Childhood is just the beginning of our journey through this life; in childhood, we develop our own identity, learn how to problem solve, and be in relationships with others. For most of us, childhood leaves a lasting impact; for some, childhood traumas are carried into adulthood. Let’s explore how childhood trauma may be the root cause of troubled adult relationships.
Trauma is any individual experience resulting in significant emotional upset; the event likely threatens the fundamental feelings of safety or security one had before the trauma. This definition recognizes that trauma can result from many experiences, including those threatening the physical body or emotional stability.
A child usually has no power to change the traumatic circumstance; as a result, they often develop coping mechanisms that will help them to manage or even survive the trauma. For example, a neglected child may become a needy adult who clings to their relationships for fear of more neglect. A child who is a victim of physical abuse may struggle to manage their emotions as adults as they have no one to model how to cope with anger safely.
Researchers have found that childhood trauma can affect how children become emotionally attached to caregivers, and the attachment patterns established in childhood often continue into adulthood. In this context, attachment means the close emotional bond a child develops with their caregivers. When caregivers are unreliable or abusive, the child does not learn to have an emotionally healthy attachment. This is the basis for attachment theory.
Attachment theory says that childhood experiences, like trauma, shape how we will navigate adult relationships. Childhood trauma that includes abuse or a chaotic and unreliable environment may result in an anxious attachment style. These individuals may need constant reassurance, lack boundaries, and feel unloveable.
When children are exposed to an environment where their caregivers are not responsive or emotionally closed off, they may grow up to have an avoidant attachment style. This style fears intimacy and may push people away when they get too close. Those with avoidant attachment struggle to express their true feelings and aim to be very self-sufficient to avoid relying on others.
Anxious and avoidant attachment styles are both considered insecure attachments. Research has found it is not uncommon for those with insecure attachments to engage in substance abuse as a self-medication tool to ease the pain of dysfunctional relationships. Additionally, substance abuse serves to disrupt any healthy attachments one has.
One way to resolve issues that may emerge from childhood trauma is through root-cause therapy. Root cause therapy focuses on identifying and addressing the underlying root cause of a person’s issues, including childhood trauma and attachment. By exploring and processing these experiences in a safe and supportive therapeutic environment, individuals can work towards healing and developing more secure attachment styles.