Childhood trauma

How Childhood Shame Can Affect Your Adult Relationships

Shame may originate in our childhoods when we witness things that are traumatic. This could be due to domestic violence within the family, domestic abuse, or if you felt bullied or rejected by your peers as a child. 

Childhood shame can also be a result of childhood neglect, assault, or abuse. When the person grows up into an adult, they may carry this shame, which can manifest itself as feelings of depression, or loneliness. Alternatively, they may even adapt to become narcissistic in future romantic relationships as a defense mechanism. 

Childhood Shame vs. Guilt

When someone suffers from childhood shame, it is different from guilt. If you feel guilt, then you think that you did something wrong, or you made a mistake, evaluating your choices as wrong. When you feel shame, you believe that you are entirely wrong or responsible for a specific event in your life, and you believe that you are wrong as a person. 

This shame can become internalized as part of your identity, which can result in mental health struggles such as the aforementioned anxiety and depression. But how can this shame affect your adult life?

How Childhood Shame Can Affect Your Adult Relationships

Feeling childhood shame can be a result of unpredictable parenting, parental mental health issues, bullying, or rejection as a child. This can manifest as, or make us predisposed to, narcissistic relationships where the situation and those familiar feelings are perpetuated again. 

What this means is that if you were neglected or bullied as a child, you may be predisposed to choose unhealthy behaviors and relationships where you are gaslighted, ghosted, or mistreated in some way, as it is familiar to you. 

Some of the more common ways childhood shame can present itself in your adult life is through unhealthy relationships, feelings of emptiness, and narcissistic adaptations.

Unhealthy Relationships

It is very common for those with childhood shame to gravitate towards unhealthy relationships and bonds, since that is what is familiar and comfortable to them. This is in spite of the impact it could have on mental health. 

When you have childhood shame, you may be attracted to those who replay those feelings of shame, and you could develop trauma bonds within your relationships. This is because you are conditioned from a young age to believe these situations are what is right, normal, and acceptable. It is also about seeking acceptance and validation within those trauma bonds. 

Feelings of Emptiness

Childhood shame can also lead to isolation, loneliness, and emptiness, as you may struggle to create healthy friendships and relationships as an adult. You may also try to mask your true self to avoid further feelings of shame. This can lead to difficulty in forming relationships, or you may even be at risk of thrill-seeking behaviors such as alcohol, drug-taking, or compulsive behaviors to hide feelings of emptiness and shame. 


One of the main links between childhood shame, abuse, and neglect is narcissistic behavior later in life. A person who experiences childhood shame is at an increased risk of developing narcissistic behaviors in their adult relationships. 

They may seek out narcissists to be in a relationship with, or they may become narcissistic themselves. They could be incredibly harsh on themselves with high expectations to try and negate the shame and will strive for perfection (that is unrealistic). 

How to Deal with Childhood Shame

  1. Stop blaming yourself
  2. Let go of your shame—it should be your abuser’s not yours
  3. Practice self-care
  4. Forgive yourself
  5. Discover your self-worth

You need to let go of your shame and understand that what happened in childhood is not your fault. Forgive yourself and try to move on. Finally, you can seek guidance from a counselor or therapist for support by contacting Integrative Psychotherapy Group.