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Signs of Childhood Trauma in Adults
As an adult, you may not realize that the struggles you face are rooted in your childhood experiences.
Childhood trauma can, unfortunately, have long-lasting effects on a person’s mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing, and it’s not uncommon for these effects to carry into adulthood.
If you’ve experienced trauma as a child, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms that may be impacting your life today.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is an emotional and psychological response to an event or experience that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope.
The brutal reality is that childhood trauma can cause lifelong complications with a person’s mental, emotional, and physical health.
It can affect the way we think, feel, and behave, and can impact our relationships and ability to function in daily life.
Types of Childhood Trauma
There are several types of childhood trauma, including:
➡️ Physical abuse: As the name implies, physical abuse uses physical force that results in injury or harm to a child.
➡️ Sexual abuse: Sexual abuse horrifically involves any sexual activity with a child, including touching, penetration, or exposure to sexual content.
➡️ Emotional abuse: Emotional abuse includes any behavior that harms a child’s emotional or mental wellbeing, such as belittling, ignoring, or isolating them.
➡️ Neglect: Neglect involves failing to provide a child with basic needs, such as food, shelter, or medical care. This might not be intentional due to something like poverty, but the trauma is still 100% valid.
➡️ Household dysfunction: With household dysfunction, a child lives in a home with substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, or other forms of instability.
If you’ve experienced any degree of childhood trauma, it’s possible that you’re still dealing with its effects as an adult.
Here are some signs of childhood trauma to watch out for…
Signs of Unresolved Childhood Trauma in Adults
✨ Speaking of childhood trauma, have you downloaded your free inner child healing workbook yet? 👇
PS. It’s important to seek professional help if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms.
Please remember that there are effective treatments available to help you manage and heal from childhood abuse, neglect, and trauma.
1. YOU STRUGGLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH
Childhood trauma can contribute to the development of various mental health conditions in adulthood.
Mental illnesses that may be linked to childhood trauma:
➡️ Depression: A history of childhood abuse or neglect can lead to feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and low self-esteem, which are often associated with depression.
➡️ Anxiety: Childhood trauma can also increase the risk of developing anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Trauma can lead to feelings of fear, worry, and hypervigilance.
➡️ Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Complex Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD): PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event(s). Childhood trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, can lead to the development of PTSD in adulthood.
➡️ Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): BPD is a mental health condition characterized by unstable moods, impulsive behavior, and difficulty with relationships. Childhood trauma, particularly emotional abuse or neglect, is a known risk factor for the development of BPD.
➡️ Substance use disorders: Childhood trauma can lead to feelings of emotional pain and distress, and some people might try to cope through substance use.
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive (and people can definitely struggle with mental illness without living through trauma), but there is often a correlation.
2. YOU EXPERIENCE INTENSE FEELINGS OF SHAME
Shame is a highly complex emotion that’s often associated with feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, and self-doubt.
Warning signs of toxic shame ⤵️
💔 Feeling self-conscious
💔 Withdrawing from others
💔 Feeling guilty
💔 Seeking constant reassurance
💔 Being overly apologetic
💔 Feeling worthless
💔 Lacking boundaries
💔 Becoming defensive
When shame is chronic, it can feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong with you (which is so, so not true!)
More signs of toxic shame:
3. YOU HAVE LOW SELF-ESTEEM
How often do you catch yourself saying something mean to yourself?
Low self-esteem is one of the prevalent results of childhood trauma.
When a child is exposed to traumatic experiences, such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, it can lead to feelings of worthlessness, shame, and guilt.
These feelings can persist into adulthood and affect a person’s self-esteem and self-worth — which can manifest into negative self-talk.
Looking to improve your self-esteem?
3. YOU HAVE A HARD TIME REGULATING YOUR EMOTIONS
Another one of the most common signs of childhood trauma in adults is difficulty regulating emotions.
If you find yourself struggling to control your emotions, experience frequent mood swings, or have sudden outbursts of anger, it might be a sign that you’re still carrying the weight of past trauma.
I know for me, I can experience deep sadness out of seemingly nowhere, only to look back and recognize I was triggered by a repressed childhood wound.
4. YOU STRUGGLE FORMING CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS
Adults who experienced childhood trauma may have a hard time forming close relationships due to a variety of reasons.
Some possible causes of lacking close relationships:
➡️ Trust issues: Adults who’ve experienced abuse or neglect may find it challenging to trust others, including potential romantic partners or close friends.
➡️ Fear of vulnerability: People who’ve experienced childhood trauma might’ve learned to keep their emotions and feelings hidden as a coping mechanism. Because vulnerability is uncomfortable for them, it can be challenging to form close relationships.
➡️ Difficulty with emotional regulation: Childhood trauma can affect your ability to regulate your emotions, which can lead to conflicts in relationships.
➡️ Negative self-beliefs: Childhood trauma can lead to negative self-beliefs, such as feeling unworthy of love. You might also feel like you don’t deserve healthy relationships.
➡️ Attachment issues: Childhood trauma can disrupt the development of healthy attachment styles. Adults who’ve experienced trauma may have developed insecure attachment styles, which can make it challenging to form intimate relationships.
Taking down your walls might feel insurmountable, but it is possible.
Do you remember your childhood friends?
5. YOU ISOLATE YOURSELF FROM OTHERS
Because you feel unlovable or struggle with low self-esteem, you might think it’s better to withdraw from people.
Or maybe you’re so used to being alone, and you feel like it’s better to isolate instead of people getting to know the real you.
But feeling disconnected from others (or avoiding social situations) can cause your symptoms of low self-esteem to progress, and this vicious cycle can be hard to break free from.
6. YOU FEEL HOPELESS
If you struggle with feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, you’re definitely not alone.
Childhood trauma can lead to a sense of learned helplessness, which is the belief that we are unable to control our environment or circumstances.
When you feel like there’s no chance of things getting better, you think there’s no reason to even try to heal.
But you don’t have to live with this unbearable pain forever.
7. YOU EXPERIENCE REGULAR PAIN
Many adults who’ve survived childhood trauma experience regular pain.
Why you face regular pain:
➡️ Physical injuries: Trauma can result in physical injuries, which can cause chronic pain. For example, childhood abuse can result in broken bones, bruises, or other injuries that can cause pain into adulthood.
➡️ Stress-induced pain: Living through childhood trauma can lead to chronic stress, which can cause physical symptoms, such as headaches, muscle tension, and stomach pain.
➡️ Psychosomatic pain: Childhood trauma can cause the development of psychosomatic pain, which is pain that is caused by psychological factors. For example, individuals who have experienced trauma may develop chronic pain as a result of unresolved emotional issues.
➡️ Hypervigilance: Childhood trauma can also cause hypervigilance, which is a state of heightened awareness and sensitivity to potential threats. This state of hypervigilance can cause physical symptoms, such as muscle tension and headaches.
Our bodies are wonderful, but it can also feel like they let us down.
8. YOU HAVE CHRONIC HEALTH PROBLEMS
On top of living with regular pain, you might also be dealing with some type of chronic health problem.
Potential causes of chronic health problems:
➡️ Chronic stress: Childhood trauma can lead to chronic stress, which can have negative effects on a person’s physical health. Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions.
➡️ Changes in brain development: Childhood trauma can affect the development of the brain, which can lead to changes in the body’s stress response system. These changes can increase the risk of developing chronic health problems, such as autoimmune disorders or chronic pain.
➡️ Unhealthy coping mechanisms: People may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance use or disordered eating — which can increase the risk of developing chronic health problems.
➡️ Poor self-care: People may neglect their physical health, such as not getting enough sleep or exercise, which can increase the risk of developing chronic health conditions.
➡️ Adverse childhood experiences: Childhood trauma is often accompanied by other adverse childhood experiences, such as poverty or exposure to violence. These experiences can increase the risk of developing chronic health problems in adulthood.
When you’re body betrays you due to childhood trauma, it can cause you to justifiably resent all you’ve lived through.
9. YOU STRUGGLE WITH BODY IMAGE
There is often a strong correlation with childhood trauma and body image.
Read these common explanations for poor body image:
➡️ Shame and guilt: Childhood trauma can lead to feelings of shame and guilt, which can affect your self-esteem and body image.
➡️ Negative self-beliefs: You might believe you’re unworthy or unlovable. These beliefs can affect your body image and self-esteem.
➡️ Emotional eating: People who’ve lived through trauma may turn to food as a coping mechanism or self-punishment. This can cause people to develop various eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binging.
➡️ Sexual trauma: Childhood sexual abuse or assault can have long-lasting effects on a person’s body image and sexuality. If you’ve experienced sexual trauma, you might feel uncomfortable with your body or struggle with intimacy.
If you struggle with your body image, please try to remember you are not broken, and healing is an option.
Read these inner child healing quotes:
10. YOU HAVE A HISTORY OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE
People who’ve experienced childhood trauma may turn to substance use as a way to cope with the emotional pain and distress caused by the trauma.
Why people struggle with substance abuse:
➡️ Self-medication: Individuals who have experienced trauma may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate and alleviate their symptoms of various mental health conditions.
➡️ Coping mechanism: Childhood trauma can cause intense emotional pain and distress, which can be difficult to manage. Substance use can provide a temporary escape from these feelings and serve as a coping mechanism — albeit unhealthy coping mechanism.
➡️ Lack of social support: Loneliness and isolation can be painful to endure, and some people may turn to drugs or alcohol to escape.
➡️ Peer pressure: People who’ve experienced childhood trauma may be more vulnerable to peer pressure and may be more likely to engage in substance use as a result.
➡️ Genetics: Childhood trauma can increase the risk of developing addiction, and genetics can also play a role in addiction. People who have a family history of addiction might be more vulnerable to substance use as a result of childhood trauma.
If you struggle with substance abuse, there is help here.
Do you know someone who struggles with addiction?
11. YOU ENGAGE IN RISKY BEHAVIORS
Because of the pain of your trauma, you might have a tendency to engage in self-sabotaging behaviors.
Risky behaviors associated with trauma:
➡️ Reckless driving and speeding
➡️ Having unsafe sex
➡️ Drug use
Participating in risky behaviors doesn’t make you a bad person, and there are healthier, more fun ways to cope.
12. YOU EXPERIENCE FLASHBACKS
Unresolved trauma can cause flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and other symptoms of trauma.
Childhood trauma can lead to emotional triggers, which are situations or stimuli that remind an individual of the traumatic event.
Stressful situations, such as relationship problems or financial stress, can trigger flashbacks in people who’ve experienced childhood trauma.
13. YOU DISSOCIATE OFTEN
Dissociation is a state of disconnection from one’s thoughts, feelings, and body.
Reasons you might dissociate:
➡️ Unresolved trauma: Dissociation can be a way to cope with unresolved emotional issues that resurface in adulthood.
➡️ Coping mechanism: Childhood trauma can cause feelings of helplessness and a lack of control. Dissociation can provide a sense of control in situations where the individual feels overwhelmed.
➡️ Protection from overwhelming emotions: Childhood trauma can also cause intense emotional pain and distress that can be difficult to manage. Dissociation can provide a temporary escape from these feelings and serve as a protective mechanism for people who’ve experienced trauma.
➡️ Learned behavior: You might have learned to dissociate as a way to cope with your trauma. This learned behavior can continue into adulthood.
➡️ Brain changes: Childhood trauma can affect the development of the brain, which can lead to changes in the body’s stress response system. These changes can increase the risk of dissociation in response to stress or trauma.
If you have a tendency to dissociate or “zone out” during stressful situations, try meditating to ground yourself.
Use these inner child meditations
14. YOU HAVE A HARD TIME WITH MEMORY
Struggling with memory can be a repressed sign of childhood trauma.
Why trauma causes memory issues:
➡️ Dissociation: Dissociation can affect memory and lead to difficulty remembering traumatic events or other details.
➡️ Fragmented memories: Childhood trauma can lead to fragmented memories, which are memories that are incomplete or distorted. People who’ve experienced trauma may have difficulty piecing together their memories or recalling specific details.
➡️ Brain changes: Because childhood trauma can affect the development of the brain, it can lead to changes in memory function. These changes can affect the ability to form and recall memories.
➡️ Emotional distress: Childhood trauma can also cause emotional distress, which can affect memory function. People who’ve survived trauma may have difficulty concentrating or retaining information due to emotional distress.
Do you have a difficult time remembering things?
15. YOU STRUGGLE WITH CONCENTRATION
One of the most annoying signs of childhood trauma in adults is trouble focusing.
Why you have difficulties concentrating:
➡️ Hyperarousal: Hyperarousal is a state of heightened alertness and sensitivity to potential threats. This can make it difficult to focus and concentrate on tasks that are not perceived as immediate threats.
➡️ Hypervigilance: Hypervigilance is a state of heightened awareness and scanning of the environment for potential threats. This can make it challenging to focus and concentrate on tasks that require sustained attention.
➡️ Dissociation: Dissociation can affect focus and concentration by making it difficult to stay present and engaged in the moment.
➡️ Emotional distress: People who’ve experienced trauma may have difficulty concentrating or retaining information due to emotional distress.
Use these clear brain fog:
With the right support and treatment, it’s possible to heal from childhood trauma and move forward in a healthy way.
I always recommend Online Therapy to my readers at Okay Now Breathe, because it is a complete CBT therapy toolkit.
(Meaning, you’ll get worksheets, journal prompts, and informational hands-on tools on top of therapy!)
What’s included in one monthly price ⤵️
⭐ Live video, voice, or text chat session with your therapist
⭐ 8 easy-to-follow sections, including 25 worksheets
⭐ Activity plan, journal, and tests
⭐ Yoga and meditation videos
What I love about Online Therapy is that you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home.
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Other types of therapy for trauma:
➡️ Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: EMDR therapy involves recalling traumatic memories while following a therapist’s hand movements or other types of sensory input.
➡️ Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: DBT focuses on developing coping skills to manage intense emotions.
Sometimes it takes trial and error to find the right therapist for you, but keep it up — because healing is so damn worth it.
Medication can also be a helpful treatment option for childhood trauma.
There are different types of medication that can help manage trauma symptoms, including:
➡️ Antidepressants: These medications can help manage symptoms of depression and anxiety that are often associated with childhood trauma.
➡️ Anti-anxiety medications: These medications can help manage symptoms of anxiety, such as panic attacks.
It’s important to work with a psychiatrist or other mental health professional to determine if medication is a good option for you.
(Medication can be helpful in managing symptoms, but it’s not a cure for trauma.)
Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating childhood trauma.
With the right treatment, you can learn to manage your symptoms and live a fulfilling life.
Symptoms of childhood trauma in adults
Recognizing signs of childhood trauma in adults can be difficult, but it’s important to understand the impact that trauma can have on your life.
Some of the signs of childhood trauma in adults include ⤵️
- Difficulty forming close relationships
- Low self-esteem
- Tendency to isolate
- Substance abuse.
Remember, healing from childhood trauma is possible, and you do not have to go through it alone.
With the right support and resources, you can heal from childhood trauma and move forward with a healthier, happier life.
💾 Bookmark this page for whenever you need a reminder on the signs of childhood trauma in adults.
More inner child healing posts:
- 17 Magical Crystals for Healing Childhood Trauma (and Emotional Pain)
- 101 Healing Inner Child Affirmations (to Reparent Yourself)
- 70 Healing Inner Child Quotes (to Help Overcome Childhood Trauma)
- 40 Child Abuse Songs (When You Had a Bad Childhood)
- 13 Nostalgic Activities to Reconnect with Your Inner Child
- 107 Toxic Parents Quotes (When Mother and Father Are Abusive AF)
- 22 Powerful Inner Child Healing Meditations (Guided and Unguided)
- 23 Heartbreaking Movies About Childhood Trauma (That are Therapeutic)
- 17 Must-Have Healing Gifts for Your Inner Child
- 11 Ways to Heal Childhood Trauma Spiritually (and Awaken Your Inner Child)
- 23 Inner Child Oracle Cards (for Deep Shadow Work)
- 23 Tarot Decks (for Intense Inner Child Work)
Did you know there’s online therapy?
Online Therapy is a complete online therapy toolbox.
Your therapy toolbox includes:
- Live video, voice, or text chat session with your therapist
- 8 easy-to-follow sections, including 25 worksheets
- Activity plan, journal, and tests
- Yoga and meditation videos
What I love about Online Therapy is that there are several life-changing options and therapists available, and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home.
This means you never need to worry before getting help.