How Does a Bad Childhood Affect Relationships?

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Although some may be quick to blame their parents for relationship problems they have in their present lives, Ann Smith, author of "Can Our Childhood Really Predict Our Future?" published in Psychology Today, believes personality traits, as well as your relationships with your parents, siblings, peers and other adults lends you a mold to use to form your adult relationships. Childhood abuse and neglect can profoundly effect adult relationships, causing anxiety, abandonment issues and intense emotions and that these may cause frustration for both parties, according to Elaine Bing, a counseling psychologist in Pretoria who specializes in trauma, relationships and the effects of abuse.

Attachment and Bonding

Newborns rely on their primary caretaker, which is usually their mothers, to meet all of their physical and emotional needs. This attachment is formed based on the non-verbal communication between the mother and the infant, and it helps to determine how you will form relationships throughout your life, according to Attachment in infancy lays the foundation for emotional regulation, empathy, the ability to gain satisfaction from relationships, self-love and resiliency. An infant with an insecure bond to their primary caretaker can grow into an adult who is distant, both emotionally and physically, in relationships. The ability to handle stress, feel safe, and have appropriate expectations in relationships may be hampered.

Emotional Neglect

Many people look back on their childhoods and cannot remember anything bad, but the issues you are having in your adult relationships may have more to do with what you didn't get from your parents, according to Psychology Today. Your physical needs may have been met consistently while love, safety, security, comfort and attention were likely inconsistent or lacking. These children develop insecurities and abandonment issues that may intensify as they get older, making adult relationships difficult to navigate.


Young children are resilient and often adapt to their environment in such a way that the dysfunctional family environment becomes functional to them and ensures their survival. In a family where the primary caretaker is unavailable , unstable or unable to provide for or meet the child's needs, the child will generally seek out attachment in any way she is able to, according to Psychology Today. While these patterns enabled you to get your needs in childhood, as an adult you may be unaware of these patterns and unintentionally sabotage your relationships. For example, a woman who grew up with an emotionally distant, depressed mother, may fear the closeness and intimacy in relationships. As a result, she may push others away, acting on her childhood feeling of rejection and abandonment.

Emotional Reactions

You may find yourself consistently playing out situations where an emotional reaction is inappropriate to the situation at hand. This can often be traced back to childhood experiences, says Bing. Panic, feeling threatened by sexual advances from your partner and feeling abandonment or chronic emptiness are common among adults who have experienced childhood trauma, abuse or neglect. Trust is often an issue in adult relationships. The inability to trust your partner can cause you to pull away, question your relationship or avoid important issues.