Healing from Relational Trauma in Current Relationships

relational trauma

Falling in love is one of the most magnificent and fulfilling experiences any human being will have the opportunity to undergo. Building a stable and lasting relationship can be quite trying, but many will argue that commitment and consistency are truly what love is all about. Once the initial attraction gives way to irrevocable admiration, and the honeymoon phase melts into a long-term emotional allegiance, the real work begins. Real life issues are bound to arise from time-to-time, and romantic partners will need to learn to art of effective communication, compromise, and conciliation. For the most part, we inherit these abilities from our own parents – we watch the way in which the communicate with one another and the ways in which they interact with us. If we grow up in a household characterized by screaming matches and verbal abuse, for example, we will likely learn that whoever yells the loudest and cuts the deepest wins the fight. If we grow up in a household characterized by a constant invalidation of feelings and emotions, we will learn to stifle our sentiments, and interpersonal exchanges will inevitably suffer.

Where We Learn to Love

The attachment styles that we learn throughout early childhood will translate into our adult relationships, and affect the way we interact with our partner. Early attachment relationships will also affect the type of partner we choose. Unfortunately, when we choose a partner that embodies the same dysfunctional tendencies as our parents our primary caregivers, breaking away is all that much more difficult. Rather than end unhealthy relationships, we will pursue them, enter them, and continue to endure them because they are comfortable and familiar. When attachment partners are inconsistent, abusive, neglectful, hypercritical, or enmeshing, the other individual in the relationship must adapt in order to maintain any sense of personal integrity. These unsafe or insecure attachment relationships will be a great cause of fear and instability. The involved individual will attempt to have his or her emotional needs met, while doing everything possible to remain safe. This incessant balancing act may seem overwhelming to most, but for those who have unconsciously developed patterns of thinking and feeling directly contingent on negative attachment styles, it is truly the norm.

More About Attachment

There are two main attachment dimensions: anxious and avoidant. Those who embody the anxious attachment style are prone to self-doubt, difficulty managing intense emotions, and rumination. They tend to repeat self-destructive and stress-producing loops of negative thinking, focusing on their shortcomings, difficulties, and adverse past experiences. They will typically harbor a deep-seated and crippling fear of abandonment, and will be hypersensitive to perceived threats to their relationship as a result. They will experience an overwhelming desire for closeness, and will fight to keep their relationship intact at the expense of themselves (and sometimes others). Those with avoidant attachment styles will frequently live with a deep-seated and enduring fear of intimacy. Their deeply imbedded mistrust of others disallows them to rely on anyone but themselves, thus they attempt to fulfill all of their own relational needs. They are often equally as sensitive to perceived threats to the relationship, but they react to such threats entirely differently. They are liable to shut down emotionally, hide all vulnerabilities, and actively deny any feelings or thoughts that might invite connection.

Healing from Negative Attachment

It has been found, through extensive research, that both attachment styles (anxious and avoidant) are directly related to a diminished capacity for mindfulness. Individuals who experienced maltreatment throughout childhood could learn to develop healthier attachment-related patterns of emoting, thinking, and behaving through a careful cultivation of mindfulness and self-compassion.  It has been found that among the various types of childhood abuse and neglect, emotional neglect was consistently the strongest predictor of adult attachment insecurity – more so than sexual or physical abuse. Additionally, it was found that anxious attachment was related to rumination and negative affect while attachment avoidance was related to emotional ambiguity. Interventions related to the installation of mindfulness were found to improve long-standing, insecure attachment styles in participating individuals. Both mindfulness and self-compassion allow individuals to develop a new relationship with defining past events. Mindfulness fosters non-judgmental insight, and self-compassion allows individuals to observe their experiences with kindness – possibly even with gratitude.

Soon, individuals are able to offer the wounded part of themselves the accepting compassion and unconditional regard that is so very crucial to healing from past relational trauma. The mindfulness approach works to begin a sort of re-parenting process, during which all parts of self are healed and integrated. Once this integration occurs, emotional regulation will truly begin – and individuals who struggled to maintain healthy and fulfilling relationships will learn to foster successful, committed partnerships. We at Next Chapter have extensive experience in teaching mindfulness through a variety of proven and effective techniques. To learn more, please contact us today. You are capable of contentment and the formation of healthy and functional relationships.