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The Impact of Psychological Trauma on Parenting

Federico Carmona

To be a good enough parent, one needs to understand one’s self. The type of attachments and interactions one had in their family of origin is critical to understand the kind of parent one might become or already is. For instance, children who have received loving, consistent care are more likely to develop a secure attachment, which provides a sense of safety and security throughout life. In contrast, children whose nurturing experiences have been disrupted by significant parental absence or unresponsiveness to their needs are more likely to develop insecure attachment, which manifests in avoidant or anxious attachment styles. Negative attachment styles like those can form a lifelong emotional template, affecting the individual’s emotional, relational, and even functional life.

Why is this important when one is already an adult?

Attachment is an emotional connection that impacts and influences thought and behavior from the cradle to the grave. How a child attaches to their parent(s) or primary caregiver(s) affects how they will manage their own emotions, relationships, and friendships throughout their life.

Attachment plays a critical role in an individual’s life-development. Neurobiological research shows that humans need attachments, relationships to function well in life. Infants have an instinctual need to form a unique emotional bond with a primary caregiver(s).

Dan Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. In an interview with Rebecca Codrington, Siegel said that parents need to make sense of their childhood history. Their willingness to do this will determine the type of attachment they’re going to provide to their children and the kind of parents they’re going to be.

How Trauma Affects Parenting

Parents with any form of trauma have a non-integrated nervous system and compromised emotional brain, making them not much different from an emotionally poor-regulated teenager whose brain is still developing. Not having a good sense of life will make a parent highly susceptible to emotions out of control. Unresolved feelings of shame, inadequacy, guilt, fear of rejection or abandonment translate into an anxious or avoidant attachment style. These negative attachment styles, which are reflections of arrested psychological development, will prevent a parent from being fully present with their children, especially when emotions run high.

What to do

In his interview, Siegel also said that making sense of life means linking the emotional brain to the rational brain to soothe the amygdala and create a secure attachment with one’s children. That sounds much simpler than what it really is, though. This linkage doesn’t occur just because one decides upon it. In adult individuals, there’s an entire life lived with the consequences of the traumatic divorce of the emotional and rational brain. Multiple defense and coping mechanisms have been created to protect the individual’s fragile ego and cope with life's reality.

The human brain is an amazing thing, however. Its neuroplasticity permits the reconstruction of developmental disruptions by creating new neurological pathways. Simultaneously, processing and integrating traumatic life events allowing the mind to move from a rigid state to more flexible conditions. That is done through appropriate therapeutic interventions and the intentional cultivation of positive, supporting relationships.

Seek a trauma-trained therapist and set yourself to face and process some difficult events of your past to offer your children a loving, caring present and a better future.

Article originally posted on 9/27/20 in Touched for Life blog. Republished with permission.

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