First year of life: Love & trust as basis for safety

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Photo: Liane Metzler, Unsplash

I tried to imagine how it was during my first year of life. I could not remember anything but as I was thinking back I experienced a sense of safety. I am of the opinion that it is due to the love I received as a child and the knowing that I could trust my parents. In order to verify my theory I did some research on what some of the well-known psychoanalysts wrote about the emotional development during the first year of an infant’s life.

In our first year of life the brain already starts to write the emotional manual for happiness. We write this manual based on our experience of the world. Melanie Klein (a psychoanalyst) states that two things form our experiences; what our caregivers provided as well as our ability as an infant/child to make sense of it.

As an infant our ability to make sense of things is very basic. According to psychoanalytical theory the ‘ID’ is the original system of personality. The ID wants to reduce any tension or pain. Its main aim is to satisfy the need for food and pleasure.

When the baby is hungry it wants to be fed to alleviate the suffering/ pain that is caused by the hunger. When the desire is satisfied the baby feels loved.

During our 1st year we live in the reptilian level of consciousness. Our life is only centred around day-to-day survival activities such as search for shelter and fulfilment of instinctual needs. According to Erikson if our basic emotional and physical needs are met in that stage of our lives, we develop a sense of trust. We start to build our ability to trust others and ourselves. The love we receive from our caregivers strengthens our bond with them and provides a sense of security that enables us to develop emotional healthy pathways in the brain.

However, if our desire for security was frustrated and our need for love not met, it may result in mistrust towards others. We may later in our life have an inability to trust. We may even fear forming loving relationships with others.

Therefore, some of the first notes in our emotional manual for happiness, is:

  • If you fulfil/satisfy my needs, I can trust you. If I can trust you, I am safe.
  • If my needs are met, I am loved. If you love me, I am safe.

The problem with these early notes, as Thomas Keating accurately indicates, is that ‘it starts out as needs, grows into demands, and can finally become ”shoulds’’. The result can be that the notes later in our adult life can look like this:

  • You should satisfy my needs before I can trust you.
  • You should meet my needs otherwise I can’t love you.
  • If I can’t trust or love others and myself the world is not safe.

The good news is that as adults our level of consciousness is more developed than when we were infants. We can change or rewrite our manual. Love can be reborn. Christene Caldwell writes:

‘When I accept myself, love is reborn. When nothing will make me abandon myself or hurt myself, love is present – I am loving myself in the same unconditional way that a parent can love a child. If I did not get this unconditional love the first time around, I must discover and re-create it in myself.’

Not every baby that is born in this world is privileged enough to experience the necessary love and trust. Many babies don’t experience the world as a welcoming place. Which in turn may influence how they behave later in life. The question I’m pondering on is how does knowing this change the way I behave towards others? Maybe a portion of the answer is in accepting everyone as they are. Maybe then love and trust can be reborn. And we can all start to build a safer world together. A world where it is safe to be vulnerable.

Learning: By loving and trusting others and myself I create a safe space to be vulnerable.

Healing question: How can I give myself (and others) the necessary love and trust in order to feel safe?