Childhood trauma is a term we use to describe a variety of situations. Generally, it refers to distressing experiences you may have been exposed to as a child. These experiences can include physical violence, sexual abuse, a sudden traumatic event like an accident, a loss of a loved one, or any other event where you felt scared, helpless, or overwhelmed. Because we all process life in different ways, what may be traumatic for one person may not be for someone else. What matters is how you perceive the situation and how you feel about it. That said, traumatic experiences can sometimes spill over into other parts of our lives. This article touches on how childhood trauma affects relationships even years after the trauma occurred.
How Childhood Trauma Affects Adult Relationships
Adult relationships are complex things to navigate for everyone. The ups and downs of a relationship can be even more challenging if you or your partner have experienced childhood trauma. Recognizing these signs is the first step coping with how childhood trauma affects your relationships.
Poor Emotional Regulation
Emotional regulation is how you react to situations. Having little control over your emotions can be devastating to any relationship. If you are going through moods of extreme tearfulness, angry outbursts, or throwing tantrums, you may be emotionally dysregulated. This is a common response to childhood trauma and may be a sign of complex PTSD.
Left untreated, poor emotional regulation degrades and exhausts a relationship. You can not expect anyone to tolerate not knowing how you will react to any situation. This produces a “walking on eggshells” feeling, where your partner fears your meltdowns.
Childhood trauma involving abuse can make trusting others very difficult. Trust issues can show up as extreme independence, in which you can not allow yourself to trust that someone else will come through for you. You fear being vulnerable like that or relying on someone else. You may fail to ask for help when you need it or feel weak if you ask for support.
Over time, trust issues can lead to one failed relationship after another. If you never fully trust anyone with your emotional or physical needs, it is easy to throw in the towel when things get hard. Your partner will sense that you do not trust them, and they may interpret that as you not trying in this relationship, or perhaps that you have other better things to do other than be present in your relationship. They break up with you, and this further reinforces that you can not rely on anyone.
Difficulty Being Emotionally Vulnerable
When childhood trauma interrupts your life, what you should have been working on at that age is also disrupted. You may struggle with naming your emotions, causing you and your partner to become frustrated. If you are unable to express what you need, or what you are feeling, it may feel like your only option is to remove yourself or shut down. Shutting down – also called stonewalling – slowly erodes your relationship.
Avoiding sharing your emotions with your partner, perhaps in an attempt to not burden them, can backfire. Your partner does not understand why you are moody, or what you are upset about. Naturally, they will assume they are the source of your moodiness and ask you a million times what the problem is. When you can’t express that your issue is unrelated to them, they assume that nothing they do can ever satisfy you, when that may be far from the truth. You may also be so wrapped up in your “Stuff” that you can not recognize when your partner needs you to be present for them.
Mental Health Conditions
Many studies have linked childhood traumas to mental health conditions. Childhood trauma-related mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, can take a toll on your relationships as an adult. Left untreated, these conditions make it impossible for your relationship to grow. You might struggle with things like panic attacks, compulsions, or eating disorders. You can not be fully present in a loving and nurturing relationship when you have these kinds of issues impacting your life.
What You Can Do About Your Childhood Trauma
One of the biggest things you can do to help manage how childhood trauma affects your relationship is to seek therapy. Everyone is different, so you will want to seek out therapy for your specific concerns. If you and your partner are struggling, look into couples counseling to help. Make sure you are seeking out a professional that understands counseling from a trauma-informed standpoint.
Self-awareness alone is not enough to help you, but you should work to be as aware of your issues as possible. Dig into why you react a certain way to some triggers, and work on being able to put this feeling into words. Being able to name what you are going through is a huge step towards being understood. People can’t know what is going on in your head, or why you act the way you do. You must work to express yourself effectively in order to make any progress.
Relationships are work! You must put in the time and effort to work on it. If you really care about your partner, and you want to make some progress, you must be committed to putting in the work. Discover what makes your partner feel loved. Is it spending quality time together? Is it going exploring or hiking? Find out what you can do to make your partner feel loved, and make time to do that thing.
A lot of what we mentioned above is about what you can do for your partner, but you also need to work on caring for yourself. Part of healing your inner child is identifying what you lacked as a child and attempting to give that to yourself. If you grew up with clothes that were always dirty or ripped, get yourself nice things to wear. If you never had anyone teach you how to make yourself look nice, ask a friend or someone else to show you how to do your hair or makeup if you want to. Self-care can come in many forms.
Childhood trauma can affect your relationship on multiple levels. Gaining perspective on how childhood trauma affects your relationship can help you work through these issues. If you or your partner find your relationship is unnecessarily complicated, and you suspect childhood trauma might be the root cause, don’t despair; seek out help!
Counseling from a licensed trauma-informed therapist can help you gain perspective on the struggles in your relationship. A trauma-informed therapist can recognize when trauma is a root cause and offer solutions to help. You do not need to struggle in silence.
Family Strategies Counseling and Mediation is a trauma-informed therapy office located in Homewood, IL. We specialize in couples counseling, family therapy, child therapy, and trauma-based therapy center. Call (708) 798-5433 or email info@Family-Strategy.com for appointment details and information.