Being treated as irrelevant by family members – the attachment trauma or witnessing persistent patterns of abuse – creates a different type of psychological pattern. People’s identity is based on questions like “What did I do wrong?”. or “What could I have done differently?” That becomes the central preoccupation of her life.
The important factors are what these challenges are and at what age they arise. The character is formed in the first 10 to 14 years of life. These years are the most critical and the sooner a real trauma occurs, the more lasting it is usually. As people get older, they become more independent agents and can tolerate more rejection and more emotional pain.
Don’t most children experience at least one experience that they later consider traumatic or severely challenging?
Yes. Most people have very challenging lives, and major conflicts with family members are by no means uncommon. To be rejected by your in-laws – this is of course not uncommon, and it doesn’t matter how prominent you are or whether you live in a palace. Then a major problem in the couple’s relationships becomes whether the spouse chooses you or their family.
Could the same experience that changed one child’s life have less of an impact on another child’s life?
Yes. People have very different impulses, very different reactions to the same challenges. But your attachment system – who you belong to, who knows you, who loves you, who you play with – is more fundamental than trauma. As long as people feel safe with the people in their immediate vicinity, in their families, tribes or troops, they are amazingly resilient.
Risking or relinquishing these bonds, as Harry did, is a very profound step. The standard psychological position is to adapt your behavior and expectations to your family of origin. It takes tremendous courage to break these bonds and create new and more fruitful connections.