Childhood trauma can have an influence on your relationships as an adult.

Three girlfriends huggingAll of us grew up a connecting and bonding with people in a certain way. How these bonds were formed (or not formed), especially with our parents, can have a profound impact on how we connect with other people. The way we connect with others is referred to as an attachment style.

The attachment styles we develop as children can have a profound impact on our lives as adults. If you have a hard time connecting with others or sustaining meaningful relationships it could be indicative of an attachment disorder. Although there is no formal diagnosis for attachment disorder in adults, it is not uncommon for adults to experience issues related to attachment styles.

Attachment disorder usually develops in children but can manifest in adulthood if it went untreated in childhood. Understanding our own attachment style can offer us incredible insight into why we live our lives today the way we do, and particularly, how we operate in our relationships.

As you age, you develop your own attachment style, based largely on the attachment behaviours you learned as a child. This attachment style can have a big impact on how you form relationships as an adult and determines how you connect and form intimate and emotional bonds with others.

Some symptoms seen in people with Adult Attachment Disorder are:

  • greater likelihood of addiction
  • impulsiveness
  • behaviours that are socially negative or inappropriate
  • desire for control
  • trust issues
  • unwillingness to accept responsibility
  • helplessness
  • anxiety
  • superficial positivity
  • depression

The different attachment styles that can be broadly categorised as secure or insecure.

Secure attachment style:

If your needs as a child were usually met right away by your parents, you probably developed a secure attachment style. As an adult, you most likely feel secure in your close relationships and trust that the other person will be there when you need them.

Insecure attachment styles are categorised as anxious, avoidant and fearful-avoidant.

Anxious attachment style:

The anxious adult will usually feel over involved and underappreciated. This is the result of a caregiver who ran “hot and cold,” often switching from warm affection to cold rejection for no apparent reason. This caregiver may even have been emotionally needy, only showing love when it advanced his or her interest.

If you have an anxious attachment style, you might:

  • have an increased need to feel wanted
  • spend a lot of time thinking about your relationships
  • have a tendency to experience jealousy or idolise romantic partners
  • require frequent reassurance from those close to you that they care about you

If your need for reassurance is not met, your insecurities will come to the surface and you might start doubting how others feel about you. You might also have a constant fear that your partner or loved one is upset with you and wants to leave you.

Avoidant attachment style:

The avoidant adult has learned to detach from others. This was a pattern learned in childhood when primary caregivers were unreliable, distant or critical. The child could not trust adults to meet her needs, so he or she learned to shove those needs out of sight.

If your attachment style is avoidant, you might:

  • have a hard time depending on partners or other people close to you
  • prefer to be on your own
  • feel like close relationships aren’t worth the trouble
  • worry that forming close bonds with others will make you less independent

Because this attachment style results in you closing yourself off it can make it hard for others to support you or feel close to you. This behaviour doesn’t stem from not caring for others but is a way of interacting you adopted to protect yourself and maintain a sense of self-sufficiency.

Fearful-avoidant attachment style:

Fearful-avoidant attachment is the result of severe childhood trauma, emotional neglect or abuse.

If you have a fearful-avoidant attachment style, you might:

  • have conflicting feelings about relationships and intimacy
  • want to develop romantic relationships but worry that your partner will hurt you, leave you, or both
  • push aside your feelings and emotions to try to avoid experiencing them
  • fear you aren’t good enough for the kind of relationship you’d like to have

With fearful-avoidant attachment style you might be able to suppress your emotions for a while, but they tend to come out in bursts. This can feel overwhelming and create a pattern of highs and lows in your relationships with others.

There are numerous other factors that can also have a significant influence on an insecure attachment style. These include:

  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect or emotional abuse
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Separation from a parent or primary caregiver for whatever reason (including death)
  • Inconsistency in primary caregiver, for example succession of nannies or staff at day-care centres
  • Frequent moves or placements, for example a constantly changing environment as with children who spend their early years in orphanages or who move from foster home to foster home
  • Traumatic experiences, for example serious illnesses or accidents
  • Maternal depression that resulted in withdrawal from maternal role
  • Maternal addiction to alcohol or other drugs

The good news is, it’s never too late to develop a secure attachment. The attachment style you developed as a child based on your relationship with a parent or primary caregiver doesn’t have to define your relationships later in life. If you come to know your attachment style, you can uncover the learned behaviour and work toward forming a secure attachment.

One essential way to do this is by making sense of your story. The key to “making sense” of your life experiences is to write a coherent narrative, which helps you understand how your childhood experiences are still affecting you in your life today. Creating a coherent narrative will help you to build healthier, more secure attachments and strengthen your own personal sense of emotional wellbeing.

A therapist or counsellor can help you to:

  • unpack your childhood experiences and create a coherent narrative
  • identify patterns that pop up in your relationships
  • develop new ways of connecting with others and creating intimate relationships 

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