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Home arrow Health arrow Mental Health arrow Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults: From Darkness to Light

Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults: From Darkness to Light

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 8, 2023
10 min read 1531 Views 0 Comments
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People who experience psychological repression might feel confused as to how it started. There are many reasons for these blocked memories, but what are they? We explain the signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults and how you could gain some of those memories back.

signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults

Sometimes you might feel that your memory isn’t quite right. 

There are certain situations, people, and locations that change your behavior. You may feel like your mind is completely blank when it comes to remembering the past. This can likely be due to trauma and repression. 

Challenging events during early childhood can negatively affect the way your brain interprets life. Those memories are pushed down into the subconscious mind. Luckily, there are ways to notice repression signs, especially in those with memory loss.

In this article, you’ll discover the top signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults. 

8+ Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults 

There are common signs that point toward repressed childhood trauma. People with adverse childhood experiences could be struggling with their mental health. If you think something isn’t right, consider learning more about the psychological symptoms.

Here are the signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults: 

#1 Black and white thinking

Black and white thinking is a mindset people may have due to unresolved childhood trauma. This means they don’t see the bigger picture when it comes to the world. For example, someone might believe they have failed a test because of one mistake. 

Researchers have called this symptom cognitive distortion because it stops you from experiencing other perspectives. The all-or-nothing beliefs could also disrupt relationships, damage your career, and cause physical or mental illnesses. 

Trauma survivors may have black and white thinking when believing the world is all good or all bad. Finding an in-between is just not possible in any situation. This trauma defense mechanism can be a way of protecting yourself from more traumatic events.

#2 Issues with trust

Trust issues could be the reason you struggle to make friends, get into a relationship, or converse with family members about important topics. Childhood trauma may have stripped all trust, leading to unease and fear around the existing people in your life.

Not trusting anyone can make you feel isolated. This decreases your emotional energy and makes you feel even more exhausted around other people. Traumatic experiences are usually to blame for the lack of trust, honesty, and low self-esteem

Having trust issues could also trigger paranoid thoughts. You may think everyone is against you, leading to paranoia in your everyday life. Simple acts like practicing meditation and going for morning walks can help you feel less paranoid. 

#3 Suffering from mental illness

Dealing with mental health problems could be a huge sign that you have repressed childhood trauma. Your subconscious mind is still overcoming those past events, which might spark extreme emotional shifts, depression, and chronic anxiety symptoms

You should speak to a medical professional about mental disorders. They can offer treatment that uncovers repressed emotions from childhood events. If you have other mental health concerns, don’t be afraid to discuss them during in-person therapy. 

Of course, if therapy isn’t a comfortable option, there are daily lifestyle habits you can build to improve your mental health. Exercise is one great habit that releases endorphins – feel-good hormones that can lift your mood throughout the day. 

#4 Insecurity

Repressed childhood trauma is bound to cause insecurity for those who haven’t coped with the experiences. You might believe that no one wants to be in your life. Certain insecure feelings could especially lower your self-confidence and lead to depression. 

Not overcoming traumatic memories tends to alter your thinking. The chronic pain associated with abandonment usually increases those feelings. Other signs of insecurity include relationship anxiety, overthinking, self-sabotage, and fear of rejection. 

Remember that the people in your life are there for a reason. They care about your feelings and want to make an effort to help. It’s normal to have setbacks that feel damaging but don’t let them control you or make you feel like you’re worthless. 

#5 Lost memories

People around you might remember certain situations you have no idea about, which can make you question lost memories or events in your life. Of course, it’s easy to get confused when this happens, but it might be due to adverse childhood experiences. 

Doctors usually call this sign dissociative amnesia – a disorder that makes you forget important personal information. Certain events like sexual abuse, accidents, disasters, war, and substance abuse can put a hole through childhood memories. 

Not everyone who has experienced childhood trauma will get memory loss. There are just some people that can’t deal with the overwhelming stress. A medical professional can suggest the right treatment for retrieving memories and helping you to cope. 

#6 Chronic stress and anxiety

Childhood trauma can increase the risk of developing anxiety and severe stress. You may feel worried about things you don’t even know of. A child’s developing brain suffers from abuse, leading to the inability to cope with overwhelming situations.

Feeling anxious all the time can even promote high blood pressure and damage your physical health. Your body is constantly under stress and cannot function properly. Chronic anxiety might be to blame if you regularly sweat and get shortness of breath. 

A doctor may advise you to exercise daily, set long-term goals, try new hobbies, and practice meditation. These methods are great for reducing anxiety symptoms. Building small habits one day at a time ensures you’re taking care of your overall well-being. 

If you are feeling bad for a long period of time do not hesitate to ask for professional help. A licensed therapist can help you to break a trauma bond and live better life overall.

#7 Low self-worth

People with low self-esteem may think negatively of themselves. They are constantly ignoring achievements and struggle to see their worth. Childhood trauma often lowers your self-respect, leading to depressive episodes that won’t go away. 

Those who have experienced childhood trauma might even believe they deserved what happened to them. Negative thoughts encourage a lack of confidence in your everyday life. This negativity could motivate you to block people out and develop bad mental habits. 

There are ways to fix low self-esteem problems. Start by saying “no” whenever negative thoughts start to cloud your mind. You have full control over what your brain says, so learn to identify these thoughts and stop them from progressing throughout the day. 

#8 Mood swings

Early childhood trauma may trigger mood swings that make it difficult to settle certain situations. You could go from being relaxed to very angry in a matter of seconds. This is because those repressed memories make it challenging for you to deal with emotions. 

However, intense mood swings are never healthy. A doctor can offer psychological treatment that helps you face your traumatic experience. Just remember that treating childhood trauma is an option and completely depends on your personal preferences. 

Serious mood changes could also represent a personality disorder. Certain therapists can identify these traits when determining any mental health issues. Not coping with childhood trauma often changes how you think, behave, and react emotionally. 

#9 Childish reactions

Childish reactions mean you have child-like outbursts. You throw tantrums, speak in a baby-like voice, or act stubborn over small things. These actions could be a result of childhood trauma that involves abusive parents or a lack of parental guidance. 

Some people might also believe you’re immature. This can make actions worse when you don’t know how to respond. Having no guidance growing up due to childhood abuse can be challenging, especially when situations become too overwhelming. 

Consider seeking therapy if you have suffered from sexual abuse, chronic illness, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, or substance abuse. It’s believed that childhood trauma encourages the brain to stay in a child-like state as a long-term coping mechanism. 

#10 Fear of abandonment

Fear of abandonment is a type of anxiety that may stem from past deaths or childhood neglect. You can easily become attached to people and find it hard to be independent. Sometimes, this state causes unhealthy relationships due to abandonment issues. 

A sign of this feeling is that you experience deep sadness and hollowness when physically alone. You’re constantly worried about what people are doing and whether they’re safe. In the long term, this deep-rooted fear damages your overall health. 

Other common signs include clinginess, separation anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and jealousy. You may envy people that can make friends easily. Just remember that you’re not alone, and medical professionals are there to support you through childhood trauma.  

What Causes Repressed Memories?

Research has shown that state-dependent learning causes repressed memories. This happens when you experience something traumatic during a particular mood. Certain memories will then become inaccessible once your mind is calm. 

Childhood trauma increases the risk of emotional repression. Your subconscious mind protects you from the experience by hiding memories of it. Over time, you could forget that it even happened, which leaves gaps in your memory and causes confusion. 

People often find that they can’t face a traumatic experience. The trauma is too overwhelming and produces negative feelings that aren’t treated easily. Memory repression is a normal reaction and can be treated through psychological therapy. 

Repressed memories don’t always derive from childhood trauma. You could have faced something traumatic as an adult. Since you’re more aware of what’s going on, the overwhelming and stressful experience may completely alter specific memory functions. 

Even psychological stress is a big factor in forgetting. Constant work, unhealthy relationships, and a lack of sleep may contribute to stress. Pressure in a person’s everyday life will only worsen negative thoughts and encourage emotional repression.

How to Know if You Have Repressed Memories?

Regularly feeling numb and blank may be signs of emotional repression. You feel like something is always missing in your daily life. You may react to small remarks or situations as you don’t quite understand how to act normally. 

Of course, you won’t always know the difference between repressed memories and simply forgetting events. There are small reactions that could determine your mental state. Writing these down can be helpful when showing doctors and therapists. 

For example, you could get a sudden panic attack when someone talks about traumatic situations. The overwhelming fear makes you shut down completely. This is because you subconsciously haven’t recovered from childhood trauma and mental health issues.

Some other signs are unease in certain locations, strong reactions to specific people, chronic fatigue, and revictimization. One thing about revictimization is that you repeat actions and behaviors associated with your personal traumatic experience. 

There may be times you choose dysfunctional partners and friends. This is because you only know what abusive behavior is like when being a child. However, if you find yourself in this situation, reach out to genuine people who can offer support. 

How to Remember Repressed Childhood Memories?

Going through cognitive processing therapy could help you face adverse childhood experiences. Many doctors recommend this treatment for PTSD due to the calming mind techniques. 

You’ll be taught how to identify and change upsetting thoughts during therapy. Someone will go through scenarios that might trigger negative feelings. It’s believed that overcoming your thoughts can change how you feel about a traumatic event. 

However, this form of therapy may not be suitable for everyone. You could look at childhood photos, talk about your past with family members, or revisit old places. Simple things like this can trigger memories and help you remember certain events.

There are also mental exercises to open up the subconscious mind. Listen to music and practice meditation at the same time. Being completely relaxed could stop fear from hiding certain memories, which helps you recall childhood trauma and abuse.

Childhood trauma is obviously different for everyone. You might not be able to regain those memories, while others just need cognitive processing therapy. Consult your doctor about finding the right treatment and overcoming mental health challenges.

A Word From a Psychologist

Repressed childhood trauma lurks in your subconscious mind and only appears when you feel scared. People can ruin their mental health over this shadow, as they don’t understand their reactions to certain events.

You might even develop a physical or mental illness due to unresolved trauma. Dissociative amnesia is the disorder that makes memory loss happen. But, despite the repressed trauma, you can still find suitable psychological treatment.

There’s no need to go through life constantly feeling on edge. Consider solutions like exposure therapy – a behavioral treatment that exposes you to intense fears. It may use the technique called desensitization when banishing negative thoughts.

Always consult a mental health professional if the repressed traumatic memories are overpowering. Some people naturally get these memories or flashbacks after a long time, while others experience a repressed memory for the rest of their lives.

Just remember that everyone deals with traumatic events differently. Being a child and witnessing abuse, death, alcoholism, or neglect can damage the brain. It’s only important that you seek help for any mental health disorders.


So, can you pick up on these repressed trauma signs?

Many things could represent unresolved childhood trauma. Chronic stress, mood swings, and fear of abandonment are just a few signs. Additionally, an intense fear of the traumatic event happening again could be the reason for mental health concerns.

Consult with your doctor about finding the right treatment for trauma survivors. Leaving the negative feelings to bubble might produce physical health problems.

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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