If something traumatic happened to you as a kid — like some form of abuse — it's possible your brain may have repressed the negative memories, leading to all sorts of issues as an adult. You might experience anxiety or have a fear of abandonment. And it can be frustrating, especially if you don't know why you're struggling with these issues.
That's why it's good to know the signs you might be repressing negative childhood memories, mostly so you can get yourself to a therapist ASAP. "These unresolved memories can stifle [your] growth and development [and lead] to a 'stunted' adulthood in terms of self-esteem and personal identity," Bruce W. Cameron, licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist, tells Bustle. "It is very important to go to therapy to unlock the memories and likely trauma."
Keep in mind, though, that many of the symptoms listed below are signs of other things. You can, for example, experience anxiety without having gone through something traumatizing as a kid. That said, read on for some signs you might be repressing memories or old hurts from the past, as well as what you can do about it.
1. You Have Strong Reactions To Certain People
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, therapist Jordan Johnson, LMFT, a therapist Wasatch Family Therapy, tells Bustle.
"It's the body's 'alarm system' or way of warning [you] that this type of person is not safe," she says. It could be that this person, for whatever reason, reminds you of something or someone from your past, so your body is cautioning you to stay away.
While it's obviously good to be wary of strangers, this response can get out of control to the point where everyone feels like a threat. And that's when a therapist can be a big help. By seeking their advice, you can learn valuable ways to move past old trauma, and feel more at ease.
2. Specific Places Or Situations Freak You Out
In the same vein, you might notice that certain situations or places causes you anxiety. You might not be able to step foot in a grocery store without sweating or worrying, for example, or smell a certain food without panicking. And one possible explanation is past trauma.
"When someone experiences a negative or traumatic event in childhood, their brain records the specific sensations (sights, sounds, smells, etc.) and brings that negative experience to memory when similar stimuli is encountered in the future," Johnson says. When that's the case, you may catch yourself in fight-or-flight mode and not know why.
3. It's Difficult For You To Control Your Emotions
Do you get super mad, or super anxious over really little things? "People who have unaddressed negative or traumatic events from childhood often struggle with mood regulation and managing strong emotions," Johnson says. So while those around you might not be bothered, you might notice that you have over-the-top reactions, that you're easily started, or that you go from zero to sixty with your anger.
If this tendency to overreact sounds familiar, it may be an issue worth looking into.
4. Keeping A Job Has Always Been Difficult
If your childhood trauma was particularly severe, you might notice an ongoing problem maintaining healthy relationships as an adult. It might impact your connection with family and friends, but can also show up at work. Since bosses tend to be a little less understanding than family, it might explain why you've always had a problem keeping a job.
Of course, other factors can make keeping a job difficult such as depression or anxiety, which can make it hard to concentrate at work, or find the motivation to finish projects. But past trauma may also play a role. If something happened in your childhood, it may be impacting you in this not-so-obvious way.
5. You've Always Struggled With Fears Of Abandonment
Fear of abandonment can be a symptom childhood development disruptions, marriage and family therapist Lisa Bahar, LMFT, LPCC tells Bustle. She says many people will have a strong emotional reaction to someone leaving them, for example, and feel emotionally dysregulated in a way that's disproportionate to the event itself. If this happens to you, you might notice that you struggle to be away from your partner, or that you really don't like it when family goes out of own.
It's not a fun feeling, so definitely talk with a therapist if this has been happening to you.
6. Friends Often Say You're "Acting Like A Child"
If you act a little immature on occasion, don't worry about it. Everyone's entitled to a little outburst when truly frustrated, upset, or exhausted. But take note if it happens all the time, and especially if tons of people call you out of on it.
"Many times what occurs is the individual 'recapitulates' the child experience by regressing into child-like behaviors," Bahar says. "Some may regress into a child-like voice or demeanor that is unconscious."
This might look like throwing yourself on the ground, or whining or crying. It's a much different emotional response than one an adult would typically have, and can be a red flag.
7. You Have A Tendency To Self-Sabotage
Whenever anything good happens, do you almost always sabotage yourself? This is a trait common in people who have experienced trauma, psychologist Mark Derian tells Bustle. So you might notice that the moment you have any success — at work, in relationship, etc. — you find a way to undermine it, leading to later confusion and regret.
"Dysregulated emotion is fertile soil for shame to grow," he says, and it may explain why you've always gotten in your own way.
8. Friends Have Called You "Impulsive" On More Than One Occassion
If you're suppressing negative childhood emotions, you may find yourself turning to compulsions, addictions, and/or impulsiveness as a way to deal with the pain. "Anything to distract [yourself] from latent emotions," Derian says.
And it makes sense why that'd be the case. Past traumas can have quite the emotional impact, and often the easiest way to forget about them, or feel a different emotion, is by creating one through impulsive behaviors. It's really difficult to feel sad, for example, if you're putting yourself into dangerous situations or seeking out your next thrill.
So if this has become a habit, or loved ones in your life have pointed it out, it may be time to chat with a therapist, friend, or family member, and ask for advice.
9. You Often Feel Emotionally Exhausted
If most of your mental energy goes to suppressing your past, it only makes sense why you'd feel emotionally exhausted all the time. As Cameron says, it may even cause you to feel stifled in your relationships, to the point where you struggle to connect with others.
This could also be a sign of anxiety or depression, and not necessarily a sign of old trauma. But either way, it's worth looking into. With support, it can be possible to build yourself back up again, and have relationships that feel fulfilling, without experiencing the need to check out.
10. You Always Feel Anxious
If something traumatic happened in your past, Cameron says it can lead to anxiety as an adult. Keep in mind, however, that anxiety has roots in all sorts of things. Just because you feel anxious doesn't necessarily mean you experienced trauma as a child.
The best way to find out is by talking to a therapist, who can help you uncover things from your past, and sort through all the thoughts and feelings in your head. You might discover that it is stemming from something traumatic, but that's a good thing. Once you know, you can start to make changes, and work on managing your anxiety.
11. You Seem To Have Issues With Anger Management
Everyone experiences anger, and it's always good to get it out in a way that's healthy (such as going to the gym, or talking with a friend). But if you get irrationally furious on a regular basis, or find yourself acting out in rage to the point it's scaring people or hurting your relationships, take note. As Cameron says, this type of anger may be a sign of repressed memories and trauma. And ones that really need to be addressed.
If any of these signs or side effects sound familiar, consider making an appointment to talk with a therapist. While the things on this list may point to something else, such as an anxiety disorder or depression, they may also be a sign of a repressed childhood trauma. And that's an issue definitely worth working on, so you can begin to find ways to move on.