How Childhood Trauma Affects Your Adult Relationships

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” ~ Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I have yet to come across someone who hasn’t witnessed some sort of trauma in their childhood, but I have met many who don’t talk about it. Dysfunctional patterns passed down over generations does not make the behaviour correct, no matter how many generations have carried them forward.

In the past I have written about my personal trauma and the effects it has on adults, today we’re going to take a look at how trauma affects your relationships.

Our own marital relationship

When Bhavika and I got married over a decade ago, there was one thing we both were sure of, we did not want to have a relationship like how our parents had with each other. Both of us come from homes that had too many fights, screaming and shouting and both of us wanted to strive to ensure a more peaceful environment.

But after living the first few years with someone you truly begin to see each other, when the glossiness of fresh love fades. We had our share of fights, screaming, shouting, banging doors and the works, but what it made us realise is no matter how much we wanted things to be different the patterns that have been been passed down during our childhood, are far easier played out than what one desires.

Each one of us had our own set of issues that we brought to the table, but both of us wanted to grow and work on our selves to become better.

“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood ― establishing independence and intimacy ― burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships. She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.” ~ Judith Lewis Herman

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

Your relationship with your children

One of the most fruitful, difficult and challenging parts of human life is parenting. Children know how to push your buttons and when buttons are pushed we tend to react the way we have subconsciously picked up from our parents – how they spoke to us, acted with us is ingrained in our subconscious mind as generational curses or blessings, depending on how they handled the situation.

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” ~ James Baldwin

Especially when you’re angry, if you pause and notice how you have reacted to your child’s behaviour, many a time you would find that you are acting exactly how your father or mother reacted or treated you.

Even when you aren’t triggered, if your father or mother weren’t around much, you may find it hard to bond with your own children. Sometimes even drowning yourself in other mundane activities like work, socialising or even entertaining yourself on your phone or in front of the TV rather that creating healthy connections.

“Your kids require you most of all to love them for who they are, not to spend your whole time trying to correct them. ~ Bill Ayers

Your relationship with your parents

“Parenthood…It’s about guiding the next generation, and forgiving the last.” ~ Peter Krause

It was only recently when I was close to my 40’s that I opened up with my parents about some of the things that I never liked about their parenting style. To be honest 30 years ago there was no knowledge apart from what people were handed down or experienced, information wasn’t as accessible as it is today. Everyone just keeps following the hand me down style of parenting unless they are in touch with their inner child to guide them on this journey.

For many years and till date, my conversations are surface level conversation, a little bit about work but nothing that nourishes me. They would still like to control the role my children play in society, religion has to be followed and all the milestones there achieved, relatives have to be met and actively participate in functions etc.

While this maybe achievable for many, personally, I like my own space and enjoy meeting strangers far more than family on travels, there seems to be a difficulty in them understanding my own boundaries and this makes me interact even less.

Your relationship with your self

One of the worst issues with childhood trauma is it leaves you feeling like you’re lacking or not enough to receive the attention and love you deserved as a child. This leads to issues where you lack self-worth, or grow up to have feelings of insecurity or self-love.

This can have detrimental effects in terms of relationships, you tend to think abuse is normal in terms of relationships as well as the self. Addiction to substances, sex, or even gaming can be used as coping mechanism, self-harm does not come into the picture when you find yourself worthy.

How childhood trauma affects every relationship ~

The effects of childhood trauma can be seen in every relationship, with friends, work colleagues, people we meet and even strangers. People who have suffered from trauma when they are children seem to have some of these signs, if not all. Most of this is based on my own personality and some of it is backed by research ~

You’re easily triggered or too passive

“Trauma comes back as a reaction, not a memory.” ~ Bessel Van Der Kolk

I have a bit of both, when it comes to my own child-parent relationship I observe that tiny things can sometimes trigger behavioural patterns that have been handed down, but when it comes to certain circumstances which are unpleasant, where most people would exit, I tend to stay a little longer than expected.

For example, even though situations may upset me, I don’t express myself, it can be as random as people getting into a queue out of turn when I have been waiting for a while, this is very common in our country, but I let it pass at times rather than standing my ground.

You could be too clingy or a lover of solitude

If you have not received the attention you need when you’re a child you can end up craving for attention as you grow up. While some may find themselves at the polar opposite of this by not interacting with anyone, because you feel that they will either end up hurting or using you.

Do you build yourself a cocoon to keep yourself safe, create a comfort zone where you feel protected? This then makes other people have a tough time trying to connect with you, simply because you don’t want to let them in to your space. On the other hand, feelings of insecurity can make you cling onto your idea of love, that has been formed by your experiences and what you have seen while growing up.

Although you may have wanted a Knight on a white horse, you put up with your abusive partner for the little scraps of love they have to offer when they feel like.

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” ~ Oscar Wilde

You repeat patterns

“First your parents, they give you your life, but then they try to give you their life.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk

A child learns behavioural patterns not by what is taught, but what they experience. So the first few years of their life, their environment plays a major role as to how things turn out in their adulthood. When I get triggered by something my children do, I realised that the instant reaction is exactly how my father or mother would have with me.

To pause and react isn’t easy when you’re triggered, to acknowledge and accept that these patterns are a problem that can cause more harm than good is even more difficult. Take the time to reflect on how you corrected your child, or how you reacted when someone honks at you at the signal, only when you notice these patterns is when you can retune and adjust your behaviour.

Ways childhood trauma destroys your relationships and what to do about it

As traumatized children, we always dreamed that someone would come and save us. We never dreamed that it would, in fact, be ourselves as adults. ~ Alice Little

Image Source

Art by Vaida Bogdan

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