Basic Mistrust

I have been compelled to read up on emotional and psychosocial development. One theory is Erik Erikson’s theory, which states that, at each different stage in life (from infancy to old age), a particular conflict is present. In infancy and early toddlerhood, this conflict is basic trust vs. mistrust.

I initially thought that this stage corresponds pretty much to the first adaptation phase in attachment theory, which takes place between birth and age six months. When I checked it though, it includes this stage as well as the first socialization phase, age six to eighteen months. This may be one reason why I relate strongly to basic mistrust even though, in attachment theory terms, I function in most areas consistent with the first socialization phase.

One thing I’m facing lately is a chronic feeling of anxiety and distrust. In my care plan, my emotional development is outlined and in the fear domain, I am said to function at an age comparable to somewhere between zero and eighteen months. This includes all of Erikson’s first stage of psychosocial development. By contrast, it encompasses both the first adaptation and first socialization phase of attachment development. The reason my development in this area isn’t pinpointed to either of these two phases, is that I experience both basic fear (consistent with the first adaptation phase) and strong separation anxiety (consistent with the first socialization phase). Apparently, a baby under six months cannot yet express separation anxiety.

I have little idea why I might experience such strong anxiety, as in, what in my early development contributed to it. I mean, my parents claim I didn’t have these issues until I started to lose my eyesight at age seven. Seven is another important age in both cognitive and psychosocial development, but I don’t think that one is particularly important in my life. The earlier stages seem to make far more sense to me.

Of course, I do know that I probably didn’t have optimal care in my early life. This isn’t anyone’s fault. I was, after all, born prematurely and spent the first three months of my life in hospital. Though my parents visited me often, I don’t think I could rely upon them for meeting my every basic need. After all, they cannot possibly have been in my proximity 24/7, like the mother of a typically-developing child usually is at least for the first few weeks to months. My nurses must’ve provided me feeding and comfort at least part of the time.

As for affection, I have absolutely no idea. NICU nurses aren’t likely to be able to provide any significant level of affection to a baby at all, but I guess my parents would’ve made up for that. I went into this when discussing mother as source and mother as place of attachment. The truth is, I honestly mostly rely on my current feelings to guide my ideas. I, after all, don’t have many early memories of affection. My first memory related to it is from age four or five and it involves my mother using a nickname for me that referred to her needing to be at my side all the time. Then again, most people don’t have many early memories at all and remembering is still a form of reconstruction. In other words, because I experience a lot of basic mistrust now as an adult, it is easier for me to remember the memories that point to this.

This post was inspired by Fandango’s one-word challenge (#FOWC), the word for today being “Basic”.

A Phone Conversation with My Mother

Last Monday, my mother called me. She rarely if ever used to call me when I still lived with my husband, but now she’s been the first to attempt contact a few times already. I don’t know whether I need to feel bad about not contacting her first, as conversations usually get uncomfortable for both of us.

Like, on Monday, I had just been in an angry outburst when she called. I couldn’t avoid telling her, as I needed a few minutes to regroup. That caused the conversation to center on my (perceivped by either of us) problems and my mother’s attempt to solve them. She was offering me all kinds of advice. If I just stop panicking at frustrating situations or learn to cope with unexpected change, I’ll be able to live with my husband again. I never even said I want to leave the care facility. Of course though, I’m supposed to have this as my ultimate goal anyway. Who, after all, would choose to live in care if they didn’t absolutely need to?

I was terribly triggered by my mother’s unwanted advice. When processing this conversation with my husband yesterday though, I was reminded of her perspective.

You know, I was born prematurely. My mother already feels guilty about that to some extent, as if she was the one kicking me out of her womb. Well, obviously she wasn’t.

Then in our discussion, I disclosed to my husband that I was most likely exposed to valproic acid, an anticonvulsant, in utero. My mother isn’t certain of it, as she took different anticonvulsants for her epilepsy over the years. However, all valproates and most other anticonvulsants have some risk of affecting the fetus when taken by pregnant women. The realization that this might’ve contributed to my developmental disabilities, didn’t happen right away even though in the 1980s, valproates carried warning labels already. It probably came when I was last assessed for autism in 2017 and my mother was asked whether she took any substances or medications during pregnancy. At around the same time or shortly before, there was an article in the newspaper my parents read about large numbers of French women being given valproic acid during pregnancy as late as 2014. This lead to over 4000 children having serious birth defects and even more having developmental disorders. Up to 40% of children exposed to valproates in utero are autistic.

My husband expressed that this may be a factor in my mother’s trying to deny the significance of my autism. After all, if she did something to contribute to me being disabled, she’d have to deal with immense guilt if admitting its full significance. Then it is more understandable that she’s in some denial. It may also explain, I now realize, why she’s trying to “fix” me. I told her she doesn’t need to, but she remains my Mom.

For clarity’s sake, a pregnant woman getting a seizure may be harmful to both mother and child and my mother said this risk was fairly high in her case if she didn’t take meds. I don’t know, as my mother has been seizure-free for 30+ years and off meds for as long as I can remember. However, I mean this to undo the blame. The doctors did what they thought was best, at least that’s what I assume. My mother and I have some questions here too, as my mother also took part in a trial of aspirin to prevent premature birth, which obviously didn’t work. My mother at least did what she thought was best. She never intended to have me early or cause me fetal anticonvulsant syndrome. More importantly though, there’s no need to fix me. I’m content the way things are right now.