How Childhood Trauma Impacts Adult Relationships, According to Psychology

How Childhood Trauma Impacts Adult Relationships, According to Psychology

adult relationshipsLifestyle

Childhood trauma goes well behind the younger years. Many people are surprised when they still struggle after becoming an adult. It causes issues throughout the person’s life, impacting their adult relationships.

Childhood memories should involve innocence, joy, hope, optimism, and wonder. Children should feel secure, protected, and loved by their caregivers, allowing them to form solid relationships. However, many people don’t have this experience, and the effects don’t go away on their own.

Trauma causes many effects beginning just after the experience and continuing for a long time. You might recognize some of the impacts discussed below as issues in your life or relationship, letting you know that you aren’t alone. It’ll also help you learn how to address the problems and overcome issues.

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What Experts Say About the Effects of Childhood Trauma on Adult Relationships

Trauma hinders a person’s growth and development, impacting the person they become. Children who experience trauma or live in a dysfunctional home don’t grasp the contact of how to behave in an adult relationship. They struggle to understand boundaries, potentially damaging the connection.

When a child grows up in a dysfunctional home, they learn inappropriate ways to interact with those around them. They watch their caregivers interact, so if the adults in their lives behave in unhealthy ways, the child will, too. Additionally, abandonment during stages of child development drastically impacts the child’s emotional growth.

The way caregivers interact with the child, and other adults shape a child’s view of the world. It affects their sense of self, how they interact with others, and how they form and maintain adult relationships.

For a child to learn how to have healthy attachments, they must see their caregivers behaving appropriately. They also need a sense of love and security in their home to give them the confidence to grow. Children need to have a healthy relationship with their caregivers to receive the support they need to learn to behave.

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Types of Childhood Trauma That Can Carry Into Adult Relationships

When a child experiences trauma, it interrupts their development and causes problems throughout their lives. However, dysfunctional households and parental abandonment aren’t the only traumatic experience a child can go through. Other examples of trauma include the following:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Hospitalization or surgery as a child
  • Intense bullying
  • Natural disaster
  • Witnessing domestic violence
  • Neglect

How Childhood Trauma Impacts Adult Relationships

Childhood trauma permanently impacts a person, eventually affecting their adult relationships. It leads to unhealthy situations and many other issues that you must address.

Fear of Abandonment

Children abandoned by someone who should have cared for them struggle with fears of abandonment throughout their lives. When they enter an adult relationship, they might live with the fear of their partner leaving because they have a hard time trusting people. They often don’t even realize the issue, but you can recognize it with the following signs:

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  • Worrying whenever a partner goes somewhere without them
  • Not being able to calm down when a partner walks away during an argument
  • Jealousy or possessiveness
  • Ignoring their needs or wants to please a partner
  • Co-dependency

Getting Easily Annoyed or Irritable

Growing up in a home with constant criticism creates an adult who gets easily annoyed or irritated with others. The critical comments can be directed at the child or other people, but it still affects their adult relationships. They learn that lashing out when someone isn’t perfect is how to express their displeasure.

Additionally, it teaches the child that imperfections and unique qualities are unacceptable. The trauma survivor projects that idea onto those around them, becoming irritable in the slightest situation.

Need Frequent Alone Time Throughout Adult Relationships

Experiencing trauma as a child can lead to needing lots of time alone as an adult. This behavior often stems from living in a stressful or chaotic environment, causing a hypervigilant central nervous system.

In adulthood, the person might require this alone time to control anxiety and nervousness. They’ll often want to stay home because they can maintain the environment, feel safe, and relax. It impacts adult relationships because it’s hard to meet other people. Plus, they must find someone who doesn’t mind their preference for staying home and being alone.

Staying in Unhealthy Relationships

Childhood trauma can cause someone to settle and stay in an unhealthy relationship much longer than they should. If the child had a caregiver who struggled with addiction or mental illness, they might feel guilty for leaving relationships. They’ll feel like they have to fix the person rather than walk away when they see red flags.

Other times, a trauma survivor might stay in an unhealthy relationship out of fear of being alone. They’ll feel safer with a partner, even if that person isn’t good for them. They might also be so accustomed to toxicity in relationships that they think it’s normal.

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Additionally, the survivor might think they are unworthy of anything better, so they settle for people who aren’t good for them. Staying in an unhealthy relationship often results in constant arguing or fighting or avoiding conflict entirely. There will likely be a lack of communication without the skills to navigate hardship productively.

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Being Afraid to Commit

While some trauma survivors commit to relationships they shouldn’t, others are afraid to commit at all. They might worry that they are settling, or they might be fearful of relationships. This situation often occurs for those who had unreliable caregivers or experienced abandonment.

The trauma leaves the survivor being distrustful of anyone who says they care. They’ll assume everyone will hurt them eventually, so they avoid settling down as a way to play it safe. If they commit to a partner, they’ll likely experience trust issues because they learned early on not to trust anyone.

They Try to Change Others

Childhood trauma sometimes causes people to try and change the people in their lives. They might try to change things about their partner to calm personal fears in the relationship. Trauma survivors feel the need to fix others, even if they don’t need or want to change.

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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 of childhood abuse can overcome the damage caused by childhood trauma. While it might be harder to form healthy relationships, they can let go of the negative perceptions. Doing the work to unlearn the negative aspects of adult relationships is essential to growth.

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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.

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.

Journal to Reflect on Your Adult Relationships

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

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.

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.

Use Positive Affirmations

When trauma has left you with a diminished sense of self-worth that affects your adult relationships, affirmations can help. Positive affirmations can help you release negative thoughts and replace them with helpful ones. As you repeat the positive phrases, it rewires your brain and allows you to see the good in yourself and the world around you.

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Final Thoughts on How Childhood Trauma Impacts Adult Relationships, According to Psychology

The effects of childhood trauma don’t disappear as a person reaches adulthood. Instead, it shows in different ways, including impacting adult relationships. While it might seem hard to overcome, you can make it happen.

As you process and heal from trauma, you’ll notice significant improvements in your life. Your relationships will thrive, and you’ll experience more meaning and fulfillment.

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Sarah Barkley is a lifestyle blogger and freelance writer with a Bachelor's Degree in Literature from Baker College. She is experienced in all things related to parenting, marriage, and life as a millennial parent, but loves to learn new things. She enjoys the research that goes into a strong article, and no topic is off-limits to Sarah. When she isn't writing, she is immersed in a book or watching Gilmore Girls. Sarah loves reading classic novels but also enjoys a good thriller.

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