8 Signs of Unhealed Childhood Trauma

Have you ever had a traumatic experience when you were a child? Is there something horrible that happened to you when you were younger that still takes a toll on your mental health and emotional well-being, to this day?

A traumatic childhood isn’t easy to recover from. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are defined as traumatic events that occur during childhood, such as abuse, neglect, and other kinds of childhood trauma, such as serious illness, injury, or bullying/peer victimization (U.S. Children’s Bureau, 2020). And even years after we’ve grown up, ACEs can still continue to have a negative impact on our mental health and emotional well-being (National Survey of Children’s Health, 2016). So it’s important that we recognize the signs of lingering childhood trauma that hold us back from being happy and accomplishing all that we want to achieve.

With that said, here are 8 tell-tale signs that you may still be battling against some unresolved childhood trauma:

1. You’re burdened with guilt

Our early childhood experiences have a way of staying with us for the rest of our lives, and they often shape the way we view ourselves and the world around us. So if you had any traumatic experiences when you were younger (such as abuse, neglect, or domestic violence), it can warp your judgment and negatively impact both your mental health and your emotional well-being (Street, Gibson, & Holohan, 2005). The psychological scars of your past may manifest as unexplained or unreasonable feelings of intense guilt, shame, and regret brought about by your unresolved trauma.

 

2. You feel anxious for no reason

Another clear sign that you may still be struggling with trauma from your past is if you are feeling anxious all the time but don’t know why (DeLoe, 2016). Are you agitated and restless? Do you often experience an elevated heart rate, profuse sweating, muscle tension, or shakiness? These are all common symptoms of anxiety, but it’s usually triggered by specific stimuli or situations. So if you have no idea where all this anxiety is coming from, it may be your mind crying out to you for help, begging you to work through the emotional trauma you’ve been repressing for so long. 

 

 

3. You’re emotionally distant

If you’ve ever been hurt in the past, especially by someone you loved or trusted, it’s understandable that you’d become more guarded and cautious about who you let into your life. But while most of us learn to let go of our heartbreaks and open ourselves up again, people who suffer extreme tragedies or emotional pain find it easier to distance themselves from others than deal with their own trauma. They are hesitant to be vulnerable with anyone and afraid to form intimate, meaningful relationships with people. They have abandonment issues, trust issues, and a strong fear of rejection that keeps them from getting close to anyone (Rokach & Philibert-Lignières, 2015). 

4. You struggle to be happy

Do you have a hard time staying positive about things? Do you struggle to see the good in situations and let go of your problems? People who have suffered from traumatic experiences often have a hard time letting go of their past and struggle to move forward with their lives. They tend to fall into the trap of denial, negativity, and self-sabotage because of their resistance against positive change. Happiness can feel scary and unfamiliar to someone who’s suffered so much. It takes a long time for us to realize just how unhappy we truly are, and even longer to understand that it doesn’t have to be that way. 

5. You struggle with self-loathing

For a lot of us, self-love and self-compassion don’t come easy. But it can be especially hard for someone who experienced trauma at such a young age (Pearlman, 1997). You struggle with low self-esteem and sabotage your own happiness because your past experiences have taught you that you don’t deserve it. You listen to your own negativity because it’s all you’ve ever known, and the consistency in hurt is what makes it so comforting and so hard to let go of.

6. You tear yourself down

One of the most devastating effects child abuse (be it physical or emotional) can have on a person is how much it can negatively impact our self-concept (Broady, 2018). Were you a victim of child abuse or neglect? Did you grow up in a toxic home environment? Victims of Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACEs) tend to have a lot of problematic, self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. They’re extremely harsh and critical towards themselves and often indulge in bouts of self-pity. They are quick to blame themselves for everything that goes wrong in their lives, even if they have no control over it, and are often plagued by feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy – all because of their unresolved childhood trauma.

7. You can’t control your emotions

Do you find it hard to keep your emotions in check? Do you often feel overwhelmed by the intensity and depth of your feelings? Do you have a bad habit of taking your anger and frustration out on those around you? Difficulty controlling your emotions and having a low stress-tolerance are both clear signs that you may be struggling with some lingering psychological trauma (Teicher & Anderson, 2011). As a result, you may be more defensive, easily flustered, quick to get upset or cry, and lose your temper a lot. 

8. You gravitate towards the wrong people

Finally but perhaps most importantly, if you have a tendency of falling into unhealthy relationships with people who are bad for you, then it’s a definite sign that there’s still a lot of emotional baggage left for you to unpack (Bovarnick, 2007). Our dynamic with our parents becomes the template for all our future relationships; they teach us what “love” looks like and how we “deserve” to be treated by the people in our lives. So no matter how awful they may have been, it’s simply human nature to want to recreate our early childhood experiences because it feels familiar to us, because it’s the only thing that makes sense to us sometimes.

If you relate to any or all of the signs mentioned here, then you should consider giving therapy a try. Talking to a mental health care professional can help you work through your trauma and move on from the pain you’ve suffered in the past. 

References:

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Children’s Bureau (2020). “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).” Retrieved 28 April 2020 from https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/preventionmonth/resources/ace/
  • National Survey of Children’s Health (2016). “Trends in Adverse Childhood Experiences.” Retrieved 28 April 2020 from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/adverse-experiences
  • Street, A. E., Gibson, L. E., & Holohan, D. R. (2005). Impact of childhood traumatic events, trauma‐related guilt, and avoidant coping strategies on PTSD symptoms in female survivors of domestic violence. Journal of Traumatic Stress: Official Publication of The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, 18(3), 245-252.
  • Rokach, A., & Philibert-Lignières, G. (2015). Intimacy, loneliness & infidelity. The Open Psychology Journal, 8(1). 
  • You struggle with self-loathing
  • Teicher, M. P., Anderson, S. L. (2011). The Neurobiological Consequences of Early Stress and Childhood Maltreatment. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 27 (10); 33-44.
  • Bovarnick, S. (2007). Child Neglect: Short-term and Long-term Outcomes. London: National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
  • DeLoe, J. (2016). “15 Common Signs of Unresolved Trauma.” Retrieved 28 April 2020 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2016/06/15-common-signs-of-unresolved-trauma
  • Broady, K. (2018). “20 Signs of Unresolved Trauma.” Retrieved 28 April 2020 from https://www.discussingdissociation.com/2009/07/20-signs-of-unresolved-trauma/

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