Relational trauma is an aftereffect of abuse, neglect, and suffering.
Those whose are betrayed by people they loved, trusted, or relied on may encounter enormous mental and behavioral health challenges, as they attempt to forge interpersonal connections and cope with life’s many challenges.
Unprocessed trauma can have a negative impact on a person’s psychological, emotional, and physical well-being.
Many who have histories of adverse experiences in their life may not be consciously aware that their unhealed trauma can influence their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and choices within their friendships and romantic relationship.
However, many tend to subconsciously attract toxic people in their life that reinforce their unhealed wounds.
This can include choosing the same kind of person over and over or choosing someone who exhibits behaviors, personality traits, or similar negative patterns that resonate with traumatic experiences.
If unrecognized or denied, these can be carried with a person where old wounds are replayed with each new partner or within a friendship.
Here is common patterns where unprocessed trauma can replay in a person’s life:
1. Conditioned to Chaos
If a person has experienced unpredictable, unreliable, or chaotic environments as “normal,” they may become dismissive or distrusting of a friendship or relationship that is calm or without extreme highs or lows.
Some may struggle with peaceful moments and be “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” Many times, a person who has been conditioned to chaos will create problems by testing their partner’s investment or by smearing their friend to others as a way of triggering a response.
If the person “takes chase,” it can, in turn, reinforce more problems within the relationship, creating a cyclic pattern that can be difficult to break.
2. Dichotomous Thinking
All-or-nothing thinking can be linked to adverse experiences in childhood, including traumatic events that may have played a role in developing these kinds of cognitive distortions.
Categorizing people or situations in absolutes can begin as self-protective as part of learned conditioning.
For example, a person may have accepted beliefs taught to them about themselves or the people in their life as “factual,” where these beliefs may become internalized and reinforced.
These same beliefs can be “triggered” in a friendship or romantic relationship, especially during conflict.
In time, these distorted views can affect self-worth, self-esteem, and the quality of their relationships.
3. Relational Sabotage
This pattern is especially common if a relationship is healthy or shows promise, as vulnerabilities can tap into feelings of unworthiness, fears of rejection, or engulfment.
Many who have histories of sabotaging friendships or romantic relationships struggle with a cruel inner critic that convinces them they are going to be left behind, that the other person is going to abandon them, or that the person does not care about them. In more extreme situations, they can subconsciously attract toxic friends or partners to them that creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
More common, is that they often discard one relationship for the kind of relationship that “validates” their beliefs that they are undeserving of better.
4. Constantly on the Go
This is common with “flight” trauma responses.
A person may feel as though they constantly need to do more in order to outrun their childhood pain.
Or some may find themselves in a pattern of overachieving, over-committing, workaholism, or perfectionism as ways of trying to emotionally numb unprocessed trauma.
At the root of this behavioral pattern are unmet needs to feel good enough and accepted for who they are, which can create barriers in their relationships where constant busyness may not leave time for friendships, intimacy, or connection.
5. Inner Critic
Traumatic experiences may have left their indelible mark in the form of an inner critic, which may act up in times of feeling vulnerable, lonely, or disempowered.
The “goal” of the inner critic is to make a person buy into its misbeliefs, some of which may surround deep feelings of shame or feeling unworthy of love.
In time, if a person begins buying into their inner critic’s messages, it can take a negative toll on their relationships.
If a person grew up in an environment that did not offer stable or consistent boundaries, they are at an increased risk of becoming an adult with shaky or nonexistent boundaries.
Some may feel guilty for setting a boundary for themselves out of fear of being shamed or abandoned.
Others may find themselves in a friendship or romantic relationship with a narcissist who limits their ability to establish and maintain firm boundaries or who violates boundaries they try to set for themselves.
7. Feeling “Behind” Others of Similar Age
Experiencing early or chronic trauma in a person’s formative years can make them fall behind developmentally or emotionally from their peers.
Because trauma can overwhelm a person’s emotions, physical body, and psychological and mental development, they may get “stuck” at the age at which their trauma occurred.
They may act or dress younger than their age or may revert to age-regressive behaviors such as tantrums, emotional immaturity, excessive anxiety, an inability to be soothed, or dissociative behaviors – all of which may negatively impact their relationships.
Trauma can affect a person’s ability to feel safe or secure in their relationships, which may leave a person feeling scared or anxious.
Mistrust is formed early in a person’s infancy if they cannot consistently rely on their caregiver to meet their basic needs for love, safety, security, food, or shelter.
Mistrust in infancy can generalize to overall distrust of others in their adult relationships because of early conditioning.
As a result, some may struggle to understand other people’s motives and may get involved with toxic friends who smear them or partners who use them, which reinforces their feelings of mistrust.
Others may internalize narcissistic adaptations (choosing self over others) because of a limited ability to trust.
9. Fear of Abandonment
Having experienced actual or perceived abandonment can predispose a person to misbeliefs that they will again experience abandonment.
These fears may generalize to a need for control, possessiveness, intense jealousy, or an inability to self-soothe if those in their life want to spend time with others or they need time alone.
10. Pushing Away
A pattern of pushing away is often learned in childhood.
Those who did not receive unconditional positive regard or who were shamed or harshly disciplined for being vulnerable may become more avoidant in their relationships.
These types of early experiences may condition a person to feel that they can only count on themselves or that relationships require too much effort.
Hence, if their relationship reaches an impasse or emotional vulnerability is on the line, they may find themselves shutting down or pushing away and preferring time to themselves.
These behaviour patterns are learned survival adaptations that some may struggle with in releasing from their life.
While living with these conditioned patterns can create further distress for a person, letting go of them can be frightening, especially if it is all a person knows (or has been conditioned to believe).
You can heal from and be free of Unresolved Relational Trauma.