Childhood Trauma and Attachment Theories

Childhood trauma is a life-threatening and violent event in a child’s life. It significantly impacts a person’s behavioral and emotional functioning because it affects how a person develops trust and attachments in later life (Toof et al., 2020). According to John Bowlby’s theory, childhood attachment affects how a person will get affectionate to their children, the type of partner they choose, and how they react to situations in relationships. There are three main types of childhood trauma: physical, emotional, and sexual trauma.

Physical trauma is the activities of physical abuse such as natural disasters, life-threatening illnesses, terrorism, community violence, and so on. Although experiencing these events at an early age alone cannot lead to trauma, re-experiencing them in later life may trigger trauma. This is true because many children have experienced physical abuse of different forms in their childhood, but they can remain normal until another form of physical abuse occurs later. That’s when they start to recall the childhood events (Toof et al., 2020). For instance, when a person is involved in community violence as an adult, they may easily re-connect it with other forms of physical abuse, such as school bullying, which occurred to them while they were children. This resurfacing of thoughts may lead to PTSD; however, early physical trauma alone cannot lead to PTSD.

Emotional trauma involves psychological abuse such as military deployments, domestic violence, and parents’ grief. It causes more harm than physical or sexual abuse because it remains in mind for a long period (Toof et al., 2020). Children who have emotional trauma at a young age below four years find it difficult to create trust and have social bonds with others when they grow up. Additionally, when emotional trauma happens to someone when they are adults, they are also likely to experience the effects. For instance, a soldier who participated in the Afghanistan war said that he could not watch war movies because it brings painful memories, although the traumatic event happened when he was already an adult (Robjant et al., 2020). The US government ensures that soldiers who come from war receive therapy to help them overcome emotional trauma.

The third type of trauma is sexual trauma, which happens due to sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation. When children experience sexual abuse at an early age, they are likely to become more engaging, thinking it is acceptable behavior to adopt (Robjant et al., 2020). However, it was also noted that children that experience sexual abuse at a young age are also likely to victimize other children when they become adults (Toof et al., 2020). This shows that it is essential to counsel children who are sexually traumatized to avoid them doing the same at a later age.

Human beings are born to be naturally intimate creatures. However, the level of trust in their relationships, families, and social relations mostly depends on the experiences in their early childhood (Toof et al., 2020). On one side, Children who are used to having caring parents are more likely to develop trust in other people because they believe that everyone is caring and trustworthy like they are. This can be demonstrated through their relationships; they are likely to handle their relationship matters more maturely because they can control their stress. On the other side, children who are not attached to their parents or caregivers are likely to have poor relationships with other people and find it hard to maintain relationships because they cannot control their stress levels. They are less likely to depend on emotional attachments for survival. These theories can be used during marriage counseling situations because children’s attachment changes from caregiver to intimate relationships partners when they grow up. Therefore, if one partner finds it hard to trust the other, this can reflect their childhood attachment. By understanding this, it becomes easier to advise them accordingly.

There is a biological view of trauma and attachment. It explains the biological impacts of trauma that affect the attachment of individuals. Brain development happens during the child’s young years when they are under the care of a parent or caregiver. The first two years of a child are crucial because it is when the part of the brain that deals with social interactions and how to cope with stress is formed (Toof et al., 2020). Therefore, when a child is not securely attached to a parent or caregiver in the first two years, it may lead to neurons’ death, which provides the link between cortical and subcortical areas, making the orbitofrontal cortex not function properly (Toof et al., 2020). This makes traumatic memories in the head remain in the unconscious limbic system, which adds more stress to the individual. The biological explanation of the impact of trauma in children helps to affirm further that children’s attachments in the early years are crucial.

The biological perspective proves that Bowlby’s attachment theory is functional. Parents and caregivers should ensure that they create secure attachments with their children early, as adolescents’ early age traumatic experiences shape their attachments in the future. These may include how the children will react towards their parents, love partners, and social networks in their adult lives.


Robjant, K., Schmitt, S., Chibashimba, A., Carleial, S., Elbert, T., & Koebach, A. (2020). Trauma, aggression, and post conflict perpetration of community violence in female former child soldiers—A Study in Eastern DR Congo. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11. Web.

Toof, J., Wong, J., & Devlin, J. M. (2020). Childhood trauma and attachment. The Family Journal, 28(2), 194–198. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Childhood Trauma and Attachment Theories." April 4, 2023.

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PsychologyWriting. "Childhood Trauma and Attachment Theories." April 4, 2023.