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How Childhood Trauma Impacts Relationships

Psalm 107:2 “ He sent forth His word and healed them and delivered them from their destructions."

Children who experience trauma and dysfunction in their household often struggle to learn the same boundaries and behaviors that so many others seem to take for granted.

As a child is growing and developing, they look to their caregivers as examples of how to interact with the world around them. If those caregivers behave in dysfunctional or unhealthy ways, chances are high that children will learn to mimic these same unhealthy behaviors, even if unintended. “For many, the effects of abuse manifest in dysfunctional interpersonal relationships as the result of attachment disruptions at pivotal points of childhood development.” (Kvarnstrom, 2018)

Going back to childhood and adolescence usually sheds some light on adult behavior. The ways in which our caregivers interact with us, as well as each other, shape our view of the world and those around us. This will, in turn, affect three fundamental structures: our sense of self, the way we communicate, and how we form relationships. Unless we do the work to develop more self-awareness of our behaviors, we will usually repeat these same patterns into adulthood.

WAYS childhood trauma shows in adult relationships:

1. Fears of abandonment. Children who were neglected or abandoned by a caregiver often struggle with fears of abandonment long into adulthood, even if they are unaware of these fears on the surface level. While the underlying fear is that the partner will eventually leave, these thoughts often reveal themselves in everyday situations such as getting scared when a partner goes out by themselves or being unable to self soothe if a partner leaves the room during an argument. This fear is also often manifested as jealousy, or in extreme cases, possessiveness.

2. Getting irritable or easily annoyed with others. When we grow up in environments where we are frequently criticized, or witness others being criticized, we learn that this is a natural way to express our displeasure in relationships. We learn that our imperfections and quirks are intolerable, and project that intolerance onto our partners or others around us.

3. Needing a lot of space or time to yourself. Growing up in a chaotic or unpredictable environment creates a lot of stress, and often leaves children’s central nervous system in a constant state of hypervigilance. Then they become adults who need a lot of time to themselves in order to calm these symptoms of anxiety, nervousness, and fear. Staying home, where you can control your surroundings, feels safer and allows you to relax. In extreme cases, some adults even have traits of or meet criteria for social anxiety or even agoraphobia.

4. Unequal financial and household responsibilities. Sometimes this can look like a reluctance to rely on a partner at all due to fears of depending on another person. Other times it takes the form of taking complete financial and/or household responsibility in a partnership, or fully taking care of the other person to the point where you are taken advantage of. The opposite — relying too much on them to the point where they take care of you — is also a result of unmet childhood needs.

5. Settling and staying in a relationship much longer than its expiration date. When we grow up in unstable environments, with caregivers who struggle with drug addiction, mental illness, or even illness or death, children often develop a sense of guilt that comes from wanting to end a relationship before we have been able to "fix" the other person. Staying with someone who is not a good fit for us sometimes feels safer than being alone.

6. Constant arguing or fighting in relationships or avoiding conflict at all costs. All relationships have conflict, but children who grew up in environments where caregivers were always arguing, or who avoided any sort of conflict whatsoever, often do not learn the skills necessary to have productive and healthy communication. This includes healthy and productive ways to navigate and manage conflict.

7. Not knowing how to repair after fights. As mentioned above, when we do not learn how to have productive and healthy management of conflict, we also to do not know how to repair a relationship after the inevitable conflict that happens in partnerships. This can look like pretending it didn't happen, not knowing when or how to compromise on an issue or giving the silent treatment.

8. Serial monogamy. This is often due to fears of being hurt again, fears of being alone, or even trying to prove that you are worthy of the love and affection that you did not receive in childhood. With each new partner comes new hopes to confirm that you are worthy of the love and partnership you are missing

How to Heal from Childhood Trauma

Once you know how childhood trauma impacts adult relationships, you can take steps to undo the damage. If you or someone you know is in this situation, you must develop self-awareness to identify the behaviors. Otherwise, you’ll find that you continually repeat the same negative patterns. Survivors can overcome the damage caused by childhood trauma. While it might be harder to form healthy relationship; doing the work to unlearn the negative aspects of adult relationships is essential to growth.

1) Spend Time Self-Reflecting

Self-reflection is essential to growth and healing. During self-reflection, take some time to name the emotions you felt at the time of trauma and the ones you experience now. Then, allow yourself to feel the sensations and respond however you need to. When you feel the emotions, you get them moving and let them go.

2) Get Professional Help

Therapy can help with the healing process, holding you accountable and helping you through the emotions. A therapist can help identify the specific feelings, allowing for acknowledgment and acceptance. They’ll help you work through your feelings and acknowledge what’s going on in your mind.

3) Journal to Reflect on Your Adult Relationships

Writing experiences on paper can help you reflect on the situation. Take the time to write all the reoccurring traumatic thoughts you experience. Go in detail, describing what happened, how you reacted, and how you view the situation now.

4) Write a Letter That You Never Send

If a specific person is responsible for the trauma, you can write them a letter that you never send. Tell the person how they made you feel and what it did to your life in the letter. Say whatever you want in the letter and let out all your anger and other emotions. When you get the words out, you’ll feel much better. After your letter is complete, you can destroy it or save it, but you don’t have to send it.

5) Find a Support Group

You don’t have to overcome childhood trauma alone. Many people experience it and strive to heal from the experiences. Find a support group of other people who shared similar situations so that you can get some insight. Talking to others who went through it will help you remember that you’re not alone. Plus, you can learn from one another throughout the journey.

What do you need to aid you on your journey to IDENTIFY the Barriers (emotional wounds), END the Shame of Silence and RESTORE your voice? I want to help you. Book Your Discovery Call Today!

"If You Hide It, You Can't Heal It"

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