Friday, July 28, 2023

How Childhood Trauma Can Affect Adult Relationships


How Childhood Trauma Can Affect Adult Relationships

Trauma can drastically affect how someone lives and sees the world. When someone experiences trauma or dysfunction in their childhood, it can affect the way that they grow and develop, following them into their adulthood. Unfortunately, children learn their behaviors from their parents, so if their childhood is too dysfunctional, they might not learn the right, healthy ways to handle things.

In this article, we will look at how childhood trauma can affect your relationships as an adult.

Fear of Abandonment

If the trauma that a child experiences is neglect or abandonment, they might have a fear of abandonment as an adult. This can manifest as them worrying that their partner is going to randomly wake up and decide to leave them one day. They might be worried when their partner goes out alone or makes a new friend. They also may have trouble coping after a fight with their partner. If someone has a lot of jealousy issues or possessiveness, it may be a fear of abandonment that is linked to childhood trauma.

Constant Fighting in Relationships or Avoiding Conflict

When a child grows up with the trauma of watching their parents constantly fight, they learn that is how they should act in a relationship. This trauma can make someone constantly pick fights with their partners instead of using healthy communication. The other side of the trauma of growing up with parents who fight constantly is that the person grows up wanting to avoid conflict. They shut down at the first sign of conflict, avoiding fighting with anyone.

Easily Annoyed or Irritated by Others

When someone grows up in an environment where they are frequently criticized and see others in their family getting criticized a lot, they learn that this is the way you should express displeasure with someone. They are taught that their own quirks and imperfections are intolerable, so they need to tear down others around them in that way.

Not Knowing How to Repair a Relationship After Fights

When you grow up watching your parents fight constantly, then just pretend nothing happened, they do not know what to do after a fight. They might just pretend nothing happened, give their partner the silent treatment, or something else. This trauma can make it hard to maintain a relationship because they do not know what to do after fights.

Avoidance of Certain Things

This can manifest in many different ways, depending on the type of childhood trauma experienced. If they were in a traumatic accident, they might avoid driving, riding on buses or trains, or other circumstances for their accident. If they were attacked on the street, they might avoid going out alone at night or stay away from streets similar to the one they were attacked on.

Needing a Lot of Time to Yourself

When you grow up in an unpredictable or even chaotic environment, you grow up pretty stressed, which can train a child's central nervous system to remain in a state of hypervigilance. As an adult, they may end up with an anxiety disorder, and they might need a lot of time to themselves to help calm their nervousness, fear, and anxiety. They might choose to stay home where they can control their surroundings, turning down invitations to go out with their friends, especially to unknown places. In the most extreme cases of this childhood trauma, an adult might end up with agoraphobia.

Serial Monogamy

Let's say that as a child, you saw your mother go from man to man to man, never truly settling down. The trauma that comes with that might make someone think they need to stay in a serious relationship at all times, even if they are not happy. They also might grow up not getting the love and affection they needed, so serial monogamy is their way of trying to do that. Every new relationship brings with it the hope that they will find the love and affection they grew up missing.

Unequal Household or Financial Responsibilities

There are two ways that this childhood trauma can manifest. The first way is they can have a fear of depending on another person, so they take charge of the finances and household responsibilities. They may end up getting taken advantage of because they take too much care of someone. Another way this can manifest is by relying on your partner too much to take care of you.

Avoiding Relationships

When someone has the trauma as a child of unreliable parents, neglect, or abandonment, they can become too distrustful of others. They might be terrified that they will be hurt by someone who claims to care for them and avoid settling down with anyone. Staying free to leave a relationship is safer.

Staying in a Bad Relationship

When someone grows up in a highly unstable environment, it can cause them to stay in a bad relationship as an adult. They may have grown up with parents who struggled with addictions, illness, mental illness, or just a string of bad relationships, they might feel like they need to help fix someone, so they stick around. They were taught that they needed to stick around, even if they wanted to leave, because the other person may fall apart without them. It feels safer or easier to just be with anyone, even if they are not a good fit because it is safer than being alone.

Trying to Change Their Partner

The trauma of having unstable parents can make an adult think they need to make do with what they have and just try to change whoever they are with. They want to "fix" their partners to make them a better partner, and in doing so, they are showing themselves that they are able to have a stable and successful relationship.

Trouble with Intimacy

If the trauma that a child experiences is sexual abuse, they can struggle as adults with intimacy. They might have anxiety when it comes to being physically intimate with someone, or they might have trouble forming a connection for a lasting relationship. This also can give them lower self-esteem, so they might end up staying in a bad or abusive relationship because they were taught that is what they deserved. 

About the Author

Geralyn Ritter is an accomplished corporate senior executive, miracle survivor of the 2015 Amtrak train derailment, and author of Bone by Bone: A Memoir of Trauma and Healing. Geralyn is the executive vice president at Organon & Co., a new Fortune 500 healthcare company dedicated to the health of women.

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