Solid, healthy relationships give life meaning. They keep you grounded and offer a sense of belonging and purpose. And while relationships at any stage of life are important, the most formative ones take place long before you even know what a real relationship is. In fact, the ways in which you were treated by your earliest caregivers continue to impact the way you relate with others long into adulthood.
If you were the type of child who had loving, attentive parents who always met your needs, you likely grew up to have equally stable and caring relationships as an adult. However, not all children share this experience. And those who grew up with inconsistent or negligent caregivers often struggle to have meaningful partnerships as they grow older.
The biggest downside to a traumatic childhood is the fact that your experiences shape your patterns of interaction for years to come. What’s unfortunate about this is that children do not ask for, nor do they know the depth of how their upbringings will impact them later in life. You might have great difficulty opening up to people or you may find it easier and more comfortable to only connect on a surface level. But the reality may be that you’ve been traumatized into not being able to form deep, meaningful connections with others.
In fact, a difficult childhood not only has the potential to impact your ability to love and connect with others as an adult, but also profoundly reduces your ability to love yourself. The problem with developmental trauma is that affected children often start to question what they did wrong or what they lacked that kept their caregivers from meeting their needs. What’s more, these feelings may be so ingrained in you that you may not even be aware of them.
Maybe for you, it looks like this…
It’s early Friday night and you have a date with someone new. You’ve recently met, and you think they are very interesting. They have a job and have followed through every time they have told you they would text or call. They seem stable and interesting.
Over dinner, the conversation turns from small talk to deeper topics like your family and your values. You feel yourself clamming up and don’t want to reveal too much. You’ve never been good at sharing anything personal and it’s easier for you to keep relationships casual. There’s rarely anything substantial about the people you date and you typically don’t make it past a few weeks before both of you are moving on from the relationship. It’s hard to truly connect with anyone when you’re confused about what you have to offer and figure they’re never going to stick around anyway.
You know you can’t continue to keep people at arm’s length if you ever want to have a long-lasting connection. But being vulnerable with anyone terrifies you because you know they aren’t going to like what they find when you start opening up.
Eventually, only allowing yourself to have superficial relationships can cause you to live a lonely and disconnected life – especially if this has been a pattern for you since you were a child. The truth is, everyone needs to experience unconditional love. And it’s really difficult to not be influenced by the way you were treated growing up. If you continue to base all of your adult relationships on the ones you had when you were young, you’ll notice you are unable to see yourself as worthy of honest affection.
It’s completely natural and OK to internalize the way your caregivers loved you as the basis for your adult relationships. However, if you don’t work to separate your self-esteem from your traumatic experience, you may find it really difficult to safely connect with others.
It’s true that the way you grew up can continue to shape your life long into adulthood. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build stable, loving relationships even though you’ve never been shown how. The key is gaining insight into yourself and learning to love and appreciate what you find despite the traumas you may have experienced.
Keep reading to for the ways you can gain insight into your past and use it to connect with others on a deeper level.
Life Without Solid Relationships
Many people do not realize how much of an impact their earliest relationships have on their current life. It can be painful to think about the ways that your caregivers did not support or meet your needs as you were growing up. And this can make you wonder what it was about you that made you less loveable or not worthy of their attention and efforts. While feeling abandoned or neglected is completely understandable, continuing to focus on your past can have a profoundly negative impact on the way you feel about yourself and how you interact with others.
Dwelling the actions of an inattentive caregiver can take a toll on how you move through the world. It’s difficult not to internalize another person’s treatment of you, especially if this person was someone who was supposed to care for you unconditionally. Growing up without the love and attention you deserved makes it especially hard for you to feel worthy of connected relationships as an adult.
As you place your attention on all that you missed growing up, you may begin to question yourself and what you have to offer those around you. This low self-esteem can impact the way you get along with friends and loved ones and keep you from feeling like a valuable asset to your relationships. You might start to withdraw from situations where you would connect with other people because it is more comfortable for you to feel lonely and isolated than it is for you to make yourself vulnerable and trust someone.
Not only does constantly questioning your worth keep you from investing energy into others, it can keep you from caring for yourself. When you doubt your value in other’s eyes you are less likely to have deep satisfying interactions with other people.
Establishing Healthy Relationship Habits
On the other hand, some much more positive things start to happen when you recognize the trauma from your past continues to impact you. Once you build this awareness, you’ll see just how much of an effect your upbringing has had on the rest of your life and how interconnected your ability to relate to others really is.
Recognition is the first step in making changes. And once you realize that your self-worth is currently tied to the treatment you experienced when you were younger, you can intervene in whatever ways will help you build a healthier appreciation for yourself. Separating your value from your traumatic childhood is the first step in trusting yourself and those you invite into your world. You’ll start to feel safe around others and believe that their love has a positive and permanent place in your life.
What’s more, you’ll feel much more love and compassion toward yourself. As you distance yourself from your trauma, you’ll begin to see that you did not ask for your needs to not be met, nor did you deserve it.
By realizing that your caregivers’ faults have nothing to do with who you are and the value you bring to the world, you’ll be able to recognize the difference between a healthy, positive relationship and one that is going to mimic the ones you experienced as a child.
4 Ways to Move Past Trauma and Connect with Family, Friends and Yourself
While moving beyond your traumatic childhood is essential to building healthy relationships as an adult, making the changes to improve your ability to connect with others can be easier said than done. It’s true the atmosphere in which you were raised has such a profound effect on your perspective but recognizing this impact can feel a lot like making excuses. This is because you feel like you’re blaming someone else for your problems rather than taking ownership.
It takes a change of perspective, but choosing to take an active role in how you relate to and connect with others as an adult is well within your control. In fact, over time this way of thinking becomes a beneficial lifestyle change and there are a few key things you can do to start to separate yourself from your childhood trauma, so you can start to make changes in your relationships more easily.
Here are 4 Ways to Improve Your Connections with Those You Love
Number 1: Explore Your Attachment Style
Every adult falls into one of four attachment styles[MO2] : Secure, Ambivalent, Disorganized or Avoidant. Each style is shaped by a person’s interactions with their caregivers when they were young.
For instance, if your parents were very attuned to your needs and made sure you were always taken care of and responded to quickly, you likely formed a secure attachment. However, it is not uncommon for children to develop ambivalent, disorganized, or avoidant attachment if their caregivers were inconsistent or mostly unresponsive.
Though there is little you can do to change your earliest experience, by understanding the type of attachment style you’ve developed, you can begin to see how it impacts your relationships as an adult. When clients seek therapy at Sunstone Wellness Center, one of the first things we do in session is explore their early memories and relationships with their caregivers in order to gain insight into what type of attachment they are bringing to the table. This way they can improve their current relationships from a framework of understanding.
Number 2: Identify Unhealthy Patterns
Once you are aware of the factors that have contributed to your attachment style, you can begin to see how your security with others has played a role in your life. In fact, behaviors that were a direct result of your attachment in childhood have likely developed into patterns as you were growing up and have become more permanent fixtures of your way of being now that you’re an adult.
The more you pay attention, you will begin to notice that each of the negative patterns in your life corresponds to your emotions. For instance, you may always behave a certain way when you are feeling sad, worried, or angry.
When clients begin therapy at Sunstone Wellness Center, we often work together to identify the emotions behind the destructive patterns they have established as well as determine coping skills to address the underlying feelings. Once you know what is causing your problematic behaviors, you can learn coping skills to help you intervene at a deeper level and start to change the way you interact with others.
Number 3: Set Strong Boundaries
As you work to identify the patterns in your life that have prevented you from connecting with loved ones, you can start to replace them with habits and behaviors that are going to move you toward the types of relationships you want to build. And a key factor in doing this is learning to set firm, appropriate boundaries.
Boundaries not only help you decide what it is you’d like to experience in your life, but they also help you communicate to those you love as well. Clearly stating what it is you will and will not accept as well as what you expect from your relationships will help you connect on a deeper level with those who are willing to respect what you want to cultivate in your life.
Sunstone Wellness clients do a lot of boundary work, and in session we define what healthy boundaries are, what happens when relationships lack these healthy boundaries, as well as how to set and maintain them with family and friends.
Number 4: Cultivate Self-Compassion
It’s true there’s no way to change what’s happened to you in your past or the factors that have contributed to the negative patterns in your life. Going forward it is about acknowledging what has happened, embracing it, and loving yourself regardless of the traumas in your past. When you schedule a session with Sunstone Wellness Center, you and I will work together to build your sense of self-love and to help you be caring and compassionate toward yourself no matter what you’ve been through in the past and going through in the present.
Coming from a difficult, unstable or generally unhealthy childhood can absolutely affect the way you function as an adult. It can even influence your relationships with friends and family and your ability to love and care for yourself. But by recognizing the ways that your learned behaviors are shaping your current life and by discovering who you want to be on a core level, you can move beyond your traumatic past. Your past does not need to define your future.
You will be able to feel safe and connected with others and trust in your ability to build loving, lasting relationships. Sunstone Wellness Center can help.