5 Tiny Signs You Grew Up In An Unsafe Family Environment

You might be good at survival, but emotions, not so much.

Woman in her closet, releasing emotions in a safe solitude- sign you grew up in an unsafe family environment Lenar Nigmatullin | Shutterstock

Growing up in an unsafe family environment can give a person valuable survival skills, yet those same skills can be damaging to long-term relationships in adulthood. Recognizing the current signs of childhood insecurity can help you and others understand why you feel how you do.

Here are 5 tiny signs you grew up in an unsafe family environment, according to YourTango experts:

1. You notice relational behavior issues

A big tell that your childhood did not nurture you well is when you have an attachment disorder in adulthood. Attachment disorders take multiple forms. The two most common ones are anxious attachment (always feeling insecure in a relationship, which leads to clinginess and controlling behavior,) and avoidant attachment (the lone wolf who finds it difficult to intimately bond with friends or partners because of ingrained trust issues) Many adults never realize they have these issues, much less that such problems are typically the result of an emotionally unsafe family environment when they were growing up.


Dr. Gloria Brame, Therapist

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2. You develop a fearful-avoidant style

A significant sign of growing up in an unsafe family environment is the development of a fearful-avoidant or disorganized attachment style. While anxious or avoidant attachment can also occur, a fearful-avoidant attachment style is common among those who experienced neglect and abuse during childhood. Adults with this attachment style often fear close relationships due to past trauma, yet they also deeply crave the affection they were deprived of. This contradictory nature of their attachment makes it one of the most challenging styles to overcome.


Erika Jordan, Dating Coach / NLP Practitioner

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3. You don't accept help or support, making a point to do things for yourself

Not knowing how to express our emotions can lead us to isolate ourselves, when really what we need is to turn to those we love and ask for support. It takes practice to realize our feelings and then even more practice to ask for help when we need it.

Alexandra Blogier, Writer of pop culture analysis, relationships, and self-help

She remembers her unsafe family environment Marcos Mesa / Sam Wordley via Shutterstock


4. You notice signs of past trauma stored in your body

Trauma is stored in the body. Even if you are currently in a loving relationship with a partner, family-of-origin trauma leaves telltale signs. One potential signal that you grew up in an unsafe family environment is having areas on your body that you hate having touched by your beloved. For example, if you were slapped across your face, much as you love your partner, and even though the face is a common zone for erotic feelings, kisses and caresses on your face may feel uncomfortable or frightening (even if you don’t know exactly why!) Sometimes, areas of your body that should feel pleasure feel ticklish. If there are areas on your body that feel way too vulnerable that feel unsafe to be touched, be curious about it. If this rings a bell, you may want to explore more about my BodyMap technique.

Aline Zoldbrod, Ph.D., Psychologist, Author, Expert in Trauma

5. You declare a normal human functioning as a mental illness

You stress yourself out until your mind can’t take it and then call yourself defective. You work your tail off to be successful. If you achieve less than utter perfection, they will shame you for only getting ten steps ahead of them instead of 20. In my family, happy people are “bipolar,” sad/mad people are “depressed,” reasonably nervous folks have “anxiety,” and anyone who tells the truth is “crazy.” Although no one ventured past high school in education, they magically possess armchair psychology degrees.

It couldn’t be that people have feelings, and our toxic intergenerationally traumatized family brings up a lot of intense emotional responses. Or that we overcompensate for our family’s shortcomings by toiling to surpass their unsuccessful lifestyle. Nope, any mood other than “good” and “fine” counts as an indicator of mental decline.


Maya Strong, Author

Unsafe family environments affect children into adulthood by setting them up for failure in future relationships. By recognizing how an unsafe family dynamic can still affect you today, you can rebuild your attachment style to live an emotionally healthy future.

Will Curtis is a writer and editor for YourTango. He's been featured on the Good Men Project and taught English abroad for ten years.