to, such as Snow White and the Good Fairy Mother and the Bad Fairy Mother. These are all attempts in literature to try and depict some of the conflicts that we all experience during this stage and how necessary it is to resolve these conflicts and come to terms with both good and bad. I’ve spoken about learning muscular control. The child also learns that they have to respond to social demands, for example, as we mentioned, toilet-training is really a preparation of separation, individuation and learning social demands. You stop at the red light in Vermont because you’re able to control yourself. You don’t just go through it on impulse.

This learning to control yourself in adulthood goes right back to learning to control yourself as a young child. How parents handle tasks during this developmental period will, to a great extent, determine the child’s inner sense of personal mastery, over his or her actions. And it’s that sense of personal mastery that I want to leave with you. It is one of the most valuable things. Of course we want to give our children a good home, we want to absolutely give them love, we want to give them as much comfort as we’re able to, and certainly in our society we work very hard to do that. But let’s not miss the forest for the trees. We want to give them love and we want to give them a sense of personal mastery over their life. If we do that, we’ve given them something invaluable. Without that, no matter what other material things we give them, they will have an inner feeling of being deprived. Give that a little thought. Erik Erikson has a book called “Childhood and Society”. I’m going to talk more about these inner stages next week. If this interests any of you, I recommend that you go out and get that book, “Childhood and Society”. Thank you very much folks. We’ll be talking to you again next week. [Commercial Interruption 00:27:58]

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