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How Does Childhood Trauma Affect Trust?

First, I have to apologize to all of you fans of Practical Psychoanalysis – it was just yesterday that I realized how much time has actually passed since the last time I posted on the blog. You’d be amazed what a 13-pounder can do to a woman’s routine and work schedule. Ever since my son was born this February, it’s been hard to find the time to write. Between taking care of him, my older daughter and my clients, I can barely fit in time to myself. And psychoanalysis is my thing, my passion and my contribution to society and all people, who benefit from it. So I am sorry for not writing for awhile; I’ll try to do better.

Pic by Drew, modified.
Pic by Drew, modified.

This is a post about how childhood trauma affects trust and relationships. I’ve touched on this issue before in How Childhood Trauma Affects Adult Mental Health: 1 Problem We Fail to Mention  so if you haven’t seen that post, check it out.

The simple answer is that childhood trauma breaks trust in people and in society as a whole. This is something that we work on with my clients –  processing the impact of their early childhood experiences on their ability to form and maintain relationships with others, both romantic and platonic.

Rarely do people come to therapy intending to work on improving their relationships and their ability to trust. When they do, it’s usually after years and years of struggle dating and finding a partner, who makes them happy. Instead, most of us come to therapy complaining from feelings of depression, mood swings, self-injurious behavior, anxiety, substance abuse and sometimes hallucinatory experiences or chronic illnesses. As we often discover in the therapeutic process, underlying many of these complaints is the experience of childhood trauma, often repeated and prolonged.

The earlier the trauma, the harder it becomes to repair the damage it has left behind. Childhood trauma can lead to erratic behavior in adulthood such as

  • angry and unpredictable mood swings
  • paranoid thinking and distrust in other people’s motifs or judgement
  • frequent changes in partners and/or promiscuous behavior
  • substance abuse and the consequences of such
  • irritability and lack of patience in relationships
  • suspicious, jealous and/or otherwise unstable patterns of relating to others that can bring about arguments, fights and even infidelity

If the trauma is prolonged and repeated such as in an abusive households with an alcoholic parent, for example, the greater the impact on a person’s ability to form healthy relationships and to develop trust in others. When people do succeed in forming bonds, they may not always be the healthiest bonds, often requiring them to sacrifice their own sense of self to make things work.

Sometimes, trusting that others are going to be there for you is not only hard to accept but it can also be threatening. People, who have experienced childhood trauma and have been hurt by others may unconsciously push loved ones away – it is safer to be alone than trust another. Of course, that in no way makes it any easier to be alone and people may continue to seek love, only to push it away when they find it.

To break free from this relational cycle, it is important that you address yourself to a psychoanalytic or relational psychotherapist, who works with childhood trauma, and who would be able to identify such repeating patterns and point them out as they happen either in the therapeutic hour or in your everyday life.

This may take years and usually, the younger you are, the easier it would be. Ironically, in order for the change to happen, you do need to TRUST a therapist to help you. So before jumping in, make sure you ask around and research your therapist; maybe hear them give a presentation; email them or talk to them on the phone. Ask questions, be informed and don’t be scared to do the work – it will all be worth it in the end.


To learn more about childhood trauma and its treatment from a psychoanalytic point of view, visit my website.

For more articles on common mental health issues affecting you and your family, subscribe to Mental Health Digest and get the latest issue emailed to you today by leaving your name and email address in the contact form here.

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How Does Childhood Trauma Affect Trust?

Mihaela Bernard, MA, LCPC

Mihaela Bernard, MA, LCPC is a licensed clinical professional counselor and founder of Inside Family Counseling, LLC in Chicago. She is a Professional Member of the American Counseling Association and a member of Chicago Psychoanalytic Circle of the Freudian School of Quebec, Canada. She is the author of Mental Health Digest electronic magazine, your free, easy-to-read electronic resource on common mental health issues affecting you and your family, plus some suggestions on how to address them. She specializes in psychoanalytic psychotherapy for troubled children and adolescents, who face behavioral and emotional challenges at home and at school. Her mission is to empower, support and guide children, adolescents and their parents to a happy and healthy family. Mihaela also writes a Parenting Blog, where parents find helpful resources and practical tips on how to support their child and adolescent's behavioral and emotional development. You may find out more about her at

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APA Reference
, . (2016). How Does Childhood Trauma Affect Trust?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 May 2016
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