Have you ever spent time with a person who doubted nearly everything they did or how about a person who is confident in their speech or actions? What if they grew up in the same household yet there this huge difference between the two of them? How can this be?
Erik Erikson in his eight stages of psychosocial development explains that between the ages of two and four a child learns either confidence or doubt. His second stage of development, Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt, recognizes the importance of the toddler to learn to do things or make choices on his/her own. Too often, this time is marked by the toddler’s repeated statements of “I do it” or “by myself” as an attempt to gain what little control they can. It is also marked by temper tantrums that seem to come out of nowhere, or do they?
The Psychology. A toddler is trying new things such as potty training, putting on their clothes, eating without help from a caregiver or pretending to read a book. They also like to mimic the behavior and attitude of the caregiver or other siblings in an attempt to learn more or do more on their own. But if the caregiver insists on doing everything for the child because they take too long or don’t do it the right way, the child learns to doubt their own ability. The child may choose mismatched clothing but the sense of accomplishment that they did it allows them to gain confidence. On the other hand if the caregiver reprimands the child, they feel a sense of shame and doubt.
The Child. As the child grows, this confidence allows them to continue to try new things and even though they may not do it right the first time, they have learned that they can keep working at it and eventually get it right. If however they develop doubt, they may be fearful of trying new things, insist that others help them, or throw temper tantrums when there is too much control or too little control. Either way, the child is not capable of controlling him/herself so they enlist the help of others using whatever means necessary including negative.
The Adult. An adult who has learned to be confident is willing to go after the promotion, be bold when asking someone out on a date, or be comfortable in a room full of strangers. An adult who has learned to be doubtful questions the logic of even the most basic level of decisions, seeks other domineering people to make decisions for them or is insecure even in parties where they know almost all of the people. This trail of indecisiveness and insecurity can sometimes cause them to feel shameful unnecessarily even when they have not done anything wrong.
The Cure. Once a doubtful person recognizes that they do not need to feel shame for their decisions, that they are entitled to make a decision and fail, or that they do not need input or approval from others they can begin to heal. While an overly controlling caregiver can stifle the growth of a two to four-year old, the now adult child can gain confidence from trying things in a manner different from how they were once trained. For instance, if the child was told they must match their clothing before leaving the house, the simple exercise of wearing mismatched clothing to the grocery store can become a new foundation.
One more thing to remember is that as a Christian you are not called to live a life of fear but rather a confident life secure in knowing that Jesus is your Savior. It does not matter what tragedy happened to you as a child during these formative years, what does matter is that you realize you are not bound to a life of doubt and shame but rather a life of freedom and independence.
Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort. If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment. Or you can send me a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org.