Is your childhood trauma affecting your adult relationships?

by | Nov 13, 2022

Whether we like it or not, our early childhood relationships can affect us all throughout our lives. If you went through trauma in your relationships as a child, you may have developed unhealthy patterns in bonding that trouble you in adulthood. Take Sarah, for example.


When Sarah was just three, her father deserted her and her mother. Her mother found it difficult to cope and depended on alcohol as solace. While her mother was drowning her sorrows, Sarah was shipped off to live with various other family members, and then on to someone else. She never had a permanent place and was confused about her role. Every so often, Sarah would return to be with her rehabbed mother until she lapsed and scared Sarah with her drunken behavior.

Marriage Counseling, Couples Therapy, Relationships,

Trauma Bond


All Sarah wanted was a stable environment in which to love and be loved by her mother. But just as she was feeling safe, her mother would binge drink and scare Sarah out of her wits. She needed her mother, but she could not trust her. She could never get comfortable enough, long enough, to give or receive love, and eventually learned not to invest her feelings in another human being.


Unfortunately, the residual pattern Sarah learned in childhood remained with her in adulthood. Because of her trauma bond, Sarah unconsciously repeated a pattern to try and fulfill her unmet needs. The moment she got close in a relationship, she shut off love and affection in order to avoid being hurt. This is what worked for her emotional survival when she was a child, but the same strategy damages her relationships as an adult.


Some people find keeping quiet and out of sight helped them survive as a child, and so employ the same behavior as an adult. Or they learned that putting another’s needs before their own helps keep the peace. Or maybe they had to be outlandish to get any attention, and their behavior continues in adulthood, even when it’s inappropriate. People who have suffered emotional abuse, neglect, psychological manipulation or other traumas can find it difficult to navigate adult relationships.


Toxic Dance


It takes two to tango, and two to make a relationship. When Sarah realized she had a part to play in the toxic dance she was engaged in—that she wasn’t only a victim—she was able to begin to break the cycle. With help from a therapist, Sarah could understand how her childhood experience was affecting her current relationship and that she could take some responsibility for a healthy relationship. Through owning what was hers, Sarah could stop feeling like a martyr and take positive action.




Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here:


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