What are the Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults (2023)

Sometimes you feel like something about you just isn’t quite right. You respond to certain places, people, or experiences in ways that you just don’t understand. You’re wondering if something happened that makes you feel this way. You may want to consider whether you should look for signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults.

Experiencing traumatizing events during your early years is incredibly difficult. For some people, their brains choose to push the memory down into their unconscious, so they can continue living their lives. It isn’t something you decide to do. It is your brain’s coping mechanism, so you can survive and attempt to thrive. But the childhood trauma may cause you issues without you even realizing why.

Childhood Trauma and Memory Loss

Adverse Childhood Experiences are traumatic events that happen in your life before you reach adulthood. There are 10 ACEs, and each traumatic experience can harm your ability to function as an adult if you don’t cope with them.

(Video) Signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults

The 10 ACEs are:

  1. Physical abuse
  2. Verbal abuse
  3. Sexual abuse
  4. Physical neglect
  5. Emotional neglect
  6. Alcoholic parent(s)
  7. Victim(s) of domestic abuse
  8. Family member(s) with mental illness
  9. The disappearance of parent(s), whether through a divorce, abandonment, or death
  10. Family member in prison

These traumas can impact your brain’s ability to form memories. It could be due to a physical impact on your brain, which impairs your ability to create memories. It also could be from your brain’s attempt to cope with the emotional and psychological impact of the trauma.

Sometimes you can develop dissociative amnesia. This memory loss is when you are unable to remember critical autobiographical information. Whether mild or severe, dissociative amnesia can impact all aspects of your life.

Experts sometimes classify repressed memories from childhood trauma as a type of dissociation. You’re separating yourself from your past and trying to cope.

8 Signs of Repressed 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 signs are unique as well.

(Video) 9 Signs You're Dealing with Childhood Trauma

1. Strong Unexplained Reactions to Specific People

Have you ever met someone and immediately felt “off” about them? This feeling may be a sign of repressed childhood trauma. Your mind and body warn you that the person isn’t safe, even if you don’t know them. As a result, you may feel your body shift into a more protective stance, or you may have a strong desire to leave the situation. But you can’t identify why. This reaction may be because that person reminds you of someone who caused you trauma in the past.

2. Lack of Ease in Certain Places

Places also can induce feelings of stress, fear, and anxiety in someone repressing memories of childhood trauma. When you first had your traumatizing experience, your brain made notes of everything — the colors, the smells, the sounds. Being in a place similar to your repressed childhood memories may trigger that fear deep within you and cause you to go into fight or flight mode.

3. Extreme Emotional Shifts

Controlling emotions is difficult at the best of times. For those suffering from repressed childhood trauma, it is an even more difficult battle. If you have unaddressed ACEs, you may find that you are extremely upset by the everyday actions of others. You find yourself quickly going from relaxed and at ease to filled with anger or fear, all because of something seemingly small. Often this change is because that seemingly small thing subconsciously reminds you of some aspect of your repressed childhood trauma.

4. Attachment Issues

Many ACEs cause you to have an intense fear of abandonment. Attachment issues can be because of developmental disruptions caused by traumatic experiences. You may find that you become intensely attached to other people and feel upset or highly emotional about them leaving. Even if it is just your partner leaving for an evening out or your friend going out of town, it causes intense anxiety and fear.

(Video) Dr. Catherine Kirby Talks About Repressed Memories of Sexual Abuse

5. Anxiety

Anxiety is an emotion many people cope with throughout their lives. Those who have repressed childhood memories may experience more anxiety than others. Once you start uncovering your repressed trauma with an experienced mental health professional, you’ll be able to reveal how anxiety ties to your traumatic experiences.

6. Childish Reactions

Moments of immaturity and childish outbursts are typical. But when this happens frequently, and you find that you regress into a child-like state, you may be coping with adverse experiences. Childish reactions may be a sign that you’re dealing with repressed childhood memories. It could be that you throw tantrums, speak in a child-like voice, or are stubborn about small things. These regular regressions are all indicative that you have memories you haven’t unlocked.

What are the Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults (1)

7. Consistent Exhaustion

You only have so much mental and emotional energy in a day. If you repress traumatic childhood memories, you subconsciously spend much of your energy on that. Exhaustion robs you of the energy you need to build and form new relationships and makes it difficult for you to connect with others.

(Video) Childhood Sexual Abuse and Repressed Memories - Part 1

8. Unable to Cope in Normal Stressful Situations

Life comes with seemingly constant stressors. They’re part of a typical adult experience. People with repressed childhood trauma find themselves unable to cope with these everyday events and often lash out or hide. You may find that you lash out at others in a childish manner or throw tantrums when things don’t go your way. You are regressing to that original state you were in during trauma and trying to protect yourself.

How ILC Treats Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults

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.

At Integrative Life Center, our trauma-informed therapy techniques allow you to navigate your repressed childhood trauma at your own pace. You will learn the tools you need to accept your trauma and move forward in your life. If you’re ready to uncover your childhood memories and start living your life to the fullest, contact ILC today.


What does unresolved childhood trauma look like in adults? ›

Other manifestations of childhood trauma in adulthood include difficulties with social interaction, multiple health problems, low self-esteem and a lack of direction. Adults with unresolved childhood trauma are more prone to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide and self-harm.

How does childhood trauma show up in adulthood? ›

Children don't have the ability to understand their role in complex issues. Therefore, trauma can lead to feelings of personal responsibility, lack of stability, feelings of shame or guilt, and a mistrust of those around them. These symptoms can occur in childhood and remain into adulthood.

How do you uncover repressed childhood trauma? ›

Other suggestions for navigating and processing traumatic and repressed memories include:
  1. individual therapy modalities, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy or cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
  2. group therapy.
  3. yoga.
  4. meditation.
  5. art as therapy or expression.
May 13, 2022

How do I know if I have repressed memories? ›

If you have a repressed childhood memory, you may find yourself feeling triggered or having strong emotional reactions to people who remind you of previous negative experiences, family therapist Jordan Johnson, L.M.F.T., tells Bustle.

What mental illness is caused by childhood trauma in adults? ›

Trauma also increased the risks for psychosis, OCD, and bipolar disorder. Significantly, those who experience trauma during childhood were 15 times more likely to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder later in life.

What are signs of unhealed trauma? ›

Cognitive Signs of Unhealed Trauma
  • Overwhelming fears.
  • Depression.
  • Guilt or shame.
  • Anxiety.
  • Anger.
  • Irritability.
  • Shock.
Oct 10, 2020

What happens when you ignore childhood trauma? ›

The symptoms of unresolved trauma may include, among many others, addictive behaviors, an inability to deal with conflict, anxiety, confusion, depression or an innate belief that we have no value.

What happens when childhood trauma goes untreated? ›

Without treatment, repeated childhood exposure to traumatic events can affect the brain and nervous system and increase health-risk behaviors (e.g., smoking, eating disorders, substance use, and high-risk activities).

What does childhood neglect look like in adults? ›

Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect in adulthood

Some of these are: Feelings of Emptiness (“I don't know who I am or what my purpose is”) Fear of being dependent (“I will be rejected or let down, if I trust someone”) Unrealistic Self-Appraisal – difficulty to accurately describe oneself.

What are three ways childhood trauma affects adulthood? ›

Signs of Unresolved Childhood Trauma in Adults

Stress, anxiety, mood, or personality disorders. Behavioral issues or emotional immaturity. Inability to deal with confrontation or conflict.

What are physical signs your body is releasing trauma? ›

Some may have a fight-or-flight type of response, which may include muscle tension, heart pounding and sweating because their body "believes it needs to activate," she explains. Others maybe experience a freeze response, which can look like someone who struggles to move or get out of bed.

What happens when you uncover repressed memories? ›

Repressed memories can come back to you in various ways, including having a trigger, nightmares, flashbacks, body memories and somatic/conversion symptoms. This can lead to feelings of denial, shame, guilt, anger, hurt, sadness, numbness and so forth.

How do repressed emotions show up? ›

Recognizing emotional repression in your feelings

regularly feel numb or blank. feel nervous, low, or stressed a lot of the time, even if you aren't sure why. have a tendency to forget things. experience unease or discomfort when other people tell you about their feelings.

Where do repressed thoughts go? ›

repression, in psychoanalytic theory, the exclusion of distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings from the conscious mind. Often involving sexual or aggressive urges or painful childhood memories, these unwanted mental contents are pushed into the unconscious mind.

How do you know if you are traumatized? ›

Intrusive memories

Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event. Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks) Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event. Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event.

What are the effects of childhood trauma on psychological functioning? ›

Children with PTSD may experience a range of symptoms, including the following: Anger and increased aggression. Anxiety. Depression.

What is the root cause of childhood trauma? ›

The most common causes of childhood trauma include: Accidents. Bullying/cyberbullying. Chaos or dysfunction in the house (such as domestic violence, parent with a mental illness, substance abuse or incarcerated)

How do adults heal from childhood trauma? ›

Luckily, trauma counseling can help children, adolescents, teenagers, and adults heal their trauma. Trauma therapy is a particular approach to counseling that acknowledges and highlights how a traumatic occurrence can affect a person's emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, and behavioral welfare.

How do I know if I was neglected as a child? ›

How do I know if I was emotionally neglected as a child? There are several signs such as feelings of detachment, lack of peer group, dissociative inclinations, and difficulty in being emotionally present.

How do I know if I was emotionally neglected? ›

You blame yourself almost exclusively, direct your anger inward, or feel guilt or shame about your needs or feelings. You feel numb, empty, or cut off from your emotions, or you feel unable to manage or express them. You are easily overwhelmed and give up quickly. You have low self-esteem.

Do people without trauma remember their entire childhood? ›

Not necessarily. Childhood or infantile amnesia, the loss of memories from the first several years of life, is normal, so if you don't remember much from early childhood, you're most likely in the majority.

What does childhood trauma cause later in life? ›

Adults with histories of trauma in childhood have been shown to have more chronic physical conditions and problems. They may engage in risky behaviors that compound these conditions (e.g., smoking, substance use, and diet and exercise habits that lead to obesity).

What age is childhood trauma the worst? ›

Young Children and Trauma. Children can experience trauma as early as infancy. In fact, young children between the ages of 0 and 5 are the most vulnerable to the effects of trauma since their brains are still in the early formative years.

Can you be traumatized and not know it? ›

Trauma happens to everyone.

It can be physical, mental, or emotional. Many do not realize they have had a traumatic experience because most believe “a trauma” is only something dramatic or changes their world entirely.

What are the symptoms of unloved daughter syndrome? ›

Lack of trust

With an emotionally unreliable mother or one who is combative or hypercritical, the daughter learns that relationships are unstable and dangerous, and that trust is ephemeral and can't be relied on. Unloved daughters have trouble trusting in all relationships but especially friendship.

What are signs of emotional invalidation? ›

Emotional invalidation can look like blaming, name calling, and problem-solving before understanding the other person's experience. Playing down another person's experience is another way to invalidate.

What mental illness is caused by child neglect? ›

Childhood maltreatment increases risk for developing psychiatric disorders (e.g. mood and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], antisocial and borderline personality disorders, and alcohol/substance use disorders [A/SUDs]).

What Behaviours can be seen from the impact of childhood trauma? ›

Symptoms and Behaviors

They may be clingy and fearful of new situations, easily frightened, difficult to console, and/or aggressive and impulsive. They may also have difficulty sleeping, lose recently acquired developmental skills, and show regression in functioning and behavior.

Where is childhood trauma stored in the body? ›

Trauma is not physically held in the muscles or bones — instead, the need to protect oneself from perceived threats is stored in the memory and emotional centers of the brain, such as the hippocampus and amygdala.

Where is sadness stored in the body? ›

Emotional information is stored through “packages” in our organs, tissues, skin, and muscles. These “packages” allow the emotional information to stay in our body parts until we can “release” it. Negative emotions in particular have a long-lasting effect on the body.

What are five of the common signs a person is reacting to trauma? ›

Initial reactions to trauma can include exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, dissociation, confusion, physical arousal, and blunted affect.

What does a repressed memory feel like? ›

Repressed memories can often be recovered when a person 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.

What are repressed memories examples? ›

Repressed memories are memories that have been unconsciously blocked due to the memory being associated with a high level of trauma. Typical incidents where repressed memory occurs in individuals include rape, child sexual abuse, incest, experience of war, and the loss of a loved one.

What is trauma blocking behavior? ›

Trauma blocking is an effort to block out and overwhelm residual painful feelings due to trauma. You may ask “What does trauma blocking behavior look like? · Trauma blocking is excessive use of social media and compulsive mindless scrolling.

Is it common for childhood trauma to be repressed? ›

Childhood trauma can cause a variety of emotional problems in adulthood. When you experience childhood trauma, your brain may choose to repress details of the memories or the emotions associated with them as a coping mechanism.

Do I have childhood trauma that I don't remember? ›

"If you're having difficulty remembering important parts of your childhood, that may be a sign of trauma. Talking to a therapist can help you explore childhood memories in a safe and supportive environment." You're more likely to remember something if it had an emotional impact, whether positive or negative.

Can you have childhood trauma and not remember? ›

The answer is yes—under certain circumstances. For more than a hundred years, doctors, scientists and other observers have reported the connection between trauma and forgetting. But only in the past 10 years have scientific studies demonstrated a connection between childhood trauma and amnesia.

What impact does childhood trauma have on adults? ›

Surviving abuse or trauma as a child has been linked with higher rates of anxiety, depression, suicide and self harm, PTSD, drug and alcohol misuse and relationship difficulties.

What are the symptoms of trauma blocking? ›

You may ask “What does trauma blocking behavior look like? Trauma blocking is excessive use of social media and compulsive mindless scrolling. Binge drinking every weekend because you are off from work. Compulsive exercising to reach a goal you are never satisfied with.

What happens when you can't remember your childhood? ›

The good news is that it's completely normal not to remember much of your early years. It's known as infantile amnesia. This means that even though kids' brains are like little sponges, soaking in all that info and experience, you might take relatively few memories of it into adulthood.

Why do I miss my childhood so much? ›

You might be nostalgic for simpler days and miss your childhood. It could mean you're exhausted from the current situation in your life. Often, it's said people miss their childhood because they're bored. It can be a sign of loneliness.


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