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  • Writer's pictureFiona Hewkin Counselling

How does Childhood Trauma Affect My Adult Romantic Relationships?

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Romantic couple on bicycles holding hands. Fiona Hewkin Counselling

Signs of Childhood Trauma in Adult Relationships

The effects of childhood trauma can last well into adulthood. A traumatic or difficult childhood can impact adult relationships and lead to issues like low self-esteem or depression. It can also affect our romantic relationships.

Childhood trauma can occur in many ways. I wrote a blog not long ago on the impact emotional neglect in childhood can have, you can read it here. Trauma can also be caused by sexual abuse, witnessing or experiencing violence or emotional abuse.

Childhood Trauma can Impact Adult Romantic Relationships

Trauma experienced in childhood changes how we connect with others. We can experience shame or low self-worth that can mean we form relationships in harmful ways. For some that can mean unhealthy relationships, for others it can look like avoidance of relationships altogether. Childhood Trauma can also cause Complex-PSTD or C-PTSD in adults and impact a range of things in adult life. You can read more about C-PTSD in a previous blog here.

Experiencing abuse in childhood can affect how we form attachments in romantic relationships. Studies have shown that people who have experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse are more likely to have attachment styles that are fearful, preoccupied or dismissive. These studies also show that people who did not experience childhood trauma are much more likely to have secure attachment styles as adults. It is not really surprising that a difficult or traumatic childhood leads to difficulties in romance as an adult.

Let’s take a look at the four main attachment styles:

1. Secure: Healthy relationships, good levels of self-esteem, comfortable expressing emotions, relationships are based on honesty, trust and closeness.

2. Anxious/Preoccupied: often worried that their partner will leave, negative self-image, worries that partner isn’t as invested in the relationship as they are. The thought of living without their partner may cause high levels of anxiety. Strong fear of abandonment.

3. Avoidant/Dismissive: problems with intimacy and never let anyone get too close, does not want to rely on others or have others depend on them. May avoid emotional closeness. Tend to believe that they don’t need to be in a relationship to feel ok. Generally avoid emotional closeness. Often hides or supresses their feelings when faced with a high emotion situation.

4. Disorganised/Fearful: May take on parental roles in relationships. Wants intimacy and closeness but also has difficulty trusting and depending on others. Often the relationship itself is the source of both comfort and fear. Do not regulate their emotions well and are afraid of getting hurt.

Two people holding hands. Fiona Hewkin Counselling

Most of us don’t fit completely into just one attachment style. There are often overlaps and sometimes we can bounce from one to the other. For instance, a securely attached person can develop unhealthy relationship behaviour after experiencing trauma or loss. An insecurely attached person can form a secure bond when they have a securely attached partner. It’s always wise to remember that these are theories, and we shouldn’t try to fit the complexity of being human into a single theory!

The point of personal growth and therapy is to recognise patterns and behaviours that are no longer serving us and learning how to change them. Counselling for trauma can be very effective. If this is something you would like to explore get in touch via the contact page


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