How Childhood Trauma Affects Our Relationships

How Childhood Trauma Affects Our Relationships

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Since the inception of Sative magazine, we have written articles on relationships, mental health, and self-improvement. We tackle issues that so many of us face but are afraid to talk about in the open. Our dream is to create a community of people who gets it, that there is someone out there who understands them.

This is one man's story on dealing with trauma in a relationship.

Sometimes I sit in my room and do nothing but stare at the ceiling. Just trying to understand life, you know? I am tired of hurting. I want to be a better person, you know?

I am writing this eulogy to the person I used to be. I am sorry I broke so many hearts in my process of growing. I also got my fair share of heartbreaks. I also got my heart shattered into unrecognisable pieces. I guess I used to be a sucker for love. Honestly, I still am. I really cannot be mad because I am glad of what I grew to be.

It is just that, sometimes life allows certain things to die. Relationships fail. Sometimes they fail not because two people do not love each other anymore but because of life stressors that keep piling up until the relationship suffocates.

We grow through what we go through. But do not let life break you. Do not let failed relationships make you harder. Because when you do, you lose your happiness. You lose your sense of love, and how to love, you know?

You know for you to grow, you have to stop watering dead situations. Even though in your heart you may feel sad inside, but that pain is only temporary. There is no need to agonise. One day you will be glad it died. You will be satisfied knowing that you did all that you could. So what if nobody understands you? Stop beating yourself up when things do not go as you planned. Stop beating yourself up for not being perfect. You are human, and you make mistakes. You stumble. You are flawed, but who is not. All that matters is that you learn to light your own candle. Because when the light is from within yourself, you still see the brighter side of things when situations get darker. You know the sun will shine again. You will smile again.

Relationships can be incredible things. They can fulfil our most primal need for human connection, giving us the ability to forge a deep and fulfilling bond with another person. They can allow us to give and receive and feel a sense of companionship that inspires us to be the best version of ourselves. They can act as our oasis and our shelter.

The process of relationships, however, can be a hurdle. It is particularly true when your partner or both of you have significant emotional challenges. When your partner has endured childhood trauma, such challenges often resurface later on in adult life. Your childhood experience shapes up who you are as an adult.

Nobody wants to be alone, and it is human nature to be passionate and be with somebody. But here is the truth until we heal our childhood traumas, we are forever going to be in a never-ending cycle of failed relationships.

We all have quirks, habits, or beliefs we can trace back to our parents. Who still keeps a drawer full of old shopping plastic bags that you let heap up and never throw away? I know people who save used yoghurt and ice cream containers to put leftovers into them. I have a friend who washes them out by hand and has stacks of them in her cupboard. She uses them occasionally, but I do not see how she could ever use all of them. She has confessed to me that her parents always saved containers, and it is just something she has always done. That is a harmless example of a habit passed down through generations, but not all things passed down are harmless.

For you to have a fulfilling relationship with others, you need to heal from Adverse Childhood Experiences. An adverse childhood experience (ACE) describes the abuse, trauma or neglect that creates toxic stress in a child’s brain. ACE can cause physical illness and mental health conditions in adults. ACE victims might suffer from anxiety or depression as adults without being able to pinpoint its origin.

When people have a childhood filled with trauma, they are far more likely to have all sorts of problems as adults. Blaming our parents for our adult problems is not the solution here, but acknowledging our childhood trauma is a crucial part of the healing process.

In many cases, trauma is unintentionally inflicted on children by adults struggling with their own trauma from childhood. We inherit genes, foundational life skills, traditions, knowledge, connections, wisdom, identity, resilience, etc. Sometimes we also inherit behaviour patterns, coping strategies of our parents, grandparents who did not process their trauma. Children learn to be by mimicking the adults around them. But when these adults are acting from their own trauma, children pick up patterns and behaviours that become their norm.

In families with a pattern of trauma, there are many secrets and taboos. Secrets that are kept but live — manifest themselves as being trapped in cycles of abuse, violence, depression, anxiety, self-sabotage, difficulty in relationships, etc. The individual is born with and into fears and feelings that do not always belong to them. But that shape their lives in ways that they are not always conscious of themselves.

I grew up witnessing my father's shameless infidelity towards my mother. My father experienced so much trauma in his childhood. He did not grow up in a stable family. I do not think he has healed or confronted his trauma. So the cycle of trauma continued, and he exhibited the same behaviour pattern he experienced from his parents on us, his children. I am sure I have so many little brothers and sisters I do not know. I grew up with this sort of resentment towards my father. I had this consistent  fear of growing up in a broken home. So, you imagine how that will affect a child. In one incident, I almost got hit by a brick once, thrown through the window by his angry side piece. He came home drunk one night, and a few moments later, I woke up to the sound of shattering glass in my room. Even today, our relationship is not the best one. He failed to give me a good foundation on relationships. Instead, I inherited his trauma.

His behaviour influenced how I act in relationships. I had no problems cheating. I never used to feel guilty for cheating, well, not unless I got caught. I was somehow proud of that behaviour. That is what I grew up seeing. So every relationship I had, no matter how great it was, I would find a way to fumble it. I had a terrible track record. It took a lot for me to recognise my trauma.

Like many victims of trauma, I had two choices. Either to behave like my father or the opposite of him. I knew that was not the life I wanted for myself. I had no fulfilment. I was always on a constant search for my next high. So I rewrote my story. I started to love hard. I faced my demons. I cannot explain how it feels. All I know is that I will never dish another raw deal playing make-believe pretending to be this great guy while holding in my laugh as I say that I love you. I am not perfect. I can never be, but I will always show up as my authentic self.

But as a consequence, I also tend to overcompensate in an effort to do things differently. I gave my all to save a relationship, even if it was to my detriment. I did not want to fail so bad that I would do things that now I consider foolish. You might also argue that that is what love is. To be irrational, feeling this inexplicable desire for someone. And to feel an overwhelming need to make that person happy. Me loving someone means caring for them in the ways they need to be cared for, with no strings attached. Sometimes that meant doing uncomfortable things. I would give so much grace and patience that someone looking from the outside would consider me blinded by love. And I was. I did not want to fail as my father did.

So when a relationship fails, the pain is intensively deep.

It does not help when your partner also has enough demons to fill up a room. You have one person who had commitment difficulties in all his previous relationships, and on the other side, you have a woman who endured some of the most painful experiences that life can throw at you. From losing a parent at a young age, emotional abuse by a caregiver, being bullied at school, and people just mistreating her.

I loved her with all her trauma. It was somewhat inspiring how she was still standing tall with a heart of gold after experiencing such childhood trauma.

She is the kind of girl to pick you up and bring you home to the self. Fall into her arms, and you will feel the warmth you have never known. She was my oasis. The way she smiles when she talks about something she is passionate or happy about is just beautiful. It is mesmerising. I loved showing her off if we were out on a date or just walking in the mall. When she walked into a room, people would notice. She is just that gorgeous.

But, when you suffered abuse most of your childhood, you may find yourself in relationships where you look for mistreatment. You tell yourself you do not deserve the genuine love that someone is willing to give because you do not understand it. You unconsciously reenact your trauma. You get drawn to anything that validates your experience. Your partner's mistakes are not just mistakes anymore but proof of something you have always believed about yourself. All you will see is this one mistake and waive everything else that you know about your partner. Unintentionally recreate the situation you are familiar with and push away the one thing you desire the most, someone to love you unconditionally.

That is how her trauma manifests. I understand her trauma but, she needs to understand it for herself and accept it. I took time to learn her. Like a good student, I took down notes on ways to protect her heart. But I can only do so much. Until she also confronts her trauma, she will forever be in the same cycle of failed relationships.

I am not perfect. I can never be. And if anyone expects perfection, then it will never last. But, I can guarantee that the number of times I make you happy will outweigh significantly the number of times I make you cry by a high margin.

The bitter truth is some people do not get to stay in your life beyond the lessons they teach you no matter how much you want them to, how much you try to prove your love to them or how hard you fight for them. Their time in your life is limited, and as much as you want to plan a future around them, you know that it is not their place anymore.

Maybe that is not what you want to hear right now (I know I am struggling to accept that either), but the good news is when they leave, they make room for the ones who do, the ones who want to stay in your life. The ones who teach you how to be fearless in love again, how to feel safe knowing they will always stick around or how to be truly vulnerable and share your soul without feeling exposed or naive.

Where it fails for you personally, it succeeds by God's grace. He will use your malfunctioning to support something else that was the intended cosmic plan. Something that even the best planner would never plan.

The universe conspired and connected two people who would have never crossed paths (this is a story for another time). I wish I could say it was easy to love her. It is not easier to love me either. But, we both served each other as blessings. We helped each other heal some of the broken parts in ourselves. A love so pure that it has left a lasting impression. It is just sad that sometimes life allows certain things to die. Life happens, and people drift apart. It does not take away the hurt, but I will still choose to do it again even if I knew the tragic ending if this is the ending of our story. I experienced a love only a few get to experience. And most importantly, I broke the cycle of trauma.

Life is a roller coaster, you know? There is ups and downs. There are trials and tribulations. There is hurt, there is pain, and there is happiness, you know? But, all of this helps us become better people.

That is my story about surviving my childhood trauma. The trauma that I am still healing from right now. Maya Angelou said, Surviving is important but thriving is elegant.

I hope this eulogy helps you to confront your childhood traumas. And heal from them. We do not need another generation passing down their trauma to their children. It can start with us. Let us heal for our children. And also so we can have fulfilling relationships.

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