How Childhood Patterns Affect Adult Relationships


With an increased awareness of how our childhood experiences affect present relationships, more of us are searching for the roots of our self-destructive behaviors. Most of our adult relationship difficulties and recurrent problems are a reaction to or a reenactment of childhood issues. We need to go backwards in order to go forward.

Family of origin work needs to be one of awareness and changing behavior, not a drive to find blame nor a way to relinquish responsibility for our current life issues. The reason we look at the past is to see how it impacts our present.

In looking back, we can link behaviors in our life today that are controlled by our relationships of childhood. Many of us have vowed to not be like our parents, yet many of us have ended up just like them or have reacted in the opposite extreme. By being determined not to have a relationship just like theirs, we reenact it or react to it—thus, our own relationships continue to be controlled by theirs.

Why do we do this? Because we grow attached to that which is familiar. We often develop strong bonds with the patterns that were acted out by our parents when we were growing up. Breaking a pattern is much like breaking any addiction—difficult, but not impossible. It requires an advanced level of self-awareness regarding the connection between what you are doing and the results that you are getting.

Patterns are usually unconscious.  They are the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors we engage in that are repetitive and automatic. They are the imprints that were indelibly etched into our psyches and personalities as we grew up, both in the family and in our social interactions. In our relationships as adults, we recreate what we know. It provides a sense of continuity, cohesion, and control.

Instead of blaming ourselves or our parents, we need to understand that these patterns have a life of their own. They are like vortices of energy, with their own pull, like a force field. The only way to resist them is to become fully conscious of them and thus activate the power of choice. Understanding that you are the source of the pattern restores your choice.

To identify your repetitive patterns in relationship, ask yourself the following questions:

• What is the frustrating pattern I’ve experienced over and over again in my relationships with others?

• What specifically am I doing to create the results that I am getting in these relationships?

• In what ways, if any, was this pattern acted out by my parents?

• Which of these patterns, if any, do I want to release from my life?

• What specifically would I have to give up in order to do this?

Once you have become conscious of your patterns, commit to doing at least one thing per week that breaks up the blueprint of what the “normal” you is like. Becoming conscious of your habits will shift your brain patterns, allowing you to correct the imprint, and thus allowing you to take responsibility for—and change—your behaviors.

Peggy Hammes, M.S., is a Licensed Psychotherapist, Certified Imago Relationship Therapist, and Teacher of Wisdom.

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