How can childhood trauma impact me as an adult?
What are the impacts of childhood trauma on my adult relationship, today? Childhood experiences are crucial to our emotional development. Our parents, who are our primary attachment figures, play an important role in how we experience the world because they lay the foundation and shape what the world is going to be like for us.
Is it a safe place to explore and take emotional risks? Are all people out to hurt us and therefore untrustworthy? Can we trust other to support us in times of emotional need?
Complex trauma refers to prolonged exposure to a stressful event, or repeated traumatic events layered on top of another. This would include children who have grown up in physically, sexually, and/or emotionally absent or abusive households.
Without the safety net of a secure attachment relationship, children grow up to become adults who struggle with feelings of low self-worth and challenges with emotional regulation. They also have an increased risk of developing depression and anxiety. Impacts of childhood trauma in adult relationships are explained below.
The following are the four basic attachment styles. Please keep in mind that these descriptions are very general; not everyone will have all these characteristics. Attachment styles are relatively fluid and can be ever changing depending on your partner’s own attachment style and the adaptations through each adult relationship.
Secure attachment in adults
These individuals usually grew up in a supportive environment where parents consistently responded to their needs. People who are securely attached are generally comfortable with being open about themselves, and asking for help.
The individuals have a positive outlook on life, are comfortable with closeness, and seek physical and/or emotional intimacy with minimal fear of being rejected or overwhelmed.
Securely attached individuals are generally consistent and reliable in their behaviors toward their partner. They tend to include their partner in decisions that could affect their relationship.
Dismissive-avoidant attachment in adults
Also referred to as “insecure-avoidant,” children usually develop this attachment style when their primary caregivers are not emotionally responsive or are rejecting of their needs.
Children learn to pull away emotionally as a way to avoid feelings of rejection. As adults, they become uncomfortable with emotional openness and may even deny to themselves their need for intimate relationships.
Individuals place high value on independence and autonomy and develop techniques to reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and defend themselves from a perceived threat to their “independence.”
These techniques include, shutting down, sending mixed messages, and avoiding. These coping techniques end up becoming detrimental to their adult relationships.
Fearful-avoidant attachment in adults
Also referred to as “disorganized-disoriented,” in some literature, children who have developed this style may have been exposed to prolonged abuse and/or neglect.
Primary caregivers are vital for providing comfort and support, however in a situation involving abuse (including substance use), these primary caregivers are also a source of hurt. These children grow up to become adults who fear intimacy within their relationships but also fear not having close relationships in their lives.
These individuals recognize the value of relationships and have a strong desire for them, but often have a difficult time trusting others. As a result, they avoid being emotionally open with others for fear of being hurt and rejected.
Anxious-preoccupied attachment in adults
Sometimes referred to as “insecure-ambivalent,” children develop this form of attachment usually when their parents have been inconsistent with their responses. At times, these parents exhibit nurturing, caring, and attentive behaviors.
Other times they can be cold, rejecting, or emotionally detached. As a result, the child doesn’t know what to expect. Then as an adult, requires a lot of connection within their relationships, sometimes to the point of being “clingy.”
These minor changes can significantly increase this individual’s anxiety. As a result, he or she will focus energy on increasing connection with that partner. Individuals who have this attachment style needs more validation and approval than the other attachment styles.
Neurobiology of attachment
As products of our own environments, adults will often find themselves repeating the same behaviors witnessed in childhood. This is because the neural pathways developed from childhood traumatic experiences shape the same response with others.
This is not meant to place blame on caregivers for the types of relationships you have as adults. Increased awareness of your own attachment style can help you take those first steps towards improving your relationships as an adult. This awareness can then help you move towards developing a more securely attached relationship with those around you.
Solutions to unhealthy attachment as an adult
At Austin Trauma Therapy Center, we understand how complex trauma effects you as an adult, which is why we specialize in Attachment-Based Therapy, as well. We are here to help guide you through your emotional journey while you discover the impact of childhood trauma on your adult relationships.
Austin Trauma Therapy Center remains flexible, open and non-judgmental in an effort to cater to your unique needs while ensuring a high standard of quality care.