The Bravest Challenge: Parenting, PTSD, and the Past

parenting

We receive no formal training in parenting – and although it’s the most rewarding job in the world, it’s also one of the scariest. We never want to hurt or damage our children in any way, and if we were denied something as a child, such as safety or reassurance, we want to make sure we deliver it to our own children.

If you’re reading this article, there is a chance you’re worried about how your past is impacting your parenting. You might have a formal diagnosis of PTSD, or you might have recognised some of its symptoms in yourself and are curious. Maybe you didn’t have a great childhood experience growing up, and you’re worried about becoming a parent. Whatever your situation, it’s never too late to seek help. There is no such thing as a perfect parent after all.

Understanding the Role That Attachment Style Has on Your Relationships

We aren’t responsible for how we were raised – as children, our upbringing was totally out of our control. However, our early life relationships can affect how we relate to others both as children and when we grow up. This is called our attachment style – of which there are four. They are not mutually exclusive, and it is common to have a mix of two or more.

The attachment styles are:

Secure

This style comes from having a consistent, predictable, and trustworthy caregiver. This translates into being an adult that successfully navigates conflicts and builds relationships easily.

Insecure-Ambivalent

This results from an inconsistent caregiver – they might have been caring at times, but also volatile and unpredictable. As an adult, this can lead to fear of abandonment and strong dependency on others.

Insecure-Avoidant

This attachment style arises from a disengaged and emotionally distant caregiver that ignores your needs to be loved, accepted, and seen. This leads to dismissing your own emotions as an adult and struggling with intimacy.

Disorganised

This style is the result of a chaotic and abusive caregiver that is a source of fear. As children, we still crave attachment, so we form a bond with the parent despite the relationship’s negative impact on us. It translates into feeling high levels of fear, irritability, anger, depression, despair, and defeat. Adults with disorganised attachment often subconsciously repeat the parental behaviours they witnessed as a child.

Attachment Styles and PTSD

Unsurprisingly, research has found that insecure-avoidant and disorganised attachment styles correlate higher with instances of PTSD in adults. [1]  Whatever your attachment style or styles are, it will affect how you parent – whether you’ve learned to suppress your emotions and not react to situations or overreact and lose your temper at insignificant things.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can cast a shadow over our lives. Past energy from unresolved trauma can trigger us and cause us to act in certain ways, e.g. we might flare up in anger or fall into depression. These triggers can seemingly come from nowhere and make it feel like we are re-experiencing the original trauma, and they can be alarming, not only for us but for our loved ones around us.

Most research around parenting and PTSD centres on war veterans as often, people only associate trauma with the most extreme instances. However, traumatic events come in many guises, and PTSD can occur after any stressful, dangerous, or scary event. It could have happened over a long time period, such as physical abuse or be a one-off event. [2]

Often, parents with PTSD worry they aren’t parenting as well as they can or that their trauma will be passed on to their children. They hold themselves to an impossibly high standard to mitigate this risk, ending in a cycle of self-blame and disappointment. This doesn’t have to be your reality – studies have shown that a PTSD diagnosis does not necessarily correlate with parenting risk. [3]

Parenting is difficult, and you’re allowed to make mistakes. It’s important to remember that you can always review whether or not your reaction is appropriate for the situation. If you’ve overreacted to something minor, take a step back from the situation and give yourself time to relax. The same applies to underreacting – firm boundaries are essential for balanced emotional development, and children need guidance.

If you’ve made a mistake, you should be willing to apologise; however, genuine apologies require a committed effort to change. In the meantime, you could try explaining to your children what the reality of living with PTSD is like and how it affects the way you act. This will help them understand that the reaction is related to you and your past rather than them and will hopefully prevent them from internalising your actions and behaviour.

Of course, altering long-standing well-entrenched behaviours takes time and often requires professional intervention. There is nothing wrong with seeking help – overcoming past trauma isn’t easy alone. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent – it actually signifies wanting the best for your children.

Trauma-informed professionals can help you understand how your past affects your parenting and show you healthy coping strategies for managing your PTSD symptoms.

 

At Khiron Clinics C+A, attuned therapists can help you work through and process any unresolved trauma using specialist techniques and methods. Please contact us today.

 

Sources

[1] Woodhouse, Sarah et al. “The relationship between adult attachment style and post-traumatic stress symptoms: A meta-analysis.” Journal of anxiety disorders vol. 35 (2015): 103-17. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2015.07.002

[2] Costello, E Jane et al. “The prevalence of potentially traumatic events in childhood and adolescence.” Journal of traumatic stress vol. 15,2 (2002): 99-112. doi:10.1023/A:1014851823163

[3] Muzik, Maria et al. “Psychopathology and parenting: An examination of perceived and observed parenting in mothers with depression and PTSD.” Journal of affective disorders vol. 207 (2017): 242-250. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2016.08.035

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