Unresolved childhood trauma – how does it affect our adulthood?

According to the attachment theory by Dr Bolby (1968), your adult bonds tend to mirror those you first established with your caregivers. Attachment is an emotional bond with another person. Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life. 


Now think about your relationship with your caregivers when you were a child or teenager, what message did you get back then about relationships? How did your childhood shape your view of the relationship in general? What do your current relationships (romantic and friendships) look like? Is that dynamic familiar to you? 

There is a famous quote from Carl Jung ''Until you make your unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate''. Until we acknowledge our wounds and traumas from our past, they will direct our life, and we will think it's our destiny. 

The moment we understand that what we experienced in childhood shaped our beliefs about life in general, we can decide if this belief is serving us or not. If it doesn't support us in life or even having this belief causes suffering to you or your loved ones, then as an adult, you have the responsibility to change it. The moment we have the awareness that our behaviours are stems from our past and in our past, we created false self-belief, then the healing can start.

Inner child wounds were caused by major or minor traumatic experiences during our childhood. As adults, we invalidate and downplay these negative experiences because we are looking back with adult eyes. But back then, for example for a child the feeling of not being understood, for a long period, it's already very traumatic. These wounds block away part of your authentic self and completely influence the way you see and live your life. Instead of continuing to push your emotions further down into the corner of your soul, you can choose to heal and improve your adult self.

I understand that thinking about that can be overwhelming, and you may ask yourself if it is even possible to change the behaviour or way of thinking that's been with you for your whole life. I can assure you that it may require time and patience but it's possible. 

So how do unhealed childhood wounds manifest themselves?

It can show up in adulthood as:

  • people pleasing
  • low self-esteem
  • struggle with setting boundaries
  • need to prove yourself and others
  • codependency
  • tolerating abusive behaviours
  • attracting narcissistic partners
  • external validation needed
  • deprioritising your own needs
  • fear of abandonment
  • being narcissist
  • anger issues
  • the constant need to be in control
  • addiction
  • anxiety
  • depression

Just to name a few. Doing the work to unlearn dysfunctional patterns is essential to interpersonal growth.

How can we work with unresolved childhood traumas and those negative beliefs that were created in our past? Below, I have briefly outlined three approaches to working with it.

1. Notice

The most important thing is to recognise that you have a limiting, unhealthy belief, and unresolved trauma, that keeps showing up in triggering situations. It's about noticing when it pops up in your mind or shows up in your behaviour.

Simply noticing and naming limiting beliefs/unhealthy behaviour helps to keep the necessary mental distance towards them. Watching limiting thoughts allows you to treat them as one of many that we can have. It is the first step to stop identifying with those that do not serve our well-being.

2. Check

Our beliefs are often the result of our childhood. This is the result of the experience we have gathered. It may be that we "carry with us" beliefs that once adequately described the reality in which we functioned or at least allowed us to find ourselves in it, but today are outdated. So it is worth checking to what extent the belief accompanying you is covered in reality, in facts. Is it real or fake? Constructively verify it.

3. Dialogue

What allows us to weaken the negative impact of a given belief on our well-being is entering into dialogue with it. What exactly is the limiting voice saying to you? When you hear this voice well, answer it. Get into an argument with it. Debate.  

What would someone like that say to you? Practising dialogue often leads to the formation of new, healthy beliefs that will serve your well-being. 

Take those small steps towards what is important to you. If you need support understanding yourself better and discovering those unconscious beliefs starting therapy it's always a great step towards healing.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London N10 & E14
Written by Barbara Josik, Counsellor & Psychotherapist MBACP
London N10 & E14

I am psychodynamic, integrative therapist working with clients in private practice. I have worked in a variety of mental health and therapeutic settings, supporting individuals struggling with a range of issues, including anxiety, depression, abuse, social anxiety, childhood trauma, relationship issues, family issues and many more.

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