You Can Take or Leave People. Many people with Developmental Trauma hold people at arm’s length. This behavior can range from slight discomfort to crippling social anxiety. People who have had a hard childhood may tend to be shy, withdrawn, and self-amusing.
Trying to Not Be Defensive is Particularly Difficult. This is an area that might cause you to have longer battles than necessary with your partner. People with Developmental Trauma are often very defensive and sensitive to criticism, which can be very frustrating and aggravating to their partners.
You’re Waiting For The Other Shoe to Fall. Childhood abuse shapes the nervous system to always be on guard. Even with “good news” the attitude of a spouse with Developmental Trauma can be that every silver lining has a dark cloud. This can be frustrating to a normal partner.
You Fear Being Abandoned by Your Spouse. This trait is particularly present in people who have developed a Borderline Personality Disorder (which also often develops out of childhood trauma).
Anger Comes Easily to You. Anger was modeled for you, and it may flow quickly easily to you, especially with your spouse.
Or Hardly at All… On the other hand, some folks with Developmental Trauma can be extremely conflict avoidant. They have a difficult time standing up for themselves. They flee from conflict with their spouses, but internalize their anger into lingering unspoken resentments that they hold onto, sometimes for years.
You Have Issues With Addiction and Risky Behavior. Recent research tells us that many victims of childhood trauma struggle with addictions. These may include alcohol, or other drugs, or compulsive behaviors such as shoplifting, gambling, compulsive eating, etc. New research shows that if you were traumatized at around 8 years old, your brain can not accurately assess the impact and consequences of your risky behavior.
You Dissociate. You might find yourself slipping in and out of a mental fog, losing track of a conversation. You retreat into your own mind easily, and your partner may be annoyed by your inability to consistently focus on the conversation.
You Look For Problems and Second Guess Everything. It’s hard for you to count on other people. You expect the worst in every situation.
You Are Always Putting Yourself Down. If you put yourself down first, at least you spare yourself the pain of listening to your spouse do it.
Compliments Make You Queasy. You already know for sure that you’re worthless and weak, why would anyone go out of their way to contradict this obvious fact?
You’re Extremely Sensitive. People who were abused as children had to read people and situations fast.
You’re Nervous, Fretful and Easily Overwhelmed. Your spouse may be annoyed that you are so easily overwhelmed. But overwhelm was your normal state as a kid wasn’t it?
Intimacy is a Challenge. You want to get close to your partner, but you find yourself managing the relationship more than just trusting in it. Some people with Developmental Trauma wonder if they would be better off alone while fearing solitude at the same time.
You Panic Easily. Panic attacks come unexpectedly. Sometimes when the phone rings, you’re fine. Other times you might have to be scraped off the ceiling. You can’t trust what your nervous system will do next.
Understanding What Your Having Been Abused as a Child Means in Your Relationship
Developmental Trauma is a burden on the healthy partner too. Sometimes spouses with Developmental Trauma can be extremely self-focused and unaware of their partners’ struggle to relate to and understand them.
If you or your partner were abused as a child, science-based couples therapy can help. The first step is to work with a therapist who can help you both understand how Developmental Trauma is interfering with your relationship, and assist you with a treatment plan to help you become more mindful of the specific automatic behaviors that are hijacking your nervous system and keeping you mired in conflict with your partner.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and passive aggressive behavior patterns.