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The impact of childhood on adult relationships

Childhood neglect and insecurity leave a mark. Children who have been brought up in circumstances lacking adequate emotional support may find it difficult as adults to love themselves in a healthy way. Trusting and forming attachments to other people may be particularly challenging. As a result of numerous problems in attachment relationships in early childhood, it may be difficult to accept and believe that it is even possible as an adult to find a person who genuinely cares.

There is uncertainty about deserving to be happy and sharing that happiness with the most important person in one’s life. These types of issues trigger feelings of unworthiness. When a child has used all their resources in coping with chaos, being in a stable and close adult relationship may be a completely new situation that requires relearning. One’s own personality and ability to express love feel insufficient.

The children of alcoholics may be ruthlessly judgmental of themselves due to the lack of love they experienced in their childhood. A strong sense of being different may trigger a desire to isolate oneself. Having grown up in chaotic circumstances often makes it more difficult to relax and enjoy the good in life. One may feel guilty for one’s own needs or genuine feelings without any reason, which leads to reacting to other people instead of fulfilling one’s own wishes. The need for approval is often strong because of the underdeveloped self-esteem.

It can be difficult for the partners of adult children of alcoholics, i.e., the most important people in their lives at the present time, to know when a problem situation stems from the disappointments, fears and feelings of inadequacy experienced towards the significant people in their earlier life. In the field of psychology, the phenomenon is referred to as transference.

In communicating with adult children of alcoholics, it can be difficult to know when the main reasons for a conflict have to do with the ghosts of the past rather than something that has happened recently. Open conversations and listening to one another are central to a successful relationship. Attachment relationships experienced in childhood have an impact on intimate relationships in adulthood. The impression of what the most important relationships are like and how the most important person in one’s life acknowledges one’s needs is formed as a child.

The partners of adult children of alcoholics cannot change or fix the wrongs experienced in childhood, but they can listen, show acceptance and provide space to process the feelings and experiences. Particularly comforting about attachment relationships is that it is possible to gain emotionally corrective experiences throughout one’s whole life, and adult relationships offer excellent opportunities to create new ways to trust and bond with another person.

In the field of psychology, four different attachment classifications are used to describe emotional attachments, or attachment relationships: secure attachment, avoidant attachment, ambivalent attachment, and disorganized attachment. These general attachment types manifest themselves as unique combinations in each individual. It is possible to learn to cope even with an unfavorable attachment type.

When growing up with an alcoholic parent, the last three forms of attachment may become overemphasized and, therefore, affect relationships in adulthood. Persons representing the avoidant attachment type accustom themselves to solely satisfying their most basic needs, because their parents were emotionally unavailable – thus, they have learned already early on in their lives that approaching the person closest to them is useless. The ambivalent type suggests that receiving response to one’s needs has been inconsistent, which has brought on uncertainty regarding the other person’s expressions of love. The disorganized attachment type, in turn, means that, in addition to support and affection, the parent-child relationship has additionally included fears, which have caused for the person to become emotionally stuck as an adult, even if another person expresses their love.

Fortunately, in everyone’s childhood there are also varying quantities of the first type, i.e. secure attachment. Despite a family member’s alcohol problems, there is a part in everyone’s childhood that is predictable in a positive manner – a part that includes some support and safety. There is a part in everyone that understands that they are capable of showing love and trusting that they are loved. One can learn to become conscious of one’s personal forms of attachment and learn to understand them. It is possible to learn to question whether one’s feelings of insecurity are justified.

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