We often hear about trauma in teens and adults, even if the trauma itself occurred in childhood. What we don’t often hear about is relational trauma, which happens early on in childhood.
Relational trauma refers to any kind of trauma that disrupts the natural bond or attachment between a child and parent. While that might not initially seem like a big deal, it can shape a child’s development from a very early stage, and impact them all the way into adulthood.
Let’s take a closer look at what relational trauma is, what it looks like, and what you can do if you believe you might be dealing with it as an adult.
What Causes Relational Trauma?
If you’re concerned you might be dealing with relational trauma now, it can help to understand where it stemmed from. There are several factors that can contribute to this type of trauma in childhood, including:
- Physical or emotional abandonment
- A parent that is overly involved in their child’s emotional life
- A parent that relies on their child to meet their own emotional needs
Other than abandonment issues, emotional enmeshment is a common issue that leads to relational trauma. Really, though, any issue that causes a “brokenness” in the bond between a child and parent/caregiver when that child is still dependent can eventually lead to relational trauma.
What Does Relational Trauma Look Like?
Typically, relational trauma won’t manifest itself until you’re a teenager or adult. No two people experience it the same way, so the “symptoms” you show might be different from someone else. However, some of the most common manifestations show up in relationships.
For starters, you might have boundary issues. This stems from not learning appropriate or healthy boundaries from your parents or caregivers. If you have wide open boundaries, you could be at risk of getting hurt. If you close yourself off from the world, you could suffer from a lack of social connection, which can lead to a variety of mental health issues.
Adults dealing with the effects of relational trauma also often deal with self-esteem issues, and they have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships.
Physical manifestations are also common, especially if you struggle with anxiety or depression as a result of your trauma. You might experience things like headaches, fatigue, insomnia, or digestive issues.
Finally, you might struggle with feelings of emptiness. Even if you have close friends or you’re in a relationship, you might not have the full capacity to nurture yourself because you lacked that care as a child. That can make it nearly impossible to feel fulfilled and cared for in relationships.
While these “signs” aren’t exhaustive, if you’re dealing with more than one of them, it’s time to seek out the help you deserve so you can get some answers about what to do next.
Is Relational Trauma Treatable?
Whether you’re a teen or an adult, relational trauma is absolutely manageable with the right kind of help and treatment.
Traditional talk therapy methods can be incredibly helpful when it comes to healing from relational trauma. Many people also benefit from alternative types of therapy, including yoga, creative arts, equine, and music.
Anything that helps to foster healthy connections can make a big difference for someone who has had to deal with relational trauma. But, the first step is getting an official diagnosis and learning more about where your trauma began.
It’s never too late to seek out the help you need and deserve. If you think you might have been a victim of relational trauma and it’s having a negative impact on your life now, don’t hesitate to contact me for information or to set up an appointment for trauma therapy.