How Childhood Trauma May Impact Relationships in Adulthood (3 min read)
Updated: Feb 17
September, 2016 (3 minutes to read)
Julie Kurtz, Founder and CEO at the Center for Optimal Brain Integration
I am writing this on behalf of all those who have experienced trauma or toxic stress between the ages of 0-18. As a result of early trauma, especially at the hands of those who were supposed to care for you, there may be adverse impacts socially, emotionally/mentally, spiritually and/or physically across the lifespan. And since 50% of children experience trauma before the age of 18, then there are many of you who may be reading this that need help. One possible reason for feeling insecure in adult relationships comes from poor adult-child attachment in early childhood.
If your parent did not attune to your feelings, how can you as an adult attune to yourself or others?
If your parent neglected to meet your basic physical needs, you may have difficulty relying on others emotionally, trusting others or even trusting your own self. When we are hurt or experience trauma before the age of 18 when our brain, body and sensory system is immature and still developing, it can create an unhealthy cycle of reactions in relationships and a heightened sensitivity to every move our partner makes.
For example, your partner tells you that they want to go out to dinner with their friends. If your reaction is extreme, you may be responding not to the real event but to the events that happened when you were young. This all happens outside of your conscious awareness. It is almost a knee-jerk reaction. It is called a "trauma reminder" or "trauma trigger". A trauma reminder or trigger is when something triggers an emotional reaction inside of us and a memory that floods in and tells us "we are not safe, or we are in danger". We react because we are protecting our self from this perceived danger in the moment.
What are some simple things you can to do?
1. Experiencing trauma as a child can rewire your brain and sensory system causing more intensive reactions in relationships or to things that others would see as minor or unworthy of a reaction. Seeking help from a counselor can help you bring to the conscious awareness your pattern of reactions, tune you in to how you are feeling and help you build healthier awareness of your own triggers, reactions and responses in your relationships.
2. Find mindful activities. Mindful activities such as yoga, meditation, and walking can slow down the mind and intensity happening around you and carve out time to go inward and put some breaks on your racing mind. When you slow down, you can create more pause and perspective and begin to tune in to how you feel before you respond to others.
3. Self-care. Those who experienced trauma as a child, may also overly accommodate and care for others at the expense of themselves (Fawning). Find small ways each day to nurture and care for yourself.
Closing considerations in your journey of healing...
A small step is progress in rewiring your brain.
Start with a list of 1-2 small next steps.
Practice makes permanent.
It is a journey of healing, not a perfect destination.
Trauma is not all of who you are.
You have strength and resilience internally (temperament traits) and externally (people, places, objects, activities, mantras that you use already to ground you, help you feel safe and to buffer stress).
Your voice matters.
You are not alone.
You are not your number of ACES alone (Adverse Childhood Experiences). You are also all the resilience factors and strength experiences that buffered your traumatic stress as a child.
These few steps can help you but especially seeking help from a counselor to address the deep-rooted issues from your childhood that play out every day in your adult life. Change takes time. Be loving, kind and patient with yourself. You deserve joy, love and happiness.
Julie Kurtz is the Founder and CEO at the Center for Optimal Brain Integration.
For more information on trauma, healing and building resilience,
For more information on self-care check out our book called Culturally Responsive Self-Care for Early Childhood Educators or Trauma Informed Practices for Early Childhood Educators: Relationship-Based Approaches that Support Healing and Build Resilience in Young Children (amazon or kindle). Like Center for Optimal Brain Integration on Facebook and be a part of our resilient community on trauma informed care and resilience building.