Most of us live in a state of constant harmony, without fear of very much anything. Here's why you should thank your mother for that.
From the Developmental Perspective, and specifically discovered by Dr. Erik Erikson, during the infancy of many animals and humans they must first surpass a psycho social crises of establishing basic trust versus basic mistrust. We are born with trust but are conditioned to invest it in our first caregiver who, for symbolic reasons, I will call the mother. The outcome of this trust will then go on to be associated to a degree with every new stimulus, or person, place, and thing we encounter.
We perceive the world through what we know or through what we've remembered. Our memorage of a past experience changes by either accommodating what we know to a new substantial thing we have learned or assimilating a new small thing we have learned to what is already known. The first of which is like going outside for the first time and changing our world view to encompass more than just the house (Accommodation). The second is like when we first see a horse and infer it must just be a large dog given that it has similar characteristics to the house pet we grew up with (Assimilation). Our feelings of safety toward something is an assimilation of the new thing we've encountered in terms of what we already know.
As grown ups most everything is similar to something safe or has been seen to be interacted with safely. For instance, how did you know when you opened up your computer today that it wouldn't electrocute you. Because it never did before? How did you know the first time you used a computer that it was safe?
Unlike sea turtles who hatch independent of their parents, a human baby will quickly die if it is not taken care of immediately after being born. We need to trust to live. Our mother is who we originally rely on. We grow up watching her. What she fears we fear. What makes her happy makes us happy. She taught us who, what, and whether or not to trust. From her we went on to methodically assimilate the rest of the world like a continuously branching tree.
I'll use my dog's experience as an example of the ramifications of trust (or in this case
mistrust). When Luna was young the metallic gate we used to stop her from leaving the
room fell over near her making a loud and distinct clanging noise. From this point on any time this gate was moved, touched, or even walked near she would cower and scurry away. I have come to notice two other objects that she directly assimilated trustworthiness from the original gate: a separate plastic gate given its resemblance to the original and any metallic object such as the basket we keep her toys in. While the latter one did not scare her upon first sight, the second that metal noise was made when it was moved or touched she immediately believed it to be a threat and still does to this day. The similar traits of these objects, either in site or sound, to the original malevolent gate which 'threatened' her when she was young are now just as intimidating to her, though neither has caused any harm.
All experiences are trustworthy until proven or understood otherwise. An association can be read in a book, or seen on television and does not have to be experienced. We know not walk in front of a car without having to try it personally. This is how our basic trust is built on. Developing from the first establishment of basic trust with the mother, a child will then go on to associate a degree of trust with every item and situation they encounter to develop a cognitive Underlying Trust. While we may not realize it, every successful interaction with anything that does not give us butterflies or trigger the fight or flight response has been deemed trustworthy and associated to be as such. It happens behind the scenes, that is why it's 'underlying'.
More often than not we successfully develop and live in a healthy web of this trust, but our brain is made up of individual memorages or schemas which act as 'blocks' we separate our knowledge base into (such as the dog and the horse). These can have specific areas of mistrust. Basic psychology shows that when one loses a parent at a young age they are likely to go through life believing that those nearest to them will leave them, until proven otherwise. Similarly, Agoraphobics who have a fear of leaving their house, are not living a life of mistrust, but have associated the world as a whole with being untrustworthy. They no longer even consider the individual interactions that come with being outside.
Imagine our trust as a seed which branches into a massive tree of all our associations. While we may have a few decaying or broken branches of fear (like snakes or heights), overall we're confident and outgoing. However, when this seed is poisoned to begin with, the tree that grows from it is weak and decrepit. When a person is young and made to mistrust most things, they (like Luna) further assimilate the rest of what they encounter to be just as untrustworthy. They develop an underlying mistrust of the world. This most often happens when an early caregiver neglects their infant or fails to allow them proper exposure to new things. After all, a child exposed to more illness when young will grow up to have a stronger immune system.
Given that trust has been stated to be a degree, mistrust is a misnomer but should instead be viewed as a lack or low degree of trust and is only used here for distinction.
The most prominent outcome of leaving our first psycho-social crises with full blown basic mistrust is Schizophrenia. There are versions of it which cause the sufferer to live in constant paranoia like the famous economist John Nash portrayed in the film A Beautiful Mind. He and others like him have what can be interpreted as a specific fear of most people, places, and or things they encounter. Other versions of the disease can only think using their harshest memories, such as giving a presentation and only being able to think about the scariest aspects. While those with anxiety and depression dwell on the negative, these individuals can't actually comprehend anything else. Trust is confidence.
Thanks for reading and be careful what you trust, the ramifications can be more than you know. This article is how about how we live in constant security based on what we have learned to trust. In my next article on this subject I'll talk about the first conditioning of trust with our mother and how it established to begin with.
For further understanding of the science that goes into the conditioning and expansion of underlying trust check out my dissertation The Association and Ramifications of Basic Trust as a Conditioned Response. For the references used in this article check out the text highlighted in blue or the end of my dissertation. Don't forget to subscribe for updates on new article posts and please leave any comments below!