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The Impact of Childhood Experiences on Adult Love




We’ve explored how there’s a lot that goes on in our brain when it comes to love. We get bursts of dopamine, oxytocin and lots of other hormones that make us feel like we’re on a high, and it’s such a great feeling! But sometimes, we get confused as to why we feel certain ways. 


Why do you have this continual pattern in your mate choices? Why do you feel anxious in your love at times and resistant in others? How are your past experiences still impacting you? 


Let’s explore some different areas that may be impacting your relationships and patterns more than you realized. 


The Impact of our Parents 


We’ve recently discovered how our own parenting styles impact the way our child develops their personality, their love language, and the way they respond to stressors in life. And, as I’m sure you’ve realized, your parents did the same for you as well. 


If you had a parent with a permissive parenting style (and haven’t done internal work), you’ve probably chosen someone that doesn’t have much of a back bone. You’re used to getting what you want and you don’t like hearing no. If you had a parent with an authoritative parenting style you probably choose partners that challenge you and yet support you in a healthy way. 


We can also have distinct communication styles due to the way our own family dynamics were growing up. 


If you grew up in a family where being loud, boisterous, and yelling was the norm then that’s most likely how you’ve learned to communicate in your relationships as well. However, don’t feel too stuck because this can change, especially if you’ve found friends that are the opposite of you. 


Beyond this, our parents impact us in indirect ways as well, like how we actually attach to our partners and friends for years to come. 



The Challenges of Attachment Styles 


Mary Ainsworth is known for her research on children’s attachment styles to their parents. Her most popular study was called the “strange situation.” The main steps of the experiment involved: 


  1. A child would be with their mother playing in a room

  2. A stranger would walk in and sit in the room with them

  3. The mother would leave and the child would be left with the stranger

  4. The mother would come back in to comfort the child


The experimenters were most concerned with the children’s reactions to each step. Mary figured out there were four main attachment styles that determined how a child responded to being left with a stranger and how they responded to comfort from their mother. It was also discovered that these styles can stay with us all the way to adulthood. 


The main styles include


  1. Secure

  2. This child explores the room freely when the mother is present, and acts friendly to the stranger. They show distress when their mom leaves, and they’re comforted when she returns. 

  3. In adult relationships securely attached individuals are typically confident, seek support when needed, reliable, and they thrive in close relationships.  

  4. Anxious/Ambivalent 

  5. This child does not explore the room freely, they are avoidant of the stranger, and they remain distressed when their mother returns to the room, even after attempts of comforting them. 

  6. In adult relationships this individual is insecure, needy in relationships, and often not sure if anyone will want to ever be with them even though they crave the emotional intimacy. 

  7. Avoidant/Dismissive

  8. This child does not explore the room much, does not show distress when their mother leaves, and their emotions don’t change when she returns. Oftentimes they even ignore her when she returns to the room. 

  9. These individuals are wary of deep emotional connections with others. They try to push people away to avoid being relied on and having to rely on others. They can be distant, closed off, and rigid. 

  10. Disorganized

  11. This child’s reactions can be confusing. At times they call for their mother, but move away. Their reactions are not consistent when she leaves or when she returns. This child would often freeze and show confused expressions.

  12. As an adult, they often have intense fears typically stemming from trauma or abuse. They often feel unsettled in relationships and they can be selfish and insensitive. 



Trauma 


As seen above, disorganized attachment can stem from a history of trauma or abuse. Childhood trauma can have profound and lasting effects on adult relationships. There are multiple things to take into account including the nature and severity of the trauma, their coping mechanisms and their support systems.


Beyond insecure attachments, childhood trauma can cause low self esteem, communication and trust issues, as well as fear of intimacy and sexual issues. All of these factors can lead to struggles when trying to create attachments with other adults.


The good news with the various impacts that our parents and childhood experiences have had is that we can work through them as adults. Doing inner work, medicating/using relaxation techniques, and being intentionally self aware can change the blueprints that we've been given.


By understanding the impact of childhood experiences on adult love, we can identify areas for growth and seek support to develop healthier relationship patterns. Recognizing these influences can empower people to make conscious choices that foster positive and fulfilling connections. Finding support groups, journaling, and developing coping skills can all be ways to help spark the change you want to see.


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