Is Trauma Related to Failed Relationships?

Is Trauma Related to Failed Relationships?

If you’re moving through life with unhealed wounds, it only makes sense that your relationships will be affected. Many people think of catastrophic experiences when they think of trauma. But the truth is that it can result from any event that’s beyond what we can personally cope with. All of us have unique life journeys. And everyone reacts to and recovers from trauma in their own way. 

Regardless of what experiences you may be healing from, it’s true that what we’ve been through in the past impacts the way we connect to people in our present. If you’re noticing patterns in your relationships that you think may stem from unhealed trauma, you’re not alone. 

Just because you carry the pain of past traumatic experiences doesn’t mean you or your relationships are doomed. You can unpack the stories you’ve developed around your trauma that keep you stuck in unhealthy patterns. You can heal your wounds for good and learn how to connect with people authentically. Keep reading to learn how your unhealed wounds might be affecting your relationships, and what you can do to holistically heal from trauma and move forward.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is your brain and body’s response to experiencing something troubling. And this doesn’t just refer to pronounced events. In fact, your brain can’t differentiate between “big” and “small” trauma. Everyone’s threshold for traumatic experiences is different. This means that even if you can’t pinpoint one source, you may still be suffering from emotional wounds buried within.

There are three main types of trauma:

  • Acute trauma stems from a single, overwhelmingly distressing event.
  • Chronic trauma results from a series of incidents over a longer period of time.
  • Complex trauma comes from exposure to various traumatic events. 

Many of us feel ashamed of our trauma and utterly alone in our suffering. But it may help you to know that 70 percent of U.S. adults report having been through some sort of trauma in their lives.  

How Can Trauma Impact Your Relationships?

Trauma can impact all types of relationships. When you move through life with unhealed trauma, it becomes the lens through which you see the world. Of course, there’s a wide variety of traumatic events that people may experience. And each of these can affect your relationships in different ways. Many people living with trauma go through their days expecting danger, betrayal, or potential harm. This affects how you connect with others and how your relationships play out. Here are just a few of the ways that trauma can impact your relationships: 

1. Trauma Can Influence the Way You Connect With Other People

When we’re young, we learn from the adults around us how to form attachments with others. When we have healthy attachments as children, we feel safe. However, many of us experience some sort of trauma before the age of 18. The family environment you grow up in, in turn, influences how you relate to people as an adult.

Secure attachments are able to form when you feel safe and comfortable in your relationships. Those with secure attachments have a healthy view of relationships. They’re able to share their emotions with others and aren’t afraid to connect out of fear of abandonment or rejection.

Many of us struggle to create secure attachments as adults. We may find ourselves either avoidantly or anxiously attached to our loved ones. People with an avoidant attachment style often experienced neglect or rejection as children, and now struggle to trust the bonds they build with others. They may have difficulty trusting others and strive for independence when they find themselves getting close to someone. 

Those with anxious attachments often experienced lots of inconsistency in their caregiving growing up. As a result, they now have trouble trusting the bonds they build with others. They experience lots of anxiety in relationships and may act out with clinginess or hypersensitivity. For both avoidant and anxious attachments, these behaviors can push their partners away, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of abandonment that further reinforces their patterns. 

2. Trauma May Lay the Foundation for Negative Beliefs About Relationships

Perhaps you’ve experienced trauma in previous romantic relationships. Or, maybe you witnessed dysfunctional relationships that left an imprint on you. In either case, you might now act on untrue beliefs about relationships without even realizing it. 

These subconscious beliefs color the way you interpret your partner’s words and actions. This can create issues where none actually exist or cause you to see your partner in the worst light. Holding onto these negative beliefs can cause you to push others away, feel as if you’re never truly understood, and create situations that reinforce your limiting beliefs about relationships. 

For example, your trauma may make you feel that if you open up to people, they’re bound to hurt you. This can cause you to shut others out when you’re feeling vulnerable, pushing partners away instead of inviting them in. Or you may believe that to avoid rejection, you have to reject others first, or avoid intimate relationships altogether. 

The longer you cling to these beliefs, the more likely you are to behave in ways that deepen your belief in them. The best way out of this downward spiral is to heal your trauma and begin rewriting the subconscious beliefs you live your life by.

3. Trauma Could Lead You to Choose Unhealthy Partners

Those attachments we develop as children can come to influence the sort of partners we seek out. You might unwittingly be used to relationships that are toxic—whether abusive, neglectful or just not in your best interest. If these sorts of connections are what you’re used to, it’s common to continue building the same types of relationships as you grow older. 

Or, you might think that a dysfunctional relationship is what you deserve and the best you can do. This can cause you to tolerate behavior that no one should have to put up with from their romantic partners because your prior experiences have taught you this treatment is normal. You may be drawn to emotional intensity, favoring connections that are inconsistent, demeaning, or manipulative, rather than honest, vulnerable, and kind. And that’s all because this is what you’ve experienced in loving relationships before.

It’s also not unusual for people with trauma to connect with others via “trauma bonding.” In this case, the cycle of abusive behavior reinforces the kinds of attachments they had as children. For example, if you experienced neglect as a child, you might create bonds with partners who keep you in this same cycle of hot-and-cold treatment. 

4. Trauma Can Trigger You Into Fight, Flight, or Freeze

Our ancestors relied on community and connection for survival. As such, we’re wired to perceive threats of rejection or abandonment as threats to our physical wellbeing. If you have unprocessed trauma, you’re more likely to be triggered into survival mode via fight, flight, or freeze. This is especially true for situations that mirror the trauma you experienced.

For many of us, these hardwired responses protected us from past trauma. And now, your brain associates this with surviving relationship struggles. This can cause you to react instinctively, and sometimes unconsciously, in ways that actually harm your relationships rather than improve them. Here are some ways past trauma can trigger a fight, flight, or freeze response:

  • Fight: When you perceive a threat to your relationship, you lash out. You may attack people verbally or physically, pick arguments, get angry, and have trouble letting things go. This pits you against the people you love. And that prevents you from working through issues together.
  • Flight: When you experience difficulties in your relationships, you run away. You may physically remove yourself from emotionally charged situations, actively avoid facing relationship issues, or avoid intimacy altogether.
  • Freeze: When issues arise with a loved one, you feel unable to act. You might shut down emotionally and push your partner away, or feel helpless and unable to talk about what’s troubling you. 

All of these innate, biological responses are natural and understandable. But they make it much harder to stay emotionally connected to our romantic partners. 

5. Trauma Can Create Difficulties in Sexual Intimacy

Many of us live with some kind of issue around our sexuality. For people who have experienced trauma—especially sexual trauma—it can be difficult to cultivate emotional safety. When we have unprocessed trauma around our sexuality, we struggle to trust other people. Sexual abuse survivors often find it difficult to let their guard down, even when they’re safe. Satisfying sexual intimacy in relationships requires vulnerability. And those of us with trauma may find this hard to develop.

If you’re carrying trauma around your sexuality, you may find it hard to form and sustain healthy sexual bonds with romantic partners. You may shut down when sexual advances are made, struggle to enjoy sex, or find yourself disassociating during sexual encounters. All of these outcomes make it difficult to develop the intimacy that many healthy relationships rely on to flourish and grow. 

6. Trauma May Cause You to React in Shame and Self-blame

People who have survived trauma often feel ashamed of what they’ve been through. They may harbor beliefs (conscious or subconscious) that what happened to them is somehow their fault. Carrying that shame can cause a variety of negative outcomes in your relationships.

When problems arise with your partner, shame may cause you to react in unhelpful ways. You might put up walls against your loved one. Or, you might deal with your insecurities by going on the attack. If you feel your partner is shaming you for something you’ve done or said, it can be hard for you to receive criticism, even when it’s warranted. Because you’re wary of having your flaws pointed out, you may respond with defensiveness or anger. Ultimately, shame and self-blame may cause you to give up on relationships rather than working through issues that arise. 

Can You Change the Way Trauma Affects Your Relationships?

Clearly, moving through life with unresolved trauma does not help you to build healthy, happy relationships. The wounds we live with can create a legacy of beliefs and behaviors that don’t serve us in building strong, positive connections. When these wounds continue to fester under the surface, they impact the way you see yourself. And this spills over into the bonds you build with others, as intimacy frequently triggers emotional reactions stemming from trauma. 

That’s why it’s so important to process and heal the unresolved trauma you’ve been holding onto. The good news is that healing from trauma is entirely possible. While mainstream treatment philosophy says that trauma never fully goes away, we think differently at the Sanctuary. 

The first step is to become aware of the beliefs, behaviors, and patterns that make it difficult for you to sustain genuine, loving relationships. From there, you can begin to think and act with more compassion, understanding, and love for yourself

Recovering From Trauma & Moving Forward With Healthy Bonds

When you become aware of the patterns in your relationships created by trauma responses, you can start to change them. Trauma affects us all differently. We all heal on different timelines, and in different ways. If unresolved traumatic experiences are impacting your ability to connect with people, you’re not alone. Consider the following options for working through your trauma: 

Understand how Trauma Works 

Reading this article and others like it is a great first step to understanding how trauma impacts your relationships. When we understand something for what it really is, we can shift unwarranted blame off ourselves and begin to heal. To do this, you can read books about trauma recovery, talk with a therapist, or reach out to our team for more guidance.

Notice and Share Your Triggers

As you become more familiar with the ways your traumas affect your perception, you can notice and share your triggers with your partner. This helps you gain distance from your triggered response and see it for what it really is. And that is a reaction born from uncontrollable circumstances. 

Learn New Techniques for Self-soothing

When you respond to situations through a traumatic lens, it’s often because you’re emotionally triggered. By developing your toolbox for self-soothing, you can begin to reparent the part of yourself that feels abandoned, rejected, or unloved. 

Get Professional Help

Healing unprocessed trauma on your own can be overwhelming, difficult, and even scary. With the help of compassionate trained professionals, your healing journey can be much safer. This makes it easier for you to process whatever arises. 

Take Your Time 

All of us are different, in the ways we react to and heal from trauma. There’s no set timeline; no one way you “should” or “have to” go about it. Respect your own journey. Take all the time you need to heal these deeply held wounds. 

Healing ourselves is essential for a healthy, happy life. And connecting to our own wholeness is necessary for rewarding relationships. With each step of your healing journey, you step further into your personal power and create more space in your life for healthy bonds built on mutual trust, love, and respect.

Healing ourselves is essential for a healthy, happy life. And connecting to our own wholeness is necessary for rewarding relationships. With each step of your healing journey, you step further into your personal power and create more space in your life for healthy bonds built on mutual trust, love, and respect.

Holistic Trauma Treatment at the Sanctuary

Here at The Sanctuary, we’re committed to helping you let go of your stories and make room for your full, true self. Our holistic approach to treating trauma sees you as the whole person you are. We personalize a comprehensive trauma recovery program according to your unique background, needs and preferences. 

You are not broken. Our non-12-Step trauma treatment program is a journey of personal empowerment that encourages natural healing from the wounds you’re living with. We help you dig deep into the beliefs you hold around your trauma that keep you stuck in unhealthy relationship patterns.  

We teach people how to manage triggers, instead of rearranging their lives to avoid them. Through this intensive healing process, you’ll build your emotional strength so you don’t get overwhelmed as easily. You’ll gain competency in dealing with your emotions, so you’re able to more easily regain balance when situations do arise.

If treating your trauma holistically feels right to you, get in touch today. We’re happy to talk with you about where you currently are and see if our program is a good fit for your needs.

He is the Founder, Administrator, Counselor at the Sanctuary at Sedona.

He has a BA in Political Science and is currently Senior teaching staff at Four Winds Society, an international school of energy medicine. His credentials also include being an Ordained Minister; a Certified Shamanic Breathwork® Facilitator; a Founding Member Society for Shamanic Practitioners; a Member of Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology; a Member of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies. [email protected]