Once again I come back to the question of faith and trust in the context of early childhood trauma. Is it possible to develop the capacity for trust and faith when the initial experiences were insufficient?
Being able to trust is of course the foundation for meaningful relationships with others and a meaningful relationship with God. We need to trust enough to be able to live: in our daily life, with others and in our care of animals and even as we tend plants… we have to trust that the environment, and by trust I mean believe enough, that all that surrounds us is not malign, or a place where we might be persecuted or people will serve us ill.
Of course for the severely damaged that can be a central problem and so a retreat from the world is needed. Others may move in or out of paranoia and lack of trust. Is it easier to trust when things are going well?
Both spirituality and psychotherapy offer a way into rebuilding basic trust and so having faith in the world and our place in it.
I particularly like the definition of psychotherapy according to Harry Guntrip. He writes that it is about:
‘… a reliable and understanding human relationship of a kind that makes contact with the deeply repressed traumatised child that enables one to become steadily more able to live, in the security of a new real relationship, with the traumatic legacy of the earliest formative years, as it seeps through or erupts into consciousness.’
Melanie Klein understood it too:
‘There is no doubt that if the infant was actually exposed to very unfavourable conditions, the retrospective establishment of a good object cannot undo bad early experiences. However, the introjection of the analyst as a good object, if not based on idealisation, has to some extent the effect of providing an internal good object where it has been largely lacking.’
If early damage can be recognised, acknowledged and to some extent partially healed, it may always be present, but there then can be a platform to develop further other strategies to repair the past and manage the present.
I like the hymn with the chorus that goes:
And I will trust in you alone
And I will trust in you alone,
For your endless mercy follows me,
Your goodness will lead me home
The ‘home’ here may be in part referring to post-death heaven, but we can also understand it as a state of mind where one is at One with God: at peace, no longer restless, connected to the Source of our being – Being itself. Then to put it also in psychological language it is about coming back to the true self or as Carl Jung might put it the Self.
And perhaps the verse contains another helpful insight that it is about ‘endless mercy’. Perhaps God’s mercy can help us trust through grace. In other words no matter what our experiences mercy and grace can cut through that and offer an epiphany in the sense of another perception of ourselves.
The Voice of God is heard in Paradise:
‘What was cruel has become merciful. What is now merciful was never cruel. I have always overshadowed Jonas with My mercy, and cruelty I know not at all. Have you had sight of Me, Jonas, My child? Mercy within mercy within mercy…’
Thomas Merton The Sign of Jonas