How are people affected by growing up in abusive, traumatic, and/or neglectful environments? Many grow up in families who love only conditionally and constantly criticize everything they do. No matter how hard they try to please, they are never good enough and don't receive the approval and attention they need. They feel completely helpless and powerless to change their circumstances. To protect themselves emotionally, they learn to survive by avoiding painful interactions, compartmentalizing negative emotions, and distracting themselves with activities that are rewarding. Consciously or subconsciously, these same individuals vow to never feel helpless or powerless again. They seek security and safety through their careers and financial abundance in an effort to be empowered and in total control of their lives. Their life decisions revolve around achieving autonomy so that they never have to rely on others again. For some, work becomes their only identity and purpose in life. They often become successful at making money, but have no idea how to have successful relationships. What are the relational consequences of this mindset?
In childhood, many of these neglected and rejected individuals learned that they couldn't rely on others. As a result they have a difficult time trusting others and allowing people to get close to them. They avoid being vulnerable with others because they assume that this will result in emotional pain. Instead, they remain isolated and emotionally disconnected. They may have many acquaintances, but very few friends. They connect with people on the surface level, but don't allow the friendships to go any deeper. They feel more comfortable with intellectual conversations rather than emotional ones. In fact, they are very good at suppressing negative emotions without realizing that positive feelings are also being subdued in the process. They survived dysfunctional childhood experiences, but the residual effects often don't become evident until their relationships are in crisis. How can they change things around to become more connected to their loved ones?
Change starts with awareness, so knowing what needs to change puts the process in motion. For some, changing thoughts followed by behaviors creates greater connections. Others may benefit from confronting the pain from the past and choosing to let it go so that the behaviors are not repeated. Forgiveness is invariably a part of the healing process and sometimes so is talking directly or indirectly to the person(s) involved. Sometimes writing letters and sharing the emotional pain allows for healing. Learning new skills like emotional expression and assertive communication can create greater connections. Another way to grow in emotional maturity and intelligence is through practicing self-disclosure and vulnerability with loved ones. Over time, trust is built and this strengthens the connections to others. Lastly recognize the value of relationships over material possessions. Our legacy is in the people we positively impact, not the wealth we accumulate. Decide today to overcome past barriers to strong relationships and make a difference in the lives of those around you.