It is estimated that approximately 35 million children in the United States have experienced one or more types of trauma at some point in their childhood, a statistic that reveals just how frighteningly prevalent childhood trauma is in today’s society. While you may not be aware of it, you have likely met someone at some point in your life that was still carrying the baggage of their own personal trauma, even if you were unaware. In many cases, this baggage isn’t something that is openly discussed or presented to others, but rather something they are ashamed of or embarrassed by, keeping it hidden from those around them.
For those that have suffered from some form of childhood trauma, the nightmare often isn’t over just because the moment of trauma ends. Instead, these experiences often linger, affecting those who have survived trauma even as adults. The way in which this manifests differs from when they were children, but these long-term effects can still have a significant impact on their lives.
Here are 9 behaviors often seen in adults who experienced childhood trauma:
#1 – Constant Tension
The mind of someone who has experienced trauma as a child is often trapped in a state of fight or flight. Even when their life is going well, and they can see that they are far away from the initial situation, they still find themselves living in fear that they will make a mistake or an incorrect choice in life and it will bring them right back to that experience all over again. This creates a state of constant tension, always on edge with every action and decision that they make.
#2 – Fear and Phobias
Trauma at a young age has been found to create deep seeded fears and phobias among some victims, even if they are unaware that this has occurred. These may seem ridiculous to others, however, if they were to truly know your story than it would all make sense. Some examples include fear of water, fear of the dark, fear of being alone, or fear of a specific type of person (such as a fear of men). These fears can impact many areas of a victim’s life and should be addressed accordingly.
#3 – False Self
If a child finds themselves in a dangerous, toxic or traumatic situation, they will naturally seek ways to cope and protect themselves. One common way of doing so is to become the person that they believe their victimizer wants them to be. For example, if they are trying to keep a toxic parent happy they may create a version of themselves, adjusting their personality, interests, etc., that they believe their parent will love more. If this hasn’t been identified and resolved as a child, they will carry this ‘false self’ into adulthood, continuing to live under this false pretense and failing to discover who they truly are.
#4 – Panic Attacks
When a child experiences any form of trauma throughout their developmental years they are ill-equipped to process this information or determine how to effectively deal with it moving forward. Feeling overwhelmed and unable to handle the stresses of the world that they live in, they grow up to be anxious adults that often fear they will return to that helpless feeling. Even the smallest hint of stress or struggle can trigger this feeling sending them into a full-fledged panic attack.
#5 – Passive-Aggressive Responses
When a child has had to live through a challenging or toxic situation, they often teach themselves to be quieter and fly under the radar. This is a coping mechanism, often brought on by fear of what will happen if they draw attention to themselves. As an adult, they shy away from conflict or speaking their mind, choosing instead to beat around the bush and express themselves in passive-aggressive ways. It is important to acknowledge that this is not healthy communication and should be addressed.
#6 – Addiction
Memories of a childhood trauma may continue to plague a child well into their adult lives, manifesting as flashbacks, triggered thoughts or nightmares. When this occurs, these individuals may seek opportunities to numb these difficult memories or hide the emotions that are associated with them. Turning to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, shopping or any other form of addiction, they become reliant upon their chosen vice to provide them with the escape they feel that they need.
#7 – Afraid to Take Risks
When a child has gone through such significant struggles at a young age it creates a feeling of fear or distrust for the world that they live in, and their ability to succeed in it. This creates a fear of failure which often manifests as an adult who plays it safe at every turn, afraid to take even the smallest of risks. This way of thinking often holds them back from true success.
#8 – Victimization
This is particularly true for those who were a victim of trauma that lasted an extended period of time throughout their childhood. Over time they become familiar with their role as the victim, and even in the days, months, and years that follow the trauma, they have adjusted to being seen as the victim. This becomes their comfort zone and stepping free from it can be frightening. Instead, they try to put themselves into situations that are similar, in which they are taking orders and being taken care of.
#9 – Seclusion
If childhood trauma is left unaddressed, it can hang over your head like a dark cloud bringing with it incredibly negative and difficult to manage thoughts and emotions. These thoughts may impact the way that you see yourself, or how you believe that others with perceive you – and in most cases, this perceived image is not a positive one. Trying to hide these struggles from others can be exhausting, and so many choose, instead, to pull away from everyone else and retreat to their own personal bubble. Whether they are hiding from pity, sympathy or being smothered by those trying to ‘care’ for them, they truly believe they are better off alone at the moment.