A while back, I wrote about how childhood experiences can impact our ability to cope with stressful events later in life.
Today, I’d like to tell you more about how childhood trauma can impact our relationships in adulthood.
In a healthy childhood, caregivers are reasonable and predictable. Kids get time-out or lose privileges for misbehaving. When they behave well, they get praised or rewarded. Over time, they learn that their actions impact their environment, and that relationships are relatively stable: mom and dad will always love you, but they’ll take away the Xbox if you don’t stop being mean to your little brother.
Kids in abusive homes learn a very different lesson: for them, whether people are nice or mean often has nothing to do with how they behaved: it might be cruel and random, or be based on things the child can’t control: “If Dad gets drunk, he’ll probably beat me”.
Having grown up in this kind of environment, building healthy adult relationships can be challenging. You might see others as either ally or enemy, and even a small misstep might make someone feel like an “enemy”. It can be especially hard to take criticism, which can feel like a betrayal.
People who have these traits tend to be lonely – they long to be close to someone, but they usually break off relationships at the slightest sign of trouble.
If this sounds familiar, a first step is to understand that this pattern is based on an unrealistic expectation: “A real friend would never do anything to make me feel uncomfortable”. That just can’t be true: a real friend is a human who will sometimes goof up by accident. Also, a real friend is someone who might sometimes make you feel uncomfortable because they care: for example, he or she might tell you that you’ve got something in your teeth or your fly is undone, because they care enough to let you know so you can fix it before you make a fool of yourself.
So, you can start the healing process by understanding where this tendency comes from, and by reminding yourself to understand that a real friend is one who is not perfect, and will sometimes disappoint us.
I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…
You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.
~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.
*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.
**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.