Intimacy is an important part of close relationships, whether it be romantic, familial, and/or platonic. An individual’s history, especially their past experiences with developmental trauma, can have a strong and lasting impact on their ability to create intimate, meaningful relationships.
Developmental trauma occurs as a result of chronic adversity during a person’s formative years and can involve physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse or neglect, parental incarceration and displacement, and/or recurring abandonment and loss. While this trauma can manifest in damaging ways in adulthood, it can also lead to someone struggling to show up in relationships and create meaningful connections.
Survivors of developmental trauma may experience intense emotions, including shame and guilt, which can cause them to act out in hostile and avoidant ways. This can lead to challenges with trust, communication, and empathy, preventing them from being able to be present in their relationships. For example, they may put up boundaries as a way of self-protection, leading to isolation and loneliness. In addition, they may struggle with levels of humiliation and vulnerability connected to their past trauma, pushing them away from relationships and intimacy.
It is important that those in relationships with individuals who have experienced developmental trauma understand the unique challenges those survivors may face in fostering meaningful connections. It is critical that space and support be provided, both through self-care and through communication with those in the relationship. Empathy, patience, and understanding are essential when building trust.
At the same time, it is crucial for those who have experienced developmental trauma to find ways to build secure and meaningful relationships, as this can create much-needed nourishment and aid in the healing process. Professional therapy and/or counseling can be essential sources of help when attempting to create trusting and loving relationships, and working through the trauma in a secure and supportive space. Alternatively, for those seeking a more holistic approach, meditation, yoga, and various other mind-body practices have been known to have strong impacts in understanding, calming, and healing from trauma.
Developmental trauma can create lasting impacts on one’s ability to show up in relationships. Through support, practice, and a commitment to healing, however, intimacy, trust, and meaningful connections can be cultivated.