Childhood Trauma and Adult Relationships

childhood trauma and relationships

Forming romantic partnerships is one of the most fulfilling and coveted human experiences, and while developing such bonds is ultimately quite rewarding, many individuals find that ‘falling in love’ is far more challenging than they originally anticipated. Of course, those who are attempting to foster and maintain romantic relationships will face an array of standard hurdles – learning to effectively communicate, the art of compromising, and setting healthy boundaries (to name a few). However, recent studies show that individuals who undergo traumatic experiences during childhood are exceptionally more susceptible to difficulties in romantic relationships later on in life.

Childhood Trauma and Romantic Fulfillment

Professor Dan Lassri and Professor Golan Shahar of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel recently conducted a study on the relationship between childhood abuse and neglect and the success of romantic relationships formed in adulthood. Participants were asked to honestly complete the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire ( in  order to determine their level of emotional maltreatment throughout early adolescence. After completing this initial questionnaire, participants were asked to respond to a set of questions geared towards determining their level of satisfaction and the perceived quality of their current romantic partnerships. The researchers found a clear link between dissatisfaction in relationships and childhood maltreatment, as well as an obvious correlation between early trauma and excessive self-criticism.

Study Shows That Self-Criticism Plays a Crucial Role

The majority of participants with a personal history of childhood abuse and neglect exhibited low self-esteem and noticeable symptoms of PTSD. The relationship between early adolescent trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder has been studied extensively, and it has been repeatedly proven that those who undergo traumatic experiences in childhood are more prone to PTSD and related complications later on in life. Because the invasive symptoms of PTSD will frequently disrupt all areas of life, it is not surprising that the success of long-term partnerships is compromised by early abuse. The key finding in this specific study, therefore, is the role that self-criticism plays.

Substance Abuse and Self-Criticism

Those who experience maltreatment in childhood develop the propensity to self-criticize, which in turn leads to disproportionate issues within interpersonal relationships. Self-criticism triggers deep-seated feelings of shame, inadequacy, sadness, and anger, and keeps us trapped in self-destructive behavioral patterns that disallow us from reaching our full potential. Many individuals who experience significant trauma early on in childhood will turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of coping with overwhelming emotional discomfort. Unwarranted and overpowering self-criticism will also frequently lead individuals to substance abuse – anything to quiet the incessant internal condemnation. Attempting to sustain a relationship of any kind while feeling unworthy of love or positive attention is quite a feat, and many with unresolved trauma will find that it is simply impossible.

Self-criticism, substance abuse, and the inability to form meaningful and lasting relationships are all closely intertwined. In order for these issues to be adequately resolved, underlying causes must be addressed and treated. More often than not, childhood trauma proves a contributing factor to all three of these persistent issues, and when an individual works through said trauma in a supportive, professional, and intensively therapeutic environment, his or her chances of overcoming all impediments improve dramatically.

Learn to Foster Meaningful Relationships in Recovery

We at Next Chapter believe whole-heartedly in the link between childhood trauma and persistent difficulty in forming adult relationships, and we have extensive experience working to instill the life skills necessary to forming healthy, durable bonds with loved ones. We teach our clients to let go of self-criticism and adopt a newfound sense of self-love and self-acceptance. We spend ample time working on the development of healthy communication, and work closely alongside the families of all of our clients in order to set a lasting foundation of positive interaction.

If you ever feel as if you are incapable of being in a healthy, long-term relationship, chances are you merely have some unresolved, underlying issues to work through. For more information on our program of recovery, please contact us today.