Is Trust Brain-Dependent?

(3rd in a series on trust in relation to Reactive Attachment Disorder)

In the post “Inability to Trust– Ultimate Implications,” I highlighted one critical implication of the theory that children labeled with RAD cannot trust others. That inability is said to be due to a brain incapacity, such as from brain “damage” (the pathological view) or brain “disorder” (the developmental view).

The issue of whether a child can trust others is important because beliefs lead to behaviors. Specifically, beliefs about relational trust inform and direct treatment of difficult children. For example, rage reduction therapy (holding therapy) and rebirthing have been forced on many children labeled RAD in an effort to coerce “attachment.” As a sick child absolutely must take his medicine to get well, so a mentally ill child must take his therapy. Not only does this therapy distract from God’s sure and eternal solution, it deliberately provokes the child to fear and anger, and in some cases it has led to death, such as in the April 2000 death of Candace Newmaker.

The belief about whether a child can or cannot trust someone is just that, a belief. In other words, it reflects an anthropology, a theology of man. (This is an example of how the psychologies are philosophies, not science.) The belief that a person cannot trust others is built on a foundational but unproven presupposition that man is essentially physical. In other words, it is presumed that the mind arises from the brain; the brain generates the mind. Whether from genetics and/or how nurture developed a particular brain structure, the child, including his character and behaviors, is a product of biological construction and processes. In answer, here are a couple of excerpts from my book Parenting the Difficult Child:

The idea of an inability to trust is based in psychological theory. Freud taught that a mind can be literally sick. Erikson taught that the first essential developmental stage is trust. If the baby does not learn to trust in infancy, he may never do so and is vulnerable to adult psychopathology. If trust for attachment does not occur, neither does optimal brain development. Neurons become disorganized, and so the child has no capacity for intimate interpersonal relationships once he matures. The child would comply if he could, but he cannot because of his disorganized brain development. Antisocial children have a brain problem literally preventing trust….

Developmentalism wrongly identifies the trust organ as the brain, which is a material organ. Scripture teaches that trust and distrust originate in the immaterial. Mark 11:23 says, “Whoever [tells] this mountain to move will succeed if he does not doubt in his heart, but believes . . .” (emphasis added). Experiences may influence neurons, but trust is ultimately a mind-moral-volitional issue.

Belief is an activity of the heart, not just the mind. Children’s brains may be composed of neurons, synapses, and chemicals, but children are not. There is a heart inside that cannot be reduced to neurons and synapses. The Bible shows us that the mind is not the brain; it is an aspect of the immaterial heart. The body, including the neurons, can influence, but on moral issues it is not determinative. Belief is an activity of the heart; everyone has a heart, and therefore, children can believe, or trust others.

I have belabored this point not just to correct a false belief and offer hope. The greater issue is the underlying belief system of parents. And underlying that is their source of authority. Parents, what will inform your theology of humans, of your child and how he functions–the psychologies or the Bible? You and I need to study the Bible to develop a biblical anthropology to guide our understanding of and treatment of our children.

That said, doesn’t the truth that trust is not a brain-dependent action offer great hope? Thanks be to God who is gracious and kind! Trust is a choice. If the Lord draws the child to Himself, He will enable the child to trust in Christ. Parents and caregivers can confidently urge a child who distrusts others to trust in Christ!


About Linda

Wifing, Singing, Studying, Counseling. I counsel at Gateway Biblical Counseling and Training Center. M.A. in Biblical Counseling. Certified by Association of Certified Biblical Counselors
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