7 Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adulthood + How to Get Help

When you experienced something traumatic in your childhood, whether you’re aware of it or not, you likely still have signs of that trauma as an adult.

Think about what seems to trigger your feelings of guilt, shame, fear, or anger. Does it somehow connect back to a specific event or string of events that happened in your childhood?

Not long ago, I was severely depressed. And I didn’t understand it. I just hated life and everything about it. I hated myself and everything about me. However, once I started to think back to my childhood, everything sort of clicked.

My insecurities, self-hatred, guilt, shame, and everything bad I felt about myself and the world made sense. I spent most of my childhood being ridiculed, shamed, and hurt. It’d be surprising not to feel like this.

Realizing all of this didn’t necessarily make the depression go away. But it did get better. It’s still a struggle, but that’s all part of the healing process. And hey, the important thing is that I’m getting better, right?

Facing the trauma was hard. There were a lot of emotions I had to work through and a lot of difficult things I had to accept and let go. But in the end, it was worth it. I understood more of what happened, how it affected me, and what I can do now to begin healing.

Like past me, you might have some unresolved childhood trauma you need to work through. It may be affecting your current life in ways you aren’t aware of.

What is Unresolved Trauma?

woman with repressed childhood trauma

Unresolved trauma is what the name suggests – trauma that isn’t resolved or dealt with. It is often the result of one’s attempt to protect themselves from their traumatizing experience(s).

You may find ways to distance yourself from the experience by denying it happened, dissociating, or repressing your memories. Or you may minimize or invalidate your own experiences, claiming “it wasn’t trauma because other people have it worse” or “it wasn’t that bad. I’m just sensitive”.

However, it’s important to remember that what you experienced and how you felt about it IS valid. Though some situations are more likely to be traumatizing than others, it mostly depends on how the individual themselves feel about it.

A traumatizing situation to one person might not be traumatizing to another and vice versa. Trauma also comes in severities, so how traumatizing something is also depends on the person.

Trauma often remains unresolved because the traumatized person might try not to think about or face their trauma as much as possible. The pain or stress of the situation or memory might be too overwhelming. But that actually causes more issues.

Unresolved trauma affects the body and mind, even well into adulthood. Until you attempt to resolve the trauma and begin healing, it will continue to affect you in ways you don’t realize.

Some Causes of Childhood Trauma

As mentioned before, what’s traumatizing to one person might not be to another. However, there are some common causes of childhood trauma. Maybe you’ve experienced one or more of these possible traumatizing events in your childhood.

  • You were emotionally, physically, and/or sexually abused.
  • You were emotionally and/or physically neglected.
  • You were bullied.
  • You were abandoned.
  • You experienced divorce and/or marital conflict between your parents.
  • Someone in your family was mentally ill, incarcerated, substance users, and/or alcoholics.
  • You witnessed or experienced abuse and/or violence at home, in school, or in your community.
  • You experienced extreme poverty and/or homelessness.
  • You were a refugee or had war experiences.
    You experienced a natural disaster.
  • You experienced a life-threatening accident, injury, or illness.
  • You lost someone you loved, especially suddenly or violently.

7 Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adulthood

Although everyone responds to trauma differently, there are some common signs associated with repressed childhood trauma in adulthood.

1. Mood Swings

man suffering from stress, depression

One big sign of repressed childhood trauma is the frequency of intense emotions that seems to come up suddenly or randomly. These mood swings can be very difficult to manage, which can lead to other issues.

Certain stimuli can trigger intense emotions that seem to come out of nowhere. You might constantly feel on edge, particularly to certain situations and you might not know why. One seemingly minor thing might tick you off. You might jump from happy to sad, sad to angry, or angry to happy in a matter of minutes.

Rather than face your emotions and address them, you might’ve been so used to burying and dismissing them that you ended up losing touch with your feelings.

Maybe you lived life constantly denying what you’re feeling because it’s too painful to deal with. But you cannot heal what you cannot feel. Learning to identify, listen to, and manage your emotions is essential to resolving your childhood trauma. And in the end, it will eventually help you feel better.

2. Struggling to Act Like an Adult

You may struggle to act like an adult because an emotional part of you never really reached adulthood.

You may throw tantrums when you don’t get what you want. You may display childish or immature behaviours when faced with anything even slightly challenging. Or you may be unbelievably stubborn or cynical to the point it’s juvenile.

Your needs as a child weren’t properly met or the traumatizing event(s) stunted your development. Therefore, a significant part of your adulthood may be attempting to meet those childhood needs whether you’re aware of it or not.

Your old mindset and how you tend to cope as a child might’ve carried on to adulthood. It used to help protect you as a child. But as an adult, those same coping mechanisms and defensive behaviours may only be impairing your ability to function as an adult.

For example, dissociation is a common effect of childhood trauma in children. A child may dissociate so they don’t have to mentally deal with a difficult situation. At that moment, their mind is trying to protect them. But can you see how that can be problematic when they’re still dissociating in normal, non-threatening situations as an adult?

3. Low Self-Esteem

Many people who have experienced childhood trauma struggle with low self-esteem. They have this belief and feeling that they are bad, worthless or a burden. And they might not realize it’s linked to their past.

Frustration, social anxiety, insecurity, a lack of a sense of self, and a lack of trust can also occur with low self-esteem as a sign of repressed childhood trauma.

You might feel this way if you were abused or bullied as a child, whether by a parent or someone else. Or maybe you have survivor’s guilt from a tragedy that happened.

Learn to understand and accept that what happened when you were a child is not your fault. This can be difficult, but it can also be freeing. It might help you let go, at least a little, of that shame you’ve been carrying and start to accept and be kinder to yourself.

4. Inability to Cope with Change

Needing to deal with change is inevitable. Of course, it’s preferred that everyone be able to adapt to whatever changes that happen with no negative effects. But that’s unrealistic, especially for people who experienced childhood trauma.

Traumatized individuals often find coping with change very difficult and stressful, even when the change is positive. That’s because it triggers their sense of danger. The unknown, uncertainty, and their lack of control makes change threatening and intimidating to them.

They often have a hard time feeling or getting comfortable with a new person, place, thing, or situation. They may also have negative thoughts and feelings about change, possibly even going out of their way to avoid having to face it all together.

The unknown may bring up traumatic memories. It may activate the individual’s already heightened fight-or-flight response. This activation may seem like hypersensitivity or an overreaction to change in the eyes of other people who aren’t traumatized. But it’s a common sign of unresolved trauma.

5. Relationship Problems

young couple with relationship problems

Repressed childhood trauma often manifests in our adult relationships. Thus, trauma survivors may frequently encounter issues in their relationships. And these issues may be due to an unhealthy attachment style, fear of abandonment, lack of trust, or because their relationship with their parents might have set an unhealthy precedent for future relationships.

For instance, you may be codependent or too dependent in relationships. Your fear of abandonment may play a role because it might cause you to become too needy. You may also lack an identity due to the trauma, thus causing you to lose the autonomy you need for a healthy, interdependent relationship.

Other signs in this list can also contribute to your relationship issues. If you have trouble functioning as an individual, you will likely have trouble functioning in a relationship.

6. Triggers

One common symptom of trauma in general are the triggers and how we react to them.

You likely have heard of a traumatized veteran who might reflexively take cover when he hears fireworks. It is quite similar when it comes to childhood trauma.

Certain stimuli such as people, sights, smells, or situations can cause us to have an immediate, uncontrollable reaction or response. Certain things may make you feel vulnerable, which can be a sign of a repressed memory coming back to haunt you.

For example, I find certain facial expressions, vocal tones, and mannerisms triggering. It might make me feel anxious, threatened, or scared. On a more extreme level, it can also bring me to tears or cause a panic attack. If you grew up with an abusive parent who often “exploded” out of nowhere, you may have similar triggers.

7. Chronic Illness or Pain

According to much research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), unresolved childhood trauma can manifest itself into chronic illness or pain in adulthood.

The original ACE study and any research since then have linked ACEs to an increased risk of developing chronic diseases and behavioural challenges. Also, data from a 2019 survey showed a strong correlation between unresolved trauma and the risk of cancer.

If you are currently struggling with certain chronic conditions or pain that couldn’t be explained, perhaps your unresolved childhood trauma is connected to it.

Can Childhood Trauma Be Healed?

When you don’t resolve your childhood trauma, it will continue to unconsciously affect you. It influences your relationships, your behaviors, your habits, how you parent, and how you feel and think about yourself and the world.

Although it’s not realistic to fully heal from childhood trauma, it IS possible to heal. It will take time and effort, but it will be worth it.

Learning about the trauma you experienced and how it connects to the present you is one of the first steps. However, it is recommended that you seek therapy. A professional can help you process your trauma and develop tools to heal. They can help you notice what it is you’re currently struggling with and how to address it.

There are various treatment methods for childhood trauma. Perhaps you can look into them and see which one you’d like to try.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioural therapy, also known as CBT, is a common type of psychotherapy. It is an evidence-based approach to unlearning negative responses you might have picked up as a way to cope with your trauma.

Treatment usually involves efforts to change thinking and behavioural patterns. CBT aims to retrain your brain and behaviour so you can deal with your trauma in a healthier way.

EMDR Therapy

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a form of cognitive therapy that focuses on mindfulness and processing to make negative memories and feelings less distressing.

Research shows that it’s been effective for those with post-traumatic stress disorder by reducing its negative effects.

EMDR Therapy was originally created to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. This treatment engages the five senses, which are meant to alter the way your brain processes and stores trauma.

Lifespan Integration Therapy

Lifespan Integration, also known as LI, is an approach based on the mind-body connection. It uses memory recall and imagery to help the individual in treatment access their inner child to resolve repressed trauma and promote healing.

This treatment method was initially developed to assist adults who experienced childhood trauma. But it also addresses the effects of a wide range of mental and behavioural health issues in people of all ages.

Trauma-Focused Therapy

Trauma-focused therapy, also known as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy or TF-CBT, focuses on how the individual’s traumatic experiences affect their mental, behavioural, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

Research shows that TF-CBT seems to be effective in treating childhood trauma.

This treatment incorporates various trauma-sensitive intervention components. It is rooted in the understanding between the trauma and the individual’s emotional and behavioural responses.

Conclusion

Childhood trauma can leave a lot of unresolved issues in adulthood. Many of the signs listed here actually influence one another.

For instance, triggers and the inability to cope with change can lead to mood swings. Signs like struggling to act like an adult and mood swings can lead to relationship problems.

When we’ve experienced childhood trauma, our instinct might be to bury, minimize, dismiss, or deny the experiences and the feelings they bring up. But we need to address the trauma in order to resolve it.

This does not mean that you forget or condone whatever happened to you. It does not mean that it was okay. The point is to make sense of it, understand how it affected you, and decide what you can do now to manage the effects it created.

Also, it’s important to note that resolving your trauma does NOT mean dwelling on the past or staying stuck in pain. Healing involves processing what has happened and learning to move forward.

Being able to heal from your trauma allows you to break intergenerational trauma cycles. It allows you to become a better partner and parent. It leads to you feeling more aware, understanding, and accepting of who you are and how you live.

Having to face your trauma is very difficult. But again, it’s essential for healing. And in the end, it’ll be worth it because you will feel better.

Written By: Estee

Having been raised by an abusive mother, Estee developed an interest in mental health to better learn, understand, and manage the effects the abuse had on her. She holds an Associate’s Degree in English and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with minors in Sociology and Health. Her experiences inspired her to create Hopeful Panda, a blog dedicated to individuals with abusive parents. In her spare time, Estee enjoys cooking, learning, exploring, gaming, drawing, writing, and spending time with her family.

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