Autonomy Versus Shame and Doubt

If early childhood is a time for self-expression and autonomy, then it is also a thne for shame and doubt. As children stubbornly express their anal-urethral-muscular mode, they are likely to find a culture that attempts to inhibit some of their self-expression. Parents may shame their children for soiling their pants or for making a mess with their food. They may also instill doubt by questioning their children's ability to meet their standards. The conflict between autonomy and shame and doubt becomes the major psychosocial crisis of early childhood.

Ideally, children should develop a proper ratio between autonomy and shame and doubt, and the ratio should be in favor of autonomy, the syntonic quality of early childhood. Children who develop too little autonomy will have difficulties in subsequent stages, lacking the basic strengths of later stages.

Accordhig to Erikson's epigenetic diagrams (see Figures 9.1 and 9.2), autonomy grows out of basic trust; and if basic trust lias been established in infancy, then children leam to have faith in themselves, and their world remains intact while they experience a mild psychosocial crisis. Conversely, if children do not develop basic trust during infancy, then their attempts to gam control of their anal, urethral, and muscular organs during early childhood will be met with a strong sense of shame and doubt, setting up a serious psychosocial crisis. Shame is a feeling of self-consciousness, of behig looked at and exposed. Doubt, on the other hand, is the feeling of not being certain, the feeling that something remains hidden and cannot be seen. Both shame and doubt are dystonic qualities, and both grow out of the basic mistrust that was established hi infancy.

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