The Lifelong Impact of Childhood Trauma

Most children are raised by good parents who are loving, affirming, protective and delighted by their new role as parents. Yet, some parents who have experienced childhood abuse, neglect, avoidance or insufficient attention in their own upbringing may be more prone to lack the skills and practices of healthy parenting and thus may come up short in providing these benefits to their children.

Some parents who have been neglected, excessively punished, shamed or routinely severely reprimanded as children, are more likely to repeat some or all of these behaviors with their own youngsters. Researcher Mary Ainsworth, who studied John Bowlby’s attachment theory, documented that becoming securely attached to a parent requires the infant to feel cared for and cared about, lovingly touched, played with, talked to, fed, cuddled and enjoyed.

Children who were attentively treated, developed a trusting and safe connection to their attachment figure who became their “secure base” from which to confidently explore and learn about their world. They are the recipients of future emotional, social, medical and cognitive advantages not present in those who were not privileged to be raised attentively.

Adults with insecure attachment are more likely to be fearful, insecure, less trusting of others and often experience greater difficulties in their own adult relationships. They may frequently doubt their worth and lovability and thus exhibit an excessive need for reassurance to quell their ongoing doubts about their worthiness in all their endeavors.

In relationships, an insecure and self-doubting individual may have trouble believing that he/she is desirable, liked, respected and valued. Naturally, these deep uncertainties are likely to interfere with solid love relationship bonds and may further damage the insecurely attached individual’s love connection.

Additional traumas of rejection and exclusion at a younger age may occur in school by an unsupportive teacher, by exclusion from athletic activities, a peer group, or even by a close friend, all of which unknowingly re-activate the losses of infancy and early childhood. The erroneous conclusion may lead some children to feel that their exclusion, rejection or lack of stable “best friends” are clear indications of their blemished nature and undesirability.

Similarly, a young adult who has been knowingly or unknowingly traumatized very early in life, may find dating and mate selection a troublesome process. This individual may appear shy, reluctant to connect with others, bashful about dating, or incur more than average stressful relationships.

This is one of the situations that can be helped by individual therapy. A skilled therapist can help the individual identify the origins of his/her feelings of insecurity and history of unsuccessful relationships, and help free him/her from the limitations of the past insecure attachment towards a healthier self-esteem and satisfying new relationships.

If your childhood was less than ideal:

  • Seek psychotherapeutic help in discovering the origins of your pain.
  • Develop a healthier, more accurate self-perception.
  • Learn to appropriately appreciate yourself, improve your relationships and find the emotional security and love relationship you deserve!





















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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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