The devastation of childhood trauma can endure for decades. Being able to identify possible signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults can be an essential step on the path of true healing.
What Is Trauma?
In a mental health context, trauma refers to the psychological impact of a life-threatening or otherwise extremely stressful experience. People can develop trauma after one event or multiple events, or after ongoing exposure to certain stressors over an extended period of time.
If not properly addressed, trauma can have a profound negative effect on virtually every part of a person’s life, including their physical, emotional, and social well-being. Untreated trauma has been identified as a risk factor for several mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction.
When traumatic events occur to young people under the age of 18, clinicians refer to them as adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. In some cases, the impact of ACEs quicky becomes evident, while in other cases it can take many years – or even multiple decades – for a person to understand how they have been affected by what they endured as a child.
Examples of Childhood Trauma
The term “adverse childhood experiences” was coined in the mid-1990s. It was originally used in a groundbreaking study that was conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente.
That study collected information on ten types of ACEs, organized into three categories: abuse, neglect, and household challenges:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Mother or stepmother treated violently
- Substance abuse in the household
- Mental illness in the household
- Parental separation or divorce
- Incarcerated household member
In the years since the original CDC-Kaiser study was completed, the definition of ACEs has expanded to include other forms of potentially traumatic experiences, such a being bullied, growing up in a violent community or unsafe neighborhood, being subjected to racism, and living in a foster home.
What Is Repressed Trauma?
Traumatic events can be so severe that they overwhelm a person’s ability to cope or process. Especially in cases of childhood trauma, some people respond to this by blocking out their memories of the event. This is known as repressed trauma. This action is not taken intentionally; instead, it is a subconscious means of self-protection.
Even if a person has no recollection of their repressed trauma, the experiences they endured can still undermine their ability to live a full and satisfying life. Some people become aware of their repressed childhood trauma when an event or set of circumstances later in their life triggers the release of the memory. Others may not unlock their repressed traumatic memories until they are in therapy.
Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults
The effects of ACEs can vary widely from one person to the next. So, too, can the signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults. While it can be difficult to determine if someone you care about is living with a repressed memory like this, there are certain actions or behaviors to be on the lookout for.
The following are possible signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults:
- Exhibiting sudden, dramatic mood swings, often with no apparent external trigger
- Struggling with poor self-confidence and low self-esteem
- Experiencing unexplainable anxiety, fear, or unease when encountering certain people or being in certain situations
- Avoiding certain people, places, or events, even though they cannot articulate why or aren’t even aware that they have been doing this
- Having an intense fear of abandonment, even when there are no credible signs that this is about to occur
- Being persistently exhausted and fatigued
- Being unable to fully trust themselves or others
- Feeling that there are “blank spots” in their memory, or having difficulty recalling extended periods from their childhood
- Going through periods of dissociation, when they feel that they have become detached from their body, their thoughts and feelings, and/or their environment
It is important to understand that none of the feelings or behaviors listed above are conclusive signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults. There are myriad reasons why a person may have memory problems, struggle with low self-esteem, behave in unexplainable ways, or exhibit any of the other signs listed above.
It is also important to realize that this list is by no means a complete accounting of all possible signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults. Disturbing nightmares, random panic attacks, and a propensity for self-defeating behaviors are just a few examples of other indicators that could mean a person is living with untreated trauma.
The only way to determine the underlying causes of challenges such as these is to consult with a qualified healthcare provider. With time, effort, and effective treatment, people who have been living with repressed memories of untreated trauma can make sustained progress toward improved health.
Find Trauma Treatment in Atlanta
If your life has been disrupted by mental or behavioral health concerns that you believe may be linked with childhood trauma, please know that you are not alone, and help is available.
Atlanta Integrative Psychiatry is a trusted provider of personalized outpatient mental health treatment in Atlanta for trauma and related concerns. While you are with us, you will be in a safe and highly supportive environment where you can work with dedicated professionals who truly care about you.
To learn more about trauma treatment at our center in Atlanta or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our appointment page or call us today.