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12 Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults

Our parents are supposed to be our anchors in life.

When we have caregivers who love and support us, we flourish into healthy, happy individuals. 

But suppose you grew up in a home where love was only given based on accomplishments, homes where abuse and neglect were seen as normal, or homes where drugs and alcohol ran rampant.

In that case, you may have experienced many difficult and traumatic experiences. 

Aversive childhood experiences affect roughly 34.8 million children (and adults) in the United States alone. 

This means large numbers of fully grown men and women are carrying repressed memories and unresolved trauma in their everyday lives. 

What are a few signs of repressed childhood trauma? How do I know if I even have painful memories tucked away?

What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

Adverse childhood experiences, otherwise known as ACES, are any traumatic or harmful events between the ages 0-17. 

Since 1 in every 8 adults has experienced 4 or more ACES, you’d assume many people would be familiar with the term and its influential research. 

However, despite many people experiencing ACES as children, it’s not discussed nearly enough. 

ACES can create deep, core wounds that follow children well into their adult life. 

For some, these experiences are never dealt with and simply ignored as they manifest into chronic health problems, destructive behaviors, mental health issues, and relationship difficulties. 

Adverse childhood experiences can look like an injury, the threat of injury, unsafe environments, or any other situation in which a child’s sense of safety and security is compromised.

A few examples of adverse childhood experiences include:

  • Childhood Abuse: 
    • Emotional
    • Mental
    • Spiritual 
    • Physical
  • Witnessing Abuse/Violence 
    • In the home 
    • In their community 
  • Neglect:
    • Physical
    • Emotional
  • Household Dysfunction:
    • Substance abuse
    • Mental Illness
    • Incarcerated Relatives
    • Suicide / Suicide Attempts
    • Divorce

It’s important to remember that it’s not the situation that can cause deep-rooted trauma in a child, but rather their perception of and emotional state during these experiences. 

black and white image of a woman in distress with her hands covering her face. A thought bubble with a birds nest of lines radiates from her head. The title reads signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults
signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults

How Do You Know You Have Repressed Childhood Trauma?

When our brains experience trauma, we tend to shove them deep down into our unconscious as a means of survival.

This isn’t often a voluntary action we take as children but rather our mind’s way of enabling us to continue living our lives. 

You may not know until later in life that you’re struggling with repressed childhood trauma. For some, it takes decades of confusion and frustration to understand what happened to us as children. 

While some symptoms of childhood trauma appear as other mental illnesses, there are a few unique signs that may signal something much bigger underneath the surface. 

12 Signs Of Repressed Childhood Trauma In Adults:

The following signs may indicate repressed childhood trauma. If you experience any of these, it’s worth discussing with your therapist. They can help you process and unpack some of these feelings.

1. Unexplained Aversions To Certain People:

Have you always felt uneasy about being around your Uncle Joe but never been able to quite put your finger on why? 

Or, perhaps you’ve always had a sinking feeling when interacting with your cousin Nate. 

No, you’re likely not making it up in your head – an unexplained aversion to certain people is a sign of repressed childhood trauma. If you have ever felt “off” about someone, your gut is probably trying to tell you something. 

Trauma doesn’t often come back as a memory but as a reaction. 

2. Unexplained Anxiety In Certain Places: 

While our brains may struggle to retain the specific memory, when we experience trauma, our minds make note of the things around us. 

What color the walls were, the smells the candles had, or what music was playing. Trust your senses. If you’ve always felt triggered attending Christmas at your family friend’s house, there may be a reason. 

Our senses can often trigger fight or flight even if our minds can’t seem to understand the cause. 

3. Dysregulated Emotions: 

Do you suffer from extreme emotional shifts? 

You may chalk this up to your personality or your chaotic life as a businesswoman, mother, and wife.

However, take some time to reflect on when these mood swings arise. Controlling emotions can be difficult for even those raised in healthy households.

Those who struggle with unresolved childhood trauma are at a far disadvantage. 

You may be irrationally angry with someone for seemingly “no reason” or notice that even small things cause your blood pressure to rise. This is likely because a repressed memory is being triggered.

A cartoon drawing of a woman with steam coming out of her ears. She's visibly angry. The title reads Signs of repressed childhood trauma: dysregulated emotions
signs of repressed childhood trauma: dysregulated emotions

4. You Suffer From Attachment / Abandonment Issues: 

Many different ACES can cause an intense fear of abandonment. This may manifest as an adult who struggles to leave an abusive relationship or someone who bends backward for others to please everyone. 

Our brain’s development is disturbed when we experience trauma at such a young age. 

As an adult, you may grow attached to people much quicker than others or experience extreme emotional distress when they leave. 

For more information on codependent relationships, check out these resources:

5. Anxiety: 

While anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in adults, it can also be rooted in unresolved childhood trauma. 

Many other symptoms of ACES can cause anxiety, such as staying in unhealthy relationships, constant worry about being left behind, emotional instability, and more, making it a never-ending cycle. 

As children, if we experienced abuse or witnessed violence, it likely left us in a state of fight or flight around certain perpetrators. This left unresolved can then spread into every area of our life as an adult. 

More>> What Is The Difference Between Stress And Anxiety?

6. Childlike Behavior: 

You may have repressed childhood trauma if you experience a regressive, emotional outburst when things don’t go your way. 

While everyone can display moments of immaturity at times, those who have experienced any of the ACES may resort to childish stubbornness, begin to talk in a ‘baby voice,’ or throw themselves into a toddler-sized tantrum when upset. 

This is known as age regression, and it often requires therapeutic intervention. A trained therapist who specializes in trauma may be able to help you learn healthier coping mechanisms.

7. Inability To Cope With Adult Stress: 

Feeling stressed is normal when you’re pushed out of your comfort zone or have too much on your plate. But for some people, this stress is overwhelming.

If we never made it past the childlike stage of emotional maturity, those who have repressed childhood trauma may fall apart instead of working through it as mature adults. 

Do you have trouble coping with change? Do you experience extreme emotions that make daily life difficult? If so, you may have repressed trauma. 

A cartoon drawing of a woman who is visibly stressed with wavy lines coming off of her head. The title reads Signs of repressed childhood trauma: inability to cope with stress
Signs of repressed childhood trauma: inability to cope with stress

8. Extreme Fatigue: 

Yes, it’s possible for us to feel exhausted when carrying heavy emotions. Fatigue isn’t just for our physical body. 

Emotional energy can drain us, even if we don’t understand what’s causing it. 

Some of this has to do with how stress and stress hormones can overload our adrenal system. If your body is frequently stuck in a state of ‘fight or flight,’ you might feel physically exhausted.

A 2009 study in JAMA Psychiatry even found that childhood trauma is a potent risk factor for chronic fatigue syndrome. They found that childhood trauma resulted in a 6-fold risk of chronic fatigue syndrome. This risk increased in subjects who also suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

If you want to learn more about the way stress is connected to disease and how it impacts our bodies, I highly recommend reading the book, The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

9. Damaged Self-Esteem: 

Low self-esteem can be caused by many things, but repressed childhood trauma is a common root cause. 

Self-esteem issues fall into two main categories: self-underestimation, seeing yourself as worse than you are, and self-overestimation, seeing yourself as better than you are.

Examples of self-underestimation include never feeling good enough, self-erase, and lacking self-love and self-worth.

If you were held to impossible standards as a child or made to feel disposable, you might suffer from self-underestimation. This is also common in children who had to be caregivers for neglectful caretakers and siblings. They erase their own needs in service of others.

Childhood trauma can also cause the opposite problem: self-overestimation. This manifests as narcissism, psychopathy, and sociopathy.

Narcissism can present in several ways, including:

Although they present in drastically different ways, self-underestimation and self-overestimation are two sides of the same coin.

A graphic of a woman on her laptop, upset, head in hand. The title reads Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma: Damaged Self-Esteem
Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma: Damaged Self-Esteem

10. Missing Time: 

We’ll discuss this quite a bit more in the paragraph below, but if you feel huge chunks of your childhood are missing, this can be a red flag that something isn’t right. 

While many of us don’t remember all the specific details about growing up, you may have repressed childhood trauma if you feel as though years of your life are all a blur. 

11. Trust Issues: 

Have you always had difficulty trusting others but couldn’t figure out why? 

For example, maybe, from what you remember in life, you’ve never been given a reason to have such a strong aversion to men. 

This may mean you have repressed memories of abuse or neglect from your father or male figures that you’ve stuffed deep into your subconscious. 

A therapist can help you explore the root causes of your trust issues, including uncovering potential trauma you’ve long since buried.

Shadow work is another good tool for connecting to buried experiences. The following resources can help you start:

12. Substance Abuse or Addiction: 

If you’re an adult that has always struggled with intense sadness or pain deep within and used alcohol or drugs to cope, you may have repressed trauma at the core of your substance abuse.

Here are some shocking statistics on childhood trauma and addiction:

  • According to The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report, “more than a third of adolescents with a report of abuse or neglect will have a substance use disorder before they reach their 18th birthday“.
  • 55 to 60 percent of all post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) victims develop some form of chemical dependency.
  • There is a direct correlation between ACES scores and addiction risk. The more ACES exposure an individual has the higher their risk for developing an addiction.

For more on this subject, I highly recommend this video:

Does Childhood Trauma Always Affect Memory?

Research has shown time and time again that when we experience trauma, our memory is altered. ACES can literally hinder our brain’s ability to store memories, thus creating many blind spots where our childhood memories should be. 

No, not every single person that experienced childhood trauma will develop memory loss, but it’s incredibly common. This phenomenon is called dissociative amnesia, defined as an inability to recall personal information from one’s past. It may be in the form of denial or forgetfulness. 

Any type of damage to the brain can cause memory loss. Many people fail to understand that trauma is an injury; it’s just not a visible injury. 

Memory, the ability to process and store information, can easily become hindered when our memories are too painful to allow at the forefront of our minds. While it can become incredibly irritating as an adult, it’s simply our brain’s way of protecting us. 

What Happens When Childhood Trauma Is Left Unresolved?

Our brains and bodies are deeply interconnected. While stuffing our memories deep down into our unconscious may seem like the right decision at the time, those wounds don’t simply disappear. They weigh heavily on our minds until they begin to become unavoidable. 

As the number of adverse childhood experiences an individual goes through increases, so does their risk for negative mental and physical health problems. 

A few results of unresolved childhood trauma include:

  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Alcoholism 
  • Depression / Suicide
  • Chronic Stress
  • Dissociative Disorders
  • PTSD
  • Dementia 
  • Other Mental Health Disorders

Many of these symptoms can then create a domino effect, causing even more symptoms to arise from them. For example, chronic stress has been linked to high blood pressure, digestive problems, headaches, heart attacks, and more. 

Childhood trauma can be overwhelming to deal with on your own. If you feel you may have repressed childhood trauma, it’s incredibly important to reach out to a mental health professional as it may literally save your life. 

Resources:

Access should not be a barrier to help.

Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp. If you have tried (and failed) to find a therapist with the knowledge and background to help you navigate your specific issues, try BetterHelp. Learn more about my counseling journey with BetterHelp or visit their website below.

A woman sits on the ground curled up with her head buried in her arms. The title reads 12 Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults
Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults PIN

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