The first stage, infancy or
the oral-sensory stage, is approximately the first year or year and a half of life. The task is to develop trust without completely
eliminating the capacity for mistrust.
If mom and dad can give the
newborn a degree of familiarity, consistency, and continuity, then the child will develop the feeling that the world -- especially
the social world -- is a safe place to be, that people are reliable and loving. Through the parents' responses, the child
also learns to trust his or her own body and the biological urges that go with it.
If the parents are unreliable
and inadequate, if they reject the infant or harm it, if other interests cause both parents to turn away from the infants
needs to satisfy their own instead, then the infant will develop mistrust. He or she will be apprehensive and suspicious around
Please understand that this
doesn't mean that the parents have to be perfect. In fact, parents who are overly protective of the child, are there the minute
the first cry comes out, will lead that child into the maladaptive tendency Erikson calls sensory maladjustment: Overly trusting,
even gullible, this person cannot believe anyone would mean them harm, and will use all the defenses at their command to retain
their pollyanna perspective.
Worse, of course, is the child
whose balance is tipped way over on the mistrust side: They will develop the malignant tendency of withdrawal, characterized
by depression, paranoia, and possibly psychosis. If the proper balance is achieved, the child will develop
the virtue hope, the strong belief that, even when things are not going well, they will work out well in the end. One of the
signs that a child is doing well in the first stage is when the child isn't overly upset by the need to wait a moment for
the satisfaction of his or her needs: Mom or dad don't have to be perfect; I trust them enough to believe that, if they can't
be here immediately, they will be here soon; Things may be tough now, but they will work out. This is the same ability that,
in later life, gets us through disappointments in love, our careers, and many other domains of life.