‘I Just Can’t Let Go’: How Childhood Trauma Can Affect (Unhealthy) Adult Relationships

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Heartbreak

How childhood affects relationships isn't always clear, at first. But when it is, it can still be difficult to let go.

It’s the six-year anniversary of an emotional affair I had with a married adult child of an alcoholic. The ending broke my heart so badly that it's taken every second of the past five years to recover from it.

Too many times, I heard these words from people around me: "This guy is unhealthy! You need to let him go!"

I knew logically that if I had let this guy back in my life when he asked to see me again, he would have waffled back into the marriage one more time.

Even if we got together, he would have said, "Yes, dear," for years and then become depressed because he was miserable.

But still, the fantasy hung on that one day, he'd wise up, leave his wife, and we would be blissfully happy.

RELATED: How To Recognize If Your Childhood Trauma Is Affecting You As An Adult (& How To Heal)

When childhood trauma affects adult relationships, it becomes harder to let go.

When we're in an impossible relationship and can't let go, we're really hanging on to our personal vision of Disneyland.

Psychology vlogger Nu Mindframe says that if we had a childhood where our needs weren’t met, we look for them to be met doubly in adulthood.

Our needs for a good world were destroyed much earlier than we could handle the idea that the world isn’t a wonderful place. And emotionally, we’re still stuck there.

A child's developing brain is impressionable.  

When we're born and right up to age 21, our brains are still forming. From birth up to age six or so, a child’s brain waves resemble those of a person under hypnosis!

Our tender, young brains were getting down the very basics of what it is to be human: "Am I good enough? Will people love me and care for me? I can’t take care of myself. If they won’t care for me, what do I have to do?"

During that time, the developing brain needs calm surroundings and an atmosphere of unconditional love.

A child is resilient and can live through potty training, being yelled at for biting their sister, and being put to bed when they don't want to go if it’s done in mostly comforting surroundings and an atmosphere of support.

And when it isn’t, the parents acknowledge they did wrong and make amends with the child.

Adults whose needs weren't met as children are constantly seeking what we were denied.

But, we, who cannot let go didn’t get to have that healthy framework.

Our brains are stuck in looking for that soothing environment we needed in childhood in order for our emotional brain to develop correctly, only double, because we didn’t get it.

We didn’t have that wide-eyed time of enchantment and wonder we all love to watch in children, when someone hangs Christmas lights and brings the child outside at dusk, yelling, "Wowwww!"

For instance, when I was that age, my BPD mother was screaming and hitting me all the time.

My mother used to be angry with me because I couldn’t summon up that big, wide-eyed "Wowwww!" anymore. One year, she was angry at me because I opened my birthday presents and... "She didn’t act excited at all!"

Well, guess what?

We’d just had another big blowout, probably because I didn’t want to pick up my room when she wanted me to pick up my room, and it ended up with the flyswatter. Again.

This scene happened over and over when I was a kid. I remember thinking, "What do you think I should be so happy about? You just screamed and belted me because I didn’t want to pick up my room."

If you can't let go of something you know would make you perfectly happy, did you have a childhood like this?

As adults, we build up what would satisfy the need for that perfect, comforting world ever and ever higher.

Little kids don’t know anything about sex. They still think the opposite sex is "yucky." They may play house, but they know they’re too little to own one.

Once we’re old enough, how big those dreams can get! And the problem is, we’ve convinced ourselves that we need them.

RELATED: The Sad Reason Why Childhood Trauma Is Holding You Back As An Adult

The lesson I learned about impossible dreams.

When they're all about redeeming a bad childhood, that isn't realistic.

If someone's going to have a successful relationship, it's because they've healed enough to act functionally in a relationship, with someone who's healed enough to do the same.

Success doesn't happen because they had a childhood that made them feel terrible, and now they’re trying to strongarm the world into making it better for them.

When we attach to that bright, shining, impossible dream of someone or something, that is really what we’re doing.

We’re reliving this childhood experience of needing honest, real, unconditional love from a mom and a dad who treat us fairly, who loves us enough to do anything to make our little child's lives joyful.

We felt devastated when that wasn’t there, and we were abused or neglected instead.

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Now, we're going to have the joy we dreamed of as children, only double. Except we're not, because we find out it isn't working.

I'm not going to redeem my horrible childhood with anything extraordinary or impossible — and you probably aren't, either.

Well, maybe extraordinary efforts to become more emotionally healthy, but that’s about it.

The reality is that I don’t have anything perfect. I have a good-paying job with enough income to meet my needs for now, and I have a place to live and the chores of daily living.

Life's way better than a lot of Americans have right now.

"Attached to The Dream" seems pretty sad to me. I'm never going to have "The Perfect Big Relationship" to make me happy.

People like us have made a lifetime habit of feeling angry and sad that our lives are so much less than other people’s lives. We pick people who leave us with no emotional home anymore. Without them, we feel like we have no family.

And, growing up, we didn't either. It feels horribly unfair because it is. But, we're locked in a death struggle with it.

Aren’t wonderful relationships something just about everyone finds and gets to have? Why did my husband have to die of brain cancer? Why was this guy I fell for such a timid little loser sort of person? Why did these things happen to me?

Of course, I study astrology, so I know why these things happened to me. It’s called: personal growth.

The younger and the worse we were wounded by a family who couldn't love us the way a growing child needs, we pick much tougher people, and we have a much tougher time.

Understanding this is one of the keys to making ourselves more comfortable in the lives we really have.

The other is finding something we can apply ourselves to that absorbs us and makes us truly happy in the act of doing it. Flow is a wonderfully healing way to spend our time, and it opens us up to happiness.

If we can do those things, we can accept life the way it really is, instead of making ourselves miserable longing for that impossible relationship, that impossible confirmation of our worth that we waited in vain for our parents to give us so long ago.

RELATED: If You’ve Been Keeping Your Childhood Trauma A Secret, You Need To Read This

P.D. Reader is a student astrologer who blogs about relationships, affair recovery, adult child issues, and, of course, astrology. You can sign up to receive her newsletter here.

This article was originally published at Medium.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.