As you're probably well aware, there are connections between the experiences you had growing up and the way you go about life as an adult. For instance, if you had a traumatic experience as a child, such as physical or emotional abuse, it can follow you into adulthood through your thoughts and behaviors. But for some, a phenomena in the brain occurs where they just can't seem to remember their traumatic childhood memories. It doesn't happen for everyone, but according to experts, certain thoughts you have may indicate that you have repressed childhood memories.
"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 in 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," Doctor On Demand 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 and owner of Elevation Counseling Services, LLC, 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, 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.
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.