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10 Signs Of Childhood Trauma In Adults

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Childhood Trauma Defined, Symptoms, Causes, & Childhood Trauma Treatment

What is Childhood Trauma?

Early-childhood trauma is strongly associated with developing mental health problems, including alcohol dependence, later in life. People with early-life trauma may use alcohol to help cope with childhood trauma in adults symptoms. There is little doubt that severe childhood adversity may place an individual at life-long risk for various problems, including mental health, physical health, employment, and legal difficulties.

Several studies also report that victims of child maltreatment are more likely to have emotional difficulties and psychiatric disorders. One of the most consistent results across these studies is that childhood maltreatment is associated with an increased risk for alcohol and drug use disorders. [1]

What is Repressed Trauma?

The theory of repressed memories focuses on a traumatic event that a person may not remember at all or may not remember until after the event. It is one of the notable signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults.

The effect of stress on memory varies according to its intensity. Small amounts of stress often positively impact alertness and facilitate memory, while intense pressure can overstimulate the individual, cause high anxiety, and hinder memory functioning. However, the inability to remember events from early in life is universal. 

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Top 10 Signs and Symptoms

Nightmares and flashbacks can cause disturbing trauma imagery and trigger our body sensations. This can become a vicious circle in which the body and mind play off each other, causing a negative synergy in which the disturbing imagery triggers disturbing body sensations and vice versa, putting trauma survivors into a black hole where they can have trouble finding their way out of.

The following physical symptoms of childhood trauma in adults may be ways that the emotional impact of childhood trauma can present. These symptoms may occur or worsen during stressful times.

Childhood Trauma
With proper therapy for adults with childhood trauma, people can address the root cause and find constructive ways to manage their childhood trauma signs.
  1. Strong reactions: Strong reactions can often catch you off guard. You might feel unsafe around someone you just met because the person reminds you of someone involved in your childhood trauma. This is one of the most common signs of repressed trauma in adults.
  2. Anxiety: Childhood trauma symptoms in adults increase the risk of anxiety. Anxiety triggers a reaction where adrenaline courses through the body, telling it to fight or leave a situation. Your heart rate increases, and you may feel sick to your stomach. 
  3. Childish reactions (childlike voice trauma): Childish reactions may look like tantrums. You speak in a child-like voice, show stubbornness, and have difficulty controlling outbursts. It is one of the most misunderstood signs in adults of childhood trauma.
  4. Inability to cope with change: Stress is when you are pushed out of your comfort zone daily. It becomes concerning when change triggers persistent extreme emotions that interfere with daily life or relationships. 
  5. Intense mood swings: Trauma survivors might feel numb or have overwhelming emotions. If you find it difficult to identify why you feel irritable, stressed, or angered, it can indicate the signs you have childhood trauma.
  6. Certain places make you uncomfortable: Certain smells, noises, environments, sights, or other sensations may cause discomfort. For example, if an adverse childhood experience occurred in an elevator, other similar small spaces may cause anxiety or panic.
  7. Low self-esteem: Low self-esteem can be hard to identify but becomes apparent through fears of being judged, people-pleasing, not setting boundaries, or lack of self-worth. Frustration, social anxiety, and distrust can also occur with low self-esteem. 
  8. Chronic pain or illnesses: Some studies show that people with early childhood trauma may be susceptible to developing chronic pain or diseases later in life.
  9. Abandonment issues: In many cases, the very people who should be caring for a child hurt them. This can lead to an alteration in the development of trust, leading to an intense fear of abandonment. 
  10. Substance abuse: More often than not, people with mental health disorders seek clinical medication or self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. People who acquire prescriptions for their condition are less likely to develop abuse disorders, but conversely, often, the medicines they access have high abuse potential, creating great risk.
Signs Of Repressed Childhood Trauma In Adults
Trauma treatment often focuses on helping people integrate their emotional responses to childhood trauma.

Abandonment issues and childhood trauma effects on adulthood may result in the following behaviors that may affect the quality of your relationships:

  • Quickly getting attached
  • Lack of commitment or trying not to get attached
  • Staying in unhealthy relationships
  • Distrust
  • Feeling insecure 
  • Intense suspicion or jealousy
  • Separation anxiety
  • Overthinking
  • Hypersensitive to criticism
  • Self-blame

How Childhood Trauma Affects Adults?

The knowledge about childhood trauma’s long-term effects is extremely sad. It may even make you feel hopeless. What can we do to undo the effects of trauma? How can we remedy missed childhoods and uncertain futures? If you are struggling with the after-effects of trauma, know that you’re not alone. Understand that there’s a valid reason for why you experience what you do, even today. Reach out to your social support system or mental health professional. The following are some common examples of childhood trauma in adults, signs of childhood trauma, and how to address them.

1. The False Self

As children, we want our parents to love and care for us. When our parents don’t do this, we try to become the kind of child we think they’ll love. Burying feelings that might get in the way of getting our needs met, we create a false self—the person we present to the world. When we bury our emotions, we lose touch with who we are because our feelings are integral to us. We live terrified that if we let the mask drop, we’ll no longer be cared for, loved, or accepted.

The best way to uncover the authentic you underneath the false self is by talking to a therapist who specializes in childhood emotional trauma and can help you reconnect with your feelings and express your emotions in a way that makes you feel safe and whole.

2. Victimhood Thinking

What we think and believe about ourselves drives our self-talk. The way we talk to ourselves can empower or disempower us. Negative self-talk disempowers us and makes us feel like we have no control over our lives—like victims. We may have been victimized as children, but we don’t have to remain victims as adults.

Instead of thinking of ourselves as victims, we can think of ourselves as survivors. The next time you feel trapped and choice-less, remind yourself that you’re more capable and in control than you think.

Childhood Trauma
Some research estimates that 60–75% of people in North America experience a traumatic event at some point. Contact us for personalized childhood treatment.

3. Passive-Aggressiveness

When children grow up in households with only unhealthy expressions of anger, they believe anger is unacceptable. If you witnessed anger expressed violently, then as an adult, you might think that anger is a violent emotion and must be suppressed. Or, if you grew up in a family that suppressed anger and your parents taught you that anger is on a list of emotions you aren’t supposed to feel, you suppress it, even as an adult who could benefit from anger.

4. Passivity

When we bury our feelings, we bury who we are. Because of childhood emotional trauma, we may have learned to hide parts of ourselves. At the time, that may have helped us. But as adults, we need our feelings to tell us who we are and what we want and to guide us toward becoming the people we want to be.

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Childhood Trauma
Not everyone who experiences a stressful event will develop childhood trauma. Some people may develop symptoms and get better after a few weeks, while others may experience long-term effects.

Signs of Trauma

Searching for the answer to “How to know if I have childhood trauma?” People who have suffered from a traumatic experience or childhood trauma may display various psychological and behavioral symptoms. These individuals often become stuck in a loop of reliving the incident and are unable to heal.

Childhood trauma leads to physical symptoms like anxiety. Continuously experiencing flashbacks or having thoughts about the incident can make it difficult for the person to differentiate between an actual emergency and their remembrance of the event. While they may try to suppress their struggles, specific symptoms of childhood trauma are difficult to conceal.

Symptoms of Childhood Trauma in Adulthood

How to know if you have repressed trauma? What are signs of childhood trauma? It is important to learn how traumatic events affect children later in life. The more you know, the more you will understand the reasons for certain behaviors and emotions and be better prepared to help children and their families cope. Reaching out to a mental health professional will give you a proper diagnosis and a repressed trauma test to assess your symptoms. Some of their repressed childhood trauma test questions may include the following:

  • Did a parent or older adult often swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you?
  • Did you often feel that your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
  • Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or used street drugs?

Childhood traumatic stress occurs when violent or dangerous events overwhelm a child’s or adolescent’s coping ability. Traumatic events may include:

  • Neglect and psychological, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Natural disasters, terrorism, and community and school violence
  • Witnessing or experiencing intimate partner violence
  • Commercial sexual exploitation
  • Serious accidents, life-threatening illness, or sudden or violent loss of a loved one
  • Refugee and war experiences
  • Military family-related stressors, such as parental deployment, loss, or injury

In one nationally representative sample of young people ages 12 to 17:

  • 8% reported a lifetime prevalence of sexual assault
  • 17% reported physical assault
  • 39% reported witnessing violence

Also, many reported experiencing multiple and repeated traumatic events. [2]

Signs of Childhood Trauma in Adults

The signs of traumatic stress are different in each child. Young children react differently than older children. However, the impact of child traumatic stress can last well beyond childhood. The SAMHSA research [3] shows that child trauma survivors are more likely to have the following:

  • Learning problems, including lower grades and more suspensions and expulsions
  • Increased use of health services, including mental health services
  • Increased involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems
  • Long-term health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease

Trauma is a risk factor for nearly all behavioral health and substance use disorders.

Preschool Children

  • Fearing separation from parents or caregivers
  • Crying and screaming a lot
  • Eating poorly and losing weight
  • Having nightmares

Elementary School Children

  • Becoming anxious or fearful
  • Feeling guilt or shame
  • Having a hard time concentrating
  • Having difficulty sleeping

Middle and High School Children

  • Feeling depressed or alone
  • Developing eating disorders and self-harming behaviors
  • Beginning to abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Becoming sexually active

For some children, these reactions can interfere with daily life and their ability to function and interact with others.

Adult Symptoms of Childhood Trauma

  • Mood swings or unpredictable emotions
  • Erratic behavior
  • Excessive or inappropriate emotional outbursts
  • Lack of confidence or severe timidity
  • Eating disorders
  • Headaches
  • Extreme changes in physical appearance (getting a lot of piercings, cutting off all your hair, dying your hair a different color)
  • Relationship problems
  • Problems relating to others
  • Frequent flashbacks of the incident
  • Nausea and vomiting

One of the most common childhood trauma in adults quotes says, “Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated, the silent screams continue internally, heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams, healing can begin.” ― Danielle Bernock, Emerging With Wings: A True Story of Lies, Pain, And The LOVE that Heals

Signs of Repressed Sexual Abuse

Looking for the answers to “how do I know if I have a repressed memory?” and “how to know if you have repressed memories of abuse?” Assessing the effects of stress or trauma on children’s memory is difficult. Research studies of adult victims of child sexual abuse indicate that repressed memories of sexual abuse are probable and that the extent of memory repression depends on several distinct variables. Many therapists believe that repressed memories are authentic but recognize that inaccurate memories can also occur. [4]

More extreme symptoms can be associated with abuse onset at an early age, extended or frequent abuse, incest by a parent, or use of force. Common life events, like death, birth, marriage, or divorce, may trigger the return of symptoms for a childhood sexual abuse survivor. Repressed memories are controversial because of bipolar false memories of abuse. If you search for “signs of repressed CSA” or “signs of repressed sexual trauma,” the following repressed sexual abuse signs may help.

  • Emotional Reactions – Emotions such as fear, shame, humiliation, guilt, and self–blame are common and lead to depression and anxiety.
  • Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Survivors may experience intrusive or recurring thoughts of the abuse and nightmares or flashbacks.
  • Distorted Self-Perception – Survivors often develop a belief that they caused the sexual abuse and that they deserved it. These beliefs may result in self-destructive relationships.

Repressed Memories Symptoms

Are you anxious sometimes without knowing the reasons why? Are you looking to find out “how do I know if I had childhood trauma?” and “what is repressed childhood trauma?” or “how do I know if I have repressed trauma?” To answer all these, a good therapist will help you explore memories and feelings without leading you in any particular direction.

Remember that a therapist should never coach you through memory recollection using childhood trauma triggers in adulthood. They shouldn’t suggest you experienced abuse or guide you to repressed memories of childhood trauma based on their beliefs about what happened. They should also be unbiased. An ethical therapist won’t immediately suggest your symptoms result from abuse. Still, they also won’t completely write off the possibility without considering it in therapy.

While some childhood repression and repressed PTSD symptoms are easy to identify, others can be more subtle. Some of these lesser-known trauma repression symptoms include:

  • Sleep issues, including insomnia, fatigue, or nightmares
  • Feelings of doom
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood symptoms, such as anger, anxiety, and depression
  • Confusion or problems with concentration and memory
  • Physical symptoms, such as tense or aching muscles, unexplained pain, or stomach distress

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What Does Childhood Trauma Look Like in Adults?

The effects of childhood trauma can last well into adulthood. Trauma can impact future relationships and lead to other issues like depression and low self-esteem. Exposure to traumatic events can also cause poor self-esteem, depression, self-destructive behavior, and even difficulty trusting others. This can become especially problematic with age, as traumatic events from childhood can result in adverse health effects in adulthood.

  • Trauma can burrow down deep into the body, contributing to chronic illness. Complex childhood trauma can cause physical and psychological scars because those with adverse childhood experiences are more prone to obesity and problematic alcohol and tobacco use.
  • Trauma can be harmful to a person’s relationship with their sexuality. Growing up in a safe, caring environment allows a child to learn about their bodies and sexuality in a healthy, confident way. But not having knowledge of or positive role models for sex and relationships can lead to poor outcomes later in life.
  • A person’s understanding of time and reality can be distorted by complex trauma. Even the present can feel distant to those with complex trauma.

Three Main Types of Traumas

Severe childhood trauma in adults can have long-term effects on a person’s well-being. If symptoms persist and do not decrease in severity, it can indicate that the trauma has developed into a mental health disorder called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The three main types of traumas include the following:

  • Acute Trauma – This results from a single stressful or dangerous event.
  • Chronic Trauma – Results from repeated and prolonged exposure to highly stressful events. Examples include cases of child abuse, bullying, or domestic violence.
  • Complex Trauma – This results from exposure to multiple traumatic events.

PTSD develops when trauma symptoms persist or worsen weeks and months after the stressful event. This distressing mental disorder can interfere with your daily life and relationships. Moreover, PTSD symptoms may include severe anxiety, flashbacks, and persistent memories of the event.

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Trauma Treatment

How to treat childhood trauma in adults? The good news is that several treatments can help people start dealing with childhood trauma in adulthood and improve their life. But, you will need to work with a trauma-informed or trauma-focused therapist to attain effective trauma treatment.

The main treatments for people with PTSD, “childhood trauma and anger in adulthood,” are medications, psychotherapy (“talk” therapy), or both. Everyone is different, and trauma affects people differently, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. Some people with trauma may need to try different treatments to find what works for their symptoms. But anyone with PTSD needs to be treated by a mental health provider who is experienced with PTSD.

If someone with PTSD goes through an ongoing trauma, such as being in an abusive relationship, both problems need to be addressed. Other ongoing problems can include panic disorder, depression, substance abuse, and feeling suicidal.


The most studied medication for treating trauma is antidepressants, which may help control trauma symptoms such as sadness, worry, anger, and feeling numb inside. Other drugs may help treat specific trauma symptoms like sleep problems and nightmares. Doctors and patients can work together to find the best medication or medication combination, as well as the right dose.


Psychotherapy (sometimes called “talk therapy”) involves talking with a mental health professional to treat a mental illness. Psychotherapy can occur one-on-one or in a group. Talk therapy for childhood trauma in adults usually lasts 6 to 12 weeks but can last longer. Research shows that support from family and friends can be an important part of recovery. [5]

Many types of psychotherapy can help people with trauma. Some types target the symptoms of PTSD directly. Other therapies focus on social, family, or job-related problems. The doctor or therapist may combine different treatments depending on each person’s needs.

Effective psychotherapies tend to emphasize a few key components, including education about symptoms, teaching skills to help identify the triggers of symptoms, and skills to manage the symptoms. One helpful form of therapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT can include:

  • Exposure Therapy. This helps people face and control their fear. It gradually exposes them to the trauma they experienced safely. It uses imagining, writing, or visiting the place where the event happened. The therapist uses these tools to help people with trauma cope with their feelings.
  • Cognitive Restructuring. This helps people make sense of the bad memories. Sometimes people remember the event differently than how it happened. They may feel guilt or shame about something that is not their fault. The therapist helps people with trauma look at what happened realistically.

Other types of “childhood trauma in adults therapy” can also help. People with trauma should talk about all treatment options with a therapist. Treatment should equip individuals with the skills to manage their symptoms and allow them to participate in activities they enjoy before developing trauma disorders. How to deal with repressed trauma? Programs, services, and treatments vary. But it’s crucial to address first how to uncover repressed trauma.

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Where To Find Trauma Treatment?

How to deal with childhood trauma in adulthood? Most people will experience a traumatic event at some point in their lives. Some may experience symptoms of shock and distress, and most will recover within a short period. Meanwhile, a minority will experience more long-term traumatic effects, such as the development of PTSD. That is when therapy and self-care can help those with persistent signs of trauma in adults. Certainly, that treatment can manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

You can always get help for anything that happened to you as a child, no matter how old you are or how far away it was. Recognize that you can always begin improving yourself and seek out therapy. It is OK if it has taken you some time to reach the point where you are ready to work on it; know that your thoughts and feelings about things that happened to you years ago are just as valid today as they were then. It’s never too late to get professional assistance if you’ve ever encountered abuse, regardless of when it happened.

To help yourself while in treatment:

  • Talk with your doctor about treatment options
  • Engage in mild physical activity or exercise to help reduce stress
  • Set realistic goals for yourself
  • Break up large tasks into small ones, set some priorities, and do what you can as you can
  • Try to spend time with others and confide in a trusted friend or relative. Tell others about things that may trigger symptoms.
  • Expect your symptoms to improve gradually, not immediately
  • Identify and seek out comforting situations, places, and people

Caring for yourself and others is especially important when many people are exposed to traumatic events (such as natural disasters, accidents, and violent acts).

Childhood Trauma
Therapy and self-care can help those with persistent physical symptoms of childhood trauma and signs of emotional trauma in adults.

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Call us now for a free mental health assessment! In addition, for the substance abuse or dual diagnosis approach, our inpatient treatmentinpatient medical detox, and residential primary addiction treatment may be available at our affiliated facility. For more childhood trauma treatment resources, call us about your symptoms, and we can help you determine the cause and develop a treatment plan.

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How to tell if you have repressed memories?

Repressed memories, also known as dissociative amnesia, are common in those who have experienced repressing trauma. While some cannot recall an event in a short period, others miss entire years of their lives. Along with memory loss, other signs of repressed trauma can include low self-esteem, substance abuse disorders, increased physical or mental illnesses, and interpersonal problems.

How do I know if I have childhood trauma?

Effective treatments like trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapies are available to help you understand and resolve signs of childhood PTSD in adults. There are several evidence-based and promising practices to address symptoms of childhood PTSD in adults.

Do I have repressed trauma?

Childhood trauma as adults can be problematic. Most children over three start developing memories that they can later recall in adulthood. However, if you are a trauma survivor, you may not be able to access these memories. Some survivors unconsciously have childhood trauma blocked out for weeks, months, or even years of their childhoods. This is often the result of a child ‘dissociating’ from a traumatic experience.

How to identify childhood trauma in adults?

Identifying the signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults can be tricky. Many of these signs also align with other mental health concerns. But some symptoms are unique as well. Speaking with a mental health professional can make it easier for you than trying to resolve it alone.

How to uncover childhood trauma?

Knowing the signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults is only one step toward recovery. You need to recover those memories in a safe space where professionals can help you understand and cope with the trauma and repressed memory symptoms.

How do you know if you have repressed childhood trauma?

Even when traumatic memories are repressed, there are many ways that unresolved trauma can impact a person’s everyday life. Knowing the common signs and symptoms of early childhood trauma in adults can help survivors identify their unresolved issues. This way, they can get the help they need to heal from childhood trauma signs in adults and move on.

How to heal repressed trauma?

The passing of time doesn’t always heal unresolved symptoms of repressed memories and symptoms of childhood trauma in adults, but therapy and treatment for childhood trauma in adults can. When combating signs of childhood abuse in adults and signs of repressed memories, choosing a therapist specializing in trauma-informed treatment is important.

How do I know if I have repressed childhood trauma?

Repressed memories can often be recovered when someone encounters something that reminds them of a traumatic event, such as familiar sights, sounds, or scents. When this happens, it’s typical for a person to feel ‘flooded’ by the memory and the difficult feelings associated with it. When things get overwhelming, seek help to recover from signs of repressed emotions and repressed trauma symptoms from a licensed therapist.

Search Childhood Trauma & Other Resources

[1] Brady KT, Back SE. Childhood trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder, and alcohol dependence. Alcohol Res. 2012;34(4):408-13. PMID: 23584107; PMCID: PMC3860395.

[2-3] Recognizing and Treating Child Traumatic Stress – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

[4] Controversy Over Repressed Memories – Office of Justice Programs

[5] Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – National Institute of Mental health

[6] De Bellis MD, Zisk A. The biological effects of childhood trauma. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2014 Apr;23(2):185-222, vii. DOI: 10.1016/j.chc.2014.01.002. Epub 2014 Feb 16. PMID: 24656576; PMCID: PMC3968319.

[8] Kleber RJ. Trauma and Public Mental Health: A Focused Review. Front Psychiatry. 2019 Jun 25;10:451. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00451. PMID: 31293461; PMCID: PMC6603306.

[7] We Level Up – Mental Health » Trauma Treatment