As you're probably well aware, there are connections between the experiences you had growing up and the way you experience life as an adult. For instance, if you went through a traumatic experience as a child, such as physical or emotional abuse, it can affect your thoughts and behaviors well into adulthood. But for some, a phenomena in the brain occurs where they just can't seem to remember their traumatic childhood memories. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why can’t I remember my childhood?” you may have repressed childhood memories. It doesn't happen for everyone, but according to experts, certain thoughts you have may indicate that this is happening to you.
"Repressed childhood memories or amnesic blocks can be indicative of trauma," psychotherapist,
Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, tells Bustle. "When I do an initial consult for someone seeing therapy, I typically ask if there are periods in their early life in which recall is sketchy or inaccessible."
Since that energy is blocked or repressed, Heller says those memories will typically convert to different forms such as episodic weeping, phobias, aggressive explosions, or pervasive anxiety, among others.
"The repression of negative childhood memories contributes to subsequent re-victimization as one is subconsciously acting out the dynamics they have repressed with the subconscious hope to master the trauma," Heller says. That's why some people with repressed memories may respond with compulsive and reckless behaviors or addictions. Even if they're not fully consciously aware, they may act out in certain ways because of experiences from their past. It may not happen to everyone, but it does to some.
So how can you tell if you have any
repressed negative childhood memories? Your thoughts may clue you in. Here are thoughts you have that may indicate you are repressing trauma. And if you find this to be the case for yourself, remember that it's not your fault and it's important to seeking help from loved ones or a therapist to alleviate the pain. Warning: This article contains information about childhood trauma and assault, which some may find triggering. 1 "I'm Terrified Of ... "
"It is through repressed
childhood memories where phobias develop, so look for the phobic reactions you harbor and most probably you will find a repressed childhood memory behind it," clinical psychologist, Dr. John Mayer, tells Bustle.
Memories are repressed because they're traumatic, he says. If you're terrified of snakes or spiders or heights without really knowing why, there just might be a repressed memory there. "The thoughts that surround repressed childhood memories manifest themselves in later life as fears," Mayer says. "For example, a typical thought might be a negative reaction to people yelling and that may stem from the repressed childhood memory of a parent who was an angry yeller." If you believe
you may have a phobia that is making your life a challenge, speaking with a therapist can help uncover potential memories of trauma, as well as help you develop coping mechanisms. 2 "Why Am I Always So Jumpy?"
"A person who always seems on edge may be afraid of being hurt and is most likely hyper-vigilant and anxious,"
Janika Joyner, licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle. So if loud noises such as doors slamming or a car back firing easily upsets you or makes you uncomfortable, it may be the fear resulting from a repressed memory. 3 "I Don't Like Being Alone."
If you hate the thought of being alone, you may have attachment and abandonment issues. "A person who expresses being afraid of being by themselves may be reaching out for support because of instances when they were hurt in the past," Joyner says. It can also stem from feelings of isolation you may have had as a kid such as bullying. If the idea of being by yourself truly frightens you, seeking the help of a therapist can unpack why this may be.
4 "I Hate The Smell Of ..."
If certain smells, sounds, textures, places or even names make you uncomfortable without being able to explain exactly why, that could be a sign you have some sort of repressed memory from childhood. "It has been my experience in therapy to have a client identify not liking a certain smell like tobacco because of an adverse childhood experience that involved a person who smokes," Joyner says. And since
scent is often strongly tied to memory, a distaste for certain smells can help you discover what memories you may be repressing. 5 "I Hate Showing Skin And I Hate Being Touched."
A person who struggles with negative memories regarding their body may not be comfortable with showing themselves because of
a past of sexual abuse. As Joyner says, "A client that I worked with was afraid to wear shorts and show her legs due to feelings that would expose her and increase her chances of unwanted attention. This same client was not comfortable with giving or receiving hugs from others." If you believe that you have experienced sexual abuse, remember that it's not your fault and you do not have to suffer in silence. Talking with a therapist, or a trusted loved one can be cathartic, and can help you begin to confront trauma that may still be residing with you.
If you do not feel comfortable speaking with someone you know, you can also call the
National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org to talk with someone anonymously who can help you process what you are going through. 6 "Why Do I Always Feel Sick?"
If you constantly feel ill without really knowing why, Heller says that may be a sign that you have repressed childhood memories. "A compromised immune system can be caused by anxiety induced adrenals which may actually be a result of somatizing repressed material," she says. If you also notice that these feelings of sickness are accompanied by some of these other thoughts, it may be worth it to talk to a therapist or loved one about how you are feeling.
7 "I Hate Who I Am."
Negative thoughts centered around yourself such as "I'm stupid", "I'm never going to be good enough", "What the use?", or "I keep messing up", can be a sign of repressed negative childhood memories. According to
Elicia Miller, emotional healing coach and founder of Core Emotional Healing, these thoughts occur because that may have been what you experienced and learned about yourself growing up. "[Someone thinking these thoughts] could have been shamed, blamed, or even abused," Miller tells Bustle. 8 “I Always Feel Uneasy Around This Person And I Don’t Know Why”
Some memories may be too traumatic or difficult to make sense of. When this happens,
Arien Conner, LCSW, therapist at Therapist at Clear Path, LLC, tells Bustle, the brain may not know how to process a certain “event,” so it may dissociate or store it away in a “mental closet.” For some, they may forget about these memories completely, while others may remember bits and pieces when they least expect it. “This allows us to continue our daily functioning,” Conner says. However, even if the mind has forgotten or blocked out a memory, there’s a chance that you will still feel it within your body. For example, if being around a certain co-worker makes you feel uneasy and you don’t know why, they may be similar to a person from your childhood that made you feel unsafe or threatened. If this is the case, your body may respond by giving you these uncomfortable feelings, even if you can’t recall the childhood event that triggered it. 9 “People Always Leave”
It’s important to note that traumatizing events don’t have to be physical to leave a scar on your psyche. According to psychotherapist
Priscilla Chin, LCSW, memories of emotional abuse or racial microaggressions can be blocked out as well. A person may even block out the entire memory, certain aspects of it, or just the emotional experience of it. “For example, someone may recall that a caregiver was frequently absent from the home but may not remember the feeling of abandonment or confusion they experienced,” Chin says. Even if you don’t remember the emotional experience, there’s still a chance that you may be affected as an adult. For instance, you may not have a lot of long-term friendships, or you may go into relationships expecting a breakup to happen. 10 “Why Do I Get Defensive So Easily?”
When you have a hard time remembering your childhood, certain situations, people, or places, may evoke strong reactions. A completely ordinary or mild situation may trigger strong feelings like shame, anger, abandonment, or fear. If this happens, you may find yourself being constantly on the defense. According to Chin, this could be a sign that your brain has registered something familiar about the situation, and emotions are flooding in to alert you to potential psychological or physical danger.
“It’s important to try and understand what’s triggering you rather than judging yourself for ‘overreacting,’” Chin says. “Maybe it’s the thought of someone leaving you. Maybe it’s the possibility of being blamed or betrayed. Maybe it’s something else about the situation. These are important things to understand and work through in therapy so that what was once painful and traumatizing can have less of a hold on you.”
11 “Bad Things Always Happen To Me”
Repressing traumatizing memories can use up a lot of mental energy. If not dealt with, it can impact your life in many different ways. While some people react to triggers by getting defensive, others may react by accepting what they feel is their fate. According to
Sara Makin, licensed therapist and founder of Makin Wellness, self-victimization is a sign of repressed childhood memories. “Being the victim becomes a part of a person’s identity, hindering them from moving forward,” she says. They live their life believing that bad things just always happen to them, and there’s nothing they can do to change that. On the other hand, people who always see themselves as the victim have trouble accepting responsibility for things that they may actually have been their fault. 12 “Nothing Happened, I Don’t Know Why I Act This Way”
A traumatic experience can be tough to put into words. Because of this, sometimes people may choose to not talk about it, and instead keep those negative memories and feelings in. As time goes on, some people end up blocking these feelings, while others consciously choose to repress these memories themselves. “The experience of denial in our culture as a protective mechanism for our psyche can be very powerful,” licensed clinical psychologist Erin Miers, PsyD, tells Bustle. “This might be considered repression since denial of the trauma holds a similar concept — denying that the trauma ever happened.” Regardless of whether you block out certain memories or deny them, it will still have a way of affecting your behavior.
If you're struggling with any sort of repressed memory, it can leave you feeling confused, guarded, or cause you to act out whenever the memories surface. That's why seeking help is important. "Going to therapy would be best to assist the individual with learning to put the pieces together and address their trauma in a safe and nurturing environment," Joyner says.
If any of these thoughts keep you from living your best life, just know, you don't have to let it. Addressing the issue and asking for help may be the best thing for you.
EDITOR'S NOTE: If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org. Sources Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, psychotherapist Dr. John Mayer, clinical psychologist Janika Joyner, licensed clinical social worker Elicia Miller, emotional healing coach and founder of Core Emotional Healing Arien Conner, LCSW, therapist at Therapist at Clear Path, LLC Priscilla Chin, LCSW, psychotherapist Erin Miers, PsyD, licensed psychologist and psychology consultant at Mom Loves Best