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”.

Adult Separation Anxiety

One of the consultant’s comments in my emotional development assessment was that I have a lot of separation anxiety. The rest of my care plan is also full of how I’m afraid to be alone. A little over three years ago, my psychologist at the psych hospital said basically the same by diagnosing me with dependent personality disorder (DPD). Then, I vehemently disagreed. It wasn’t just out of anxiety that I needed lots of care, after all.

Another reason I was in denial of my separation anxiety/DPD, is the judgmental way in which my psychologist approached the matter. She felt I just needed a good kick in the behind and for this reason discharged me from the mental hospital almost with no after care.

Of course, that’s not the way to treat dependent personality disorder. Besides, one of the main features of DPD is not physical dependence, but unquestioning compliance, which I certainly don’t display. I don’t lack assertiveness at all.

I want to clarify here that, at least in my case, I’m not unwilling to be alone. I’m alone right now as I type this blog post. When I’m mentally well, I can be quite happy being alone, as long as I know there’s someone available if I need them.

It’s all too easy to judge people with adult separation anxiety disorder or DPD. Usually though, it’s much more helpful to approach them from an emotional development angle than from a character flaw angle. I again at least don’t want to ask for attention all the time. The things that I get help with from my staff, even though I can sometimes do them myself, I don’t ask for help with because I’m just lazy. In fact, it’s often easier to do some self-care tasks quickly by myself than to ask for help, but then the tasks don’t get done thoroughly.

I have for the majority of my life figured out how to care for myself alone. That’s because, despite all the independence training I got, no-one started with the very basics. Besides, like I said yesterday, I don’t usually distinguish between feelings of hunger, pain, etc. Isn’t it a bit odd then that you’d expect me to remember to do the day’s self-care tasks (which are many!) and actually do them all by myself?

I am so glad my current care facility isn’t as judgemental as my former psychologist was. My current staff don’t assume unwillingness, like she did. We may not find out soon yet what will turn out to have been the best approach. It will also probably depend on what measure of success you use for the outcome: independence, mental wellbeing, cost-effectiveness, etc.