5 Ways Your Childhood Impacts Your Relationship
Maybe you know the ways your childhood impacts your relationship(s). Maybe you’ve never thought about it. As an Attachment Based Therapist, I see the impacts of bonds and relationships. From my perspective, strong bonds are what keep us grounded, feeling confident and secure in ourselves and our world around us. I believe, we all need and desire to feel safe and secure; this is what motivates a lot of us. Unfortunately, we get stuck in our (not so helpful) coping strategies that ultimately deny us of this and we often don’t even realize we do this. Especially in our adult relationships.
Do you ever wonder why you do the things that you do? Do you ever look at yourself objectively and ask yourself, “What’s really going on for me?”
Well… It may be time to start.
Here are 5 ways your childhood impacts your relationship(s).
5 Ways Your Childhood Impacts Your Relationship : #1 You Don’t Trust Easily
Trust is the foundation of any relationship. When we as adults struggle with trusting others, it may be due to deep rooted issues from past ruptures with the people we were innately supposed to trust. If our parents neglected us, abandoned us, abused us, criticized us and/or created a relationship that was conditional, we don’t realize that we innately feel a sense of insecurity as we evolve into our environment and sense of self as we grow. This doesn’t mean our parents didn’t love us– this doesn’t mean you don’t love your parents. This may mean that the tools they had weren’t always effective. Often, our parents “did the best that they could with what they had,” but that doesn’t mean the impact of those tools (or lack of) should be dismissed. It had an impact!
If our parents or caretakers don’t give us the unconditional space to be human (i.e. having emotions, mess up, etc), then we start internalizing emotions and start adapting to our insecurities by mistrusting others around us and becoming protective of ourselves in many different ways.
What you can do: It is important to understand that trust is difficult for everyone regardless of their past. If you experienced some form of disconnect with your caretakers and/or parents growing up, it’s important to acknowledge and give yourself permission to see how it may have grown into a bigger sensitivity for you and may be something you struggle with even to this day. Acknowledging this doesn’t mean you have to blame your parents for everything; this doesn’t mean you don’t love them; this doesn’t mean you are betraying them. This means you are acknowledging yourself and your needs as a child– which is extremely validating and OK to do.
5 Ways Your Childhood Impacts Your Relationship : #2 You Need a lot of Reassurance
If we forge an insecure bond with our parents or caretakers in infancy and childhood, (whether it’s because they were helicopter parents and never allowed us to have any sense of autonomy, or because they were never around or abused us), we innately develop a sense of insecurity and doubt in ourselves.
Maybe we weren’t given the reassurance as children that was necessary for us to feel a sense of confidence in ourselves to explore and make mistakes; maybe we weren’t ever acknowledged to begin with. Maybe, we were acknowledged too much and everything we did was critiqued or validated in positive way.
If everything we did in our parent’s eyes was unseen, seen under a microscope, or seen through rose-colored glasses, we weren’t given the space to feel confident in our own achievements, flaws and mistakes.
How does this impact your relationship? Well, to start, you may find yourself really defensive and it may be because you’re feeling insecure. Instead of giving your partner an opportunity to reassure you, you push them away with your defensiveness because you’re struggling and don’t know how to soothe or feel comforted.
What you can do: Recognize where your need for reassurance comes from. Did you receive too much reassurance as a child; did you never receive kudos? Why might this be a trigger for you? Then practice how to reassure yourself internally. Try to work on being aware of your self talk when you find yourself feeling insecure. Can you try to work on reassuring and validating yourself in the way that you always needed it? This can be helpful to start practicing and identifying for yourself, (it’s also extremely empowering when you start putting it into practice!) It is also helpful to be able to articulate a need to your partner, “I’m feeling scared about this job interview, can you tell me I’m going to do a great job?”
5 Ways Your Childhood Impacts Your Relationship : #3 You Struggle with Intimacy
From my perspective, “vulnerability” is when you expose a piece of yourself that you don’t tend to expose to everyone. Vulnerability is when you take a risk and are 100% authentic. “Intimacy” is when vulnerability is reciprocated with another person. This can be sexual, mental, and emotional. Levels of intimacy and vulnerability are built on the foundation of trust.
If you find yourself struggling with any form of intimacy, it could be because you had a difficult time growing up feeling safe opening up and being yourself. Maybe you felt misunderstood a lot; maybe you felt dismissed a lot. Maybe, you struggled with feeling disappointment by your parents and nothing you could do was ever good enough. These messages play a huge role in our adult self talk and innate reactions to emotion. This affects our intimacy because we aren’t allowing ourselves to feel comfortable or confident in our authentic selves. We aren’t being present with our partners, because we are stuck in our coping mechanism of protecting our authenticity. We aren’t trusting that our partner has got our back and will be there for us even if we aren’t perfect or even if they see us as “weak.”
What you can do: Intimacy requires trust. Trust requires consistency and risk taking. It’s a scary little dance, but it’s all worth it in the end if you allow safe people in. Your partner may be craving to connect with you, but you don’t even realize how often you deny or dismiss forms of intimacy with them because your coping mechanism takes over. Try to become more aware of your partners bids of connection and take note of what you are feeling, what you are struggling with and maybe ask yourself, “Why am I not willing to be open right now?”
5 Ways Your Childhood Impacts Your Relationship : #4 You Feel Immediate Panic When You Perceive Your Partner Is Pulling Away
It may be “irrational,” but in those moments your brain isn’t able to reassure you that you’re just being irrational and you have nothing to worry about. If you experience an immediate (and overwhelming sense) of panic when you perceive your partner is shutting down, moving away and/or leaving you, this may be due to your attachment style. If you experienced any abandonment growing up, this innate trigger can become extreme in your adult relationships. You may find yourself feeling immediately upset and needing to repair an issue immediately in order to soothe the panic and fear. This may ultimately push your partner away if they are needing space, and/or are afraid of conflict and the two of you may find yourselves in a difficult dance.
What you can do: Be aware of the panic and your triggers. If you NEED to repair conflict in order to calm and soothe, and your partner NEEDS space to process, the middle ground is giving yourselves a break to de-escalate, then return when you both are calm and unguarded. This is the only way you will get the reassurance you really desire and the only way your partner is going to feel respected and safe. Ask your partner to give you reassurance in that moment such as, “I love you, I am not leaving you, but I need a break to calm down and process this.” It is then your job to hear that, repeat that in your own head, and calm yourself down individually before going back to each other to repair the issue.
5 Ways Your Childhood Impacts Your Relationship : #5 Your Biggest Coping Strategy is to Shut Down
If you find yourself shutting down a lot and needing time to process or “get away” from your partner, it may be because you are struggling with conflict. Maybe you have a sensitivity to conflict because you grew up with a lot of it. Maybe you have a sensitivity to conflict because you grew up without any of it. Either way, you were not taught how to effectively argue and repair conflict. We may become subconsciously triggered by any perceived attack, threat, form of rejection and/or criticism that we shut down to protect ourselves. Shutting down isn’t always a “bad” thing, but it can be misunderstood by your partner if they are assuming you are shutting down because you “don’t care about them.”
What you can do: It is important to learn how to have healthy conflict and respect each other’s triggers and sensitivities. It’s important to understand and communicate with your partner “why you shut down,” especially if it correlates with childhood. The more your partner understands you, the less they make their own assumptions about your behavior. In these moments, you can calmly reassure your partner that you aren’t “leaving them” but you need space to process and work through everything without feeling “triggered.” The more the two of you can work together at giving each other what you need to feel safe, the better chances you have to repairing effectively.
If you don’t understand where your triggers come from to begin with, it’s difficult to make necessary changes to help support yourself and your relationship. Self exploration and reflection is required when having healthy relationships! If you and/or your partner would like support with this, feel free to contact me. As an Attachment & EFT Therapist, I specifically work with individuals and couples at any stage of their relationship wanting to better their connection and deepen their self awareness.