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, have a fear of abandonment, or feel really strange in certain situations. It can be frustrating, especially if you don't know why you're feeling this way.
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," says licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist Bruce W. Cameron, in an email to Bustle. "It is very important to go to therapy to unlock the memories and likely trauma."
It is important to know, however, that many of the symptoms below are signs of other things. You can, for example, have abandonment issues without having suffered something traumatizing as a kid. With that in mind, read on for some signs you might be repressing memories, and see if any of them seem like a fit.
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, of Wasatch Family Therapy tells me. "It's the body's 'alarm system' or way of warning [you] that this type of person is not safe." While it's obviously good to be wary of strangers and whatnot, this response can get out of control. That's when a therapist can be a big help.
2. Specific Places Or Situations Freak You Out
In the same vein, you might notice that random situations or places totally freak you out. "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? "People who have unaddressed negative or traumatic events from childhood often struggle with mood regulation and managing strong emotions," Johnson says. 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.
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 me. "[My] clients will have a strong emotional reaction to someone leaving and feel emotionally dysregulated that is disproportionate to the event itself." It's not a fun feeling, so definitely talk with a therapist if this is something you struggle with.
6. Friends Often Say You're "Acting Like A Child"
If you act a little immature when truly upset, that's totally understandable. But take note if it happens all the time, 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."
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 me. "Dysregulated emotion is fertile soil for shame to grow," he says. It may explain why you've always gotten in your own way at work and in your relationships.
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.
9. You Often Feel Emotionally Exhausted
If most of your mental energy goes to suppressing your past, it makes sense why you might feel emotionally exhausted. As Cameron tells me, it may even cause you to be stifled in your relationships. And that's definitely something you want to prevent.
10. You Always Feel Anxious
If something traumatic happened in your past, Cameron tells me it can definitely 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.
11. You Seem To Have Issues With Anger Management
It's never fun to feel irrationally angry, much less regular old angry. So definitely speak with a therapist if you consistently struggle with controlling your anger. As Cameron tells me, it may be a sign of repressed memories and trauma.
Do any of these signs and symptoms sound familiar? Then definitely make an appointment to talk with a therapist. While the things on this list may point to something else, like 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.
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