Counselling4Brighton - Brighton Counselling
Brighton Counselling & Psychotherapy

Difficult adult relationships

Is your past impacting on your relationships?

There is one issue that I have observed more often than any other in my 20 years of clinical practice, and that is the impact of our childhood upbringing on the kind of adult relationships that are possible in the present.

Parental relationships and counselling

Some people clearly have a difficult relationship with their parents, and for obvious reasons if a parent has been absent, abusive, or rejecting. But often the impact of childhood upbringing and parenting is not immediately obvious and it can lurk in the background while other, more immediately pressing, issues are easier to identify and work on in counselling. Issues such as eating disorders, anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, relationship problems, social isolation, addictions, problems at work, and bullying, are issues which I regularly work with and with 80% of these clients it becomes apparent that experiences in childhood have been a key determining factor.

Intentional neglect

There are many ways in which parents might be neglectful. They may be obviously and deliberately neglectful and abusive and this will often understandably lead to a damaging emotional and psychological effect on the child as they grow up and can often interrupt the confidence they have in others to be helpful and loving towards them. This can have a powerful influence on the kinds of adult relationships that might then be possible.

Unintentional neglect

Parents may also be unintentionally neglectful. They parent to the best of their ability at the time but may have problems of their own which mean they cannot provide the level of care, love, and attention that a small child needs. I see this often in people who come to counselling and who, from their description, seem to have a parent (often a Mother) who we might describe as narcissistic – the kind of Mother who always needs to take centre-stage and who cannot help but plead ‘what about me?’. The child of a narcissistic Mother may find themselves not really knowing what they feel (because they daren’t not feel anything in the face of their very needy parent), or being careful about how they express themselves least they might antagonise their Mother. This can come to light when exploring how intimate adult relationships tend to go wrong because they are unable to assert themselves, and find themselves always acquiescing to their partner.

Counselling to support your relationships

I have found that by far the most helpful way of exploring relationship difficulties in the present that may have their roots in the past is to spend time considering the role of ‘attachment patterns’. Research in ‘attachment theory’ has shown that the way that we relate to significant others in adulthood is likely to be influenced by our early emotional bonds. So the patterns of relating that we develop in infancy with our main caregiver/parent in particular, but also with siblings and grandparents has a direct influence on the way we feel able to relate to others when we are adults. In this way attachment patterns, as they are called, can help us explain repeating patterns in relationships and can help us understand why we always seem to take a similar and particular role, and have similar relationship experiences, with those that we try to be friends or lovers with.


Introductory counselling sessions are available so that you can find the support that you need to understand your past, and move towards healthier long-term relationships.