In general survivors of childhood trauma have trouble negotiating adult relationships. Either we push people away by erecting defensive walls or we become a magnet for cunning predators We are confused whether a person really cares about us or not. Even when the signals are right in your face, we still tend to ignore the potential warning signs. I know my desperation to be loved led me down the path of self-destruction.
Closeness and connection with others are essential for our well-being. In her book Childhood Disrupted Donna Nakazawa reveals the ways in which childhood adversity can affect our choices and relationships making us less the survival of the fittest and more the survival of the nurtured.
Caregivers Teach Us The Language Of Love
Our neurobiology is shaped by our earliest relationships. Love is the soul food we need to thrive. To be loved is a primal need. The root of most mental illness is a lack of loving care and nurturance in our childhood.
How our caregivers nurture us shapes our identity and our world view. If your parents were good enough you grow up feeling secure in who you are and don”t feel the need to put up with shitty behavior or compromise your needs or values just to be accepted and loved.
However, many of us were not so lucky. Quite a few of us grew up with abusive, neglectful, dismissive or invalidating caregivers Our brain got encoded with a distorted blueprint of what love truly is. Unfortunately, this becomes our yardstick for all future relationships.
Our limbic brain gets incorrectly wired and conflates abusive or manipulative behaviors with love.
Childhood trauma changes our hormonal system – namely the secretion of oxytocin, the love hormone and how we feel and perceive love.
Self-Preservation and Oxytocin
The irony of an abusive relationship particularly with young kids – the more they are maltreated the more they are trauma bonded with their abusers. Our neurobiological system makes to cling to another human in the face of external danger. A version of the Stockholm syndrome is the unfortunate outcome of childhood abuse.
We learn to love our abusers and begin believing that love is submission and appeasement.
Furthermore, those who have suffered ongoing childhood trauma are at risk of having lower levels of the neurohormone oxytocin than average. Normally, oxytocin or the love hormone is released during any loving interaction between two human beings or even pets.
Affectionate physical contact (e.g being hugged, caressed, sex, etc) also increases oxytocin. Which makes us vulnerable to predators who cunningly prey on our desperation.
Sex – Keeps Us Trauma Bonded
Sex becomes our opiate to soothe our emotional pain.
Sadly, we become addicted to the release of oxytocin post-sex and become trauma bonded with our abusive partners. We cling on thinking it is love.
We mistake any kind of attention for love. Sex becomes the easiest way to get the love we crave. However, in the long run, it only leads to abuse or further annihilation of ourselves. Furthermore, estrogen promotes the effects of oxytocin bonding whereas testosterone discourages it. This makes it more difficult for women to detach from the bond as quickly as men.
Breaking from this kind of entrapment is difficult and painful. We suffer not just from our loss of connection but also from the chemical withdrawal that we experience – not having that oxytocin hit.
Confusion About Love
In our desperation to survive our abusive and neglectful environments, we learn to overlook our caregiver obnoxious behavior and normalize the abuse. Or we feel we have to give to get or expect to get just because we give – even with our kids, we play out these childhood programs.
Like clueless aliens, we move around self-sabotaging our current existence because we are confused about what love is and isn’t”t. Unsurprisingly, many of us mistake sex for love or money for love or gifts for love – any attention whether good or bad feels like maybe it is love.
What Really Is Love
As a child, love is more about receiving, unconditional acceptance, support, understanding, tolerance. Loving your child is also about patience and being there physically and emotionally for your child. It is about putting your child’s needs above yours – making them your priority. If one is consistent your child’s brain internalizes your love and develops healthy self-worth. And that feeling of being valuable and precious is slowly embodied within our souls It is the loving memory of mom or dad that shapes our health and happiness.
Truly loving someone whether your child, partner, friend, etc means knowing, accepting and supporting them. Love is not a one time act, it is a longterm commitment to other human beings’ nurturance and growth.
Psychotherapist Scott Peck defines love as, “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
Love is acceptance, attunement, support and caring. Truly loving someone takes work and effort, It is an act of will.
Adult love whether romantic or platonic is about reciprocity. There has to be equal serve-and-return or else it becomes exploitative.
I grew up knowing that I was deeply loved by my mother. Unfortunately, she died and overnight I felt the rug pulled from under my feet. I came to the bitter realization of the truth that family does not mean love.
Learning What is Not Love
- Violence – physical, emotional, sexual
- Neglect, cold treatment, and not really listening
- Having to repress one’s true feeling
- Having to constantly self-erase, one’s needs to fit in and being accepted
- Not having rights to my opinions and choices
- There is no mutual reciprocity – I am always having to adjust
- Unequal give and take – I am giving, pleasing, never saying ‘No’
- Bullying, name-calling, making you feel unworthy or insignificant or not good enough
- Not replying to messages, calls
- Never bothering to check in on me
- Emotional unavailability when I need support
- Barely tolerating my existence
- Publicly denying my existence or knowing me – being ashamed of me
- Blow hot blow cold – intermittent love devaluing cycle.
- Worse simply hating you for whatever reason while pretending in public otherwise. It really messes up your sense of reality
Love Feels Safe
The bottom line is deep, down does this person make me feel good about myself.
It is about you have my back and I have yours – I feel safe.
That there is at least one person out there who is truly there for you, calms our brain and heals our mind.
Knowing we are held in someone else’s mind and heart is the greatest feeling in the world. Without a doubt, this makes all the difference to our lives and our mental health.
Image Source: Pixabay
Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions – Neel Burton