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  • Jesslyn

Trust versus mistrust

I wear my heart on my sleeve in social settings. I am not very skilled at leaving my past at the door. I like to reflect, learn from it, and discuss it with others. Because the friendships I nourished in my hometown were so deep and nearly decades long, I was surprised at how closed off some of my peers could be in college. There is nothing wrong with leaving pieces of yourself in the past - I just did not know how to. Now I see that for many, university is a fresh start and a way to proclaim yourself a blank slate.


I used to think you could solely reinvent your fashion sense or hairstyle, which is a very surface level way of viewing the metamorphosis that college produces. After a year of college (albeit half in Australia and a quarter online in New Jersey), my friends and classmates and Instagram acquaintances may look the same as they did in high school, but mentally shifted. There are of course some exceptions, those who avoided growth and remained in the same mental space as their junior or senior year of high school. Most of the amazing people I met in college I jumped into trusting, despite knowing them for only a few weeks or months.


College can deceive you by placing you in the same setting with the same people and make you believe you know their histories, simply by being around them all the time. In reality all you know is them presently.

 

Me outside my Bat Mitzvah party (ew)


Prominent psychologist Erik Erikson theorized that people undergo eight stages of social development. The first is trust versus mistrust in infancy, second is autonomy versus shame in toddlerhood, and so on. Identity versus role confusion is the stage that my college peers and I supposedly fall into, encompassing 13 to 21 year olds. I think there are several substages within this time frame, since obviously me as a sophomore in college is not quite experiencing the same frustrations and responsibilities as me par-Bat Mitzvah. I actually believe college students experience the "trust vs. mistrust" stage again, with other peers symbolizing the caregiver we look to for approval and reliance.


Distinguishing trust versus mistrust in babies determines (according to Erikson) one's level of confidence in oneself and others. Whether your primary caregiver was attentive and gave you what you needed as a newborn, babies have hope in the immediate people around them. If not, babies experience fear in everything, and attachment becomes more tenuous as distrust grows over even those closest to them. Back to college: some feel reborn, in a way, in inventing or exploring different aspects of their identity. Figuring out who to trust and keep around is a huge adjustment when entering this random new pool of like-minded students. Thus, a key phase of growing into this new environment is over-trusting or under-trusting. This may include oversharing awkward stories from high school at a party with people you meet for the first time that night, or choosing not to share the status of your parents' marriage with someone you've been dating for a month.


Unfortunately, many learn to be cautious with who they dish out trust to from more drastic experiences. The amount of people I know who have had negative experiences from being experimental with who or what they surround themselves with, especially during freshman year, is astounding. In no way is it the fault of those exploring that they over-trusted; most things or people seem trustworthy on the surface, especially if you are in an altered state of consciousness. The adrenaline of being a freshman tossed into a new environment is a drug enough to challenge and stomp out a thought in the back of your head that says, "Can I trust this new person? What kind of high school did they say they went to again? Do they have a sister?"

Despite being a slightly more anxious person and plan-ahead kind of girl than most, in college, I have trusted when there was not sufficient reason to trust.


Being in quarantine actually gave me time to grasp a greater sense of trust versus mistrust. Ruminating on prior events when there really was nothing else to fill the time with may have been productive in the long run. Through keeping a journal, attending virtual therapy with a lovely woman named Zuleima, and trusting in those friends I've had for half my life (or since the beginning of Australia), more self growth emerged than if I was not sitting at home for seven months. I grew out of the "trust versus mistrust" phase and back into my righteous "identity versus role confusion" stage where I should be, attempting to figure out my career path and graduate school and whether I want to be a vegetarian, and so on. (But probably not on the ladder.)

(Me as a baby)

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