8 Little Ways Your Childhood Trauma Still Tragically Affects You

How to not let the past hurt your future.

Woman struggling with PTSD from childhood RDNE Stock project | Unsplash

Childhood trauma, like any psychological trauma, leaves deep mental scars that affect your mind, often in the way of PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can keep you from healing from your trauma for a long time — years or even decades, in some cases.

There are many symptoms of PTSD you may not even realize you're living with because you’re going through childhood trauma in your way.


The nature of your trauma — along with your childhood history and relationships — contributes to your PTSD symptoms, which means they can be complex and vary from the typical ones.

RELATED: 21 People With Difficult Childhoods Share Something They Do Now That Is A Direct Result Of Their Trauma

Here are 8 little ways your childhood trauma still tragically affects you:

1. You're hypervigilant and watchful

Your mind is on high alert. It isn’t something you do intentionally; it’s the effect of trauma.

You scan the world constantly for evidence of danger; don’t feel safe anywhere; can’t sleep. You double-check the locks. You’re afraid to go anywhere alone, especially at night.


Yet it’s also hard to trust that anyone will keep you safe. The world seems out of control. Anything could happen and you’re helpless to stop it.

Your only option, your unconscious mind says, is to keep a close eye on everything and everyone around you. That way, maybe, you can protect yourself this time.

RELATED: 6 Experiences A Childhood Trauma Therapist Wishes She Could Give Every Survivor

2. You sense danger around every corner

Childhood trauma means that you are in danger. This triggered your brain (more deeply your unconscious mind) to believe danger can happen at any moment.

You were helpless, and there was no one safe to turn to. Maybe your trauma was inflicted by someone who was supposed to be taking care of you.


You’ve been on high alert, having to take care of yourself, by being extremely careful.

You need to feel in control and know what it’s like not to be. Your child's mind remembers the trauma of powerlessness. Hypervigilance and worry about danger are designed to protect you.

You’ll watch out for yourself because no one else can be trusted to keep you safe — especially from the catastrophe you’re sure is about to happen.



3. You have a feeling of impending doom

Yes, you feel danger is around every corner. But even worse is the terror that an earth-shattering catastrophe is about to happen.


Believe it or not, very often this terror is stirred up if you have anything good. The catastrophe you expect is certain to take what’s good away.

Someone could die. You could be killed. Everything will fall apart. You’re afraid to make a wrong move.

That terror sometimes makes you afraid to go out. Afraid to drive. Worried about going to sleep? Even at times panicked about what you eat. You’re terrified of separation from loved ones.

4. You're afraid of anger, fighting back, or speaking out

Anger is one scary feeling. You’re afraid you’ll hurt someone, make them go away, or that they’ll retaliate. So your anger might be well hidden, even from yourself.


Or, when you get angry it might come out in big, frustrated explosions that make you scared or guilty. You try very hard to control it like you try to control everything else.

Maybe someone’s anger hurt or terrified you as a child. You couldn’t fight back when you were little and may have been threatened or punished if you tried to speak out.

So, now you hold things back or assume no one will listen. Likely, somewhere inside you, resent having to comply.

It’s very hard not being able to stand up for yourself, but you can’t. You swallow how you feel. You don’t trust people, relationships, or anyone to be there for you, or to listen.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Heal Your Childhood Trauma (So You Don't Have To Suffer Any Longer)


5. You panic about being trapped or become claustrophobic

You feel trapped in many different situations. Can’t say “no,” or leave when you want to. Maybe, you're even claustrophobic.

You can’t go in elevators or be in small spaces. Not into an MRI, a small room, or a crowded area. If you feel you can’t get out, it panics you. You avoid these situations at all costs.

If you feel you have to give other people what they want and can’t express your feelings or needs openly, this is a different kind of trap. It’s more to the point of what trauma does to your mind.

Your feelings are trapped inside you. You can’t openly be yourself. Both you and your feelings are shut away in a tight box inside.


6. You are distrustful of relationships

Part of the reason you can’t openly be yourself is you’re anxious around most people. You’re on the alert for anything that makes you think you aren’t liked, or good enough, or as good as they are.

You compare yourself constantly. Things often seem like put-downs. You aren’t sure; being anxious makes it hard to relax.



It’s not easy to trust anyone. Sometimes you don’t think it’s worth trying to be close, but you’re lonely, so you do.


Yet since you’re always worried about being judged, rejected, or used, you never feel close. It’s a vicious cycle you’d like to get out of, but can’t.

You’re almost always in a state of either high or low-level anxiety.

7. You suffer from depression, anxiety, OCD, or drug/alcohol use

What childhood trauma does to your mind can create deep and persistent depression, anxiety, OCD, and substance abuse.

Constant worry, the terror of catastrophe, feelings of imminent danger, panic, and fears of expressing your feelings are anxiety-driven. You need to feel control, and OCD is a way of trying to have it.

OCD is emotionally meant to be a technique to override anxiety. You might be ritualistic about the things you do. Clean constantly. Or keep things in tidy order. Even try to carefully plan things out so that you don’t make any mistakes. A mistake means losing control. But, inevitably, terrible doubt takes over. What if you are wrong?


It’s very difficult to live this way. Especially if you feel there is no relief and no escape. And, this leads to depression. You feel hopeless. Can’t sleep. Dreams and nightmares haunt you. You’re afraid to try therapy — or maybe that failed you, too.

Turning to alcohol or drugs might seem the only way out of constant torment. Your self-esteem is very low and you don’t have much hope. But it’s important to know that none of this is your fault.

You don’t have to live this way.

8. You dream repeatedly about your traumatic events

Your nightmares might seem to only repeat your trauma, similar to flashbacks. But if you look closely, there are other added details. Your dreams might be so awful, disgusting, or frightening that you don’t want to sleep for fear of having another one.


How could they possibly have something to say? You just want to get rid of them.

Dreams are messages from your unconscious mind. As much as this is hard to believe, they are trying to help you work out the scars left by your trauma. But dreams and nightmares can be very scary.

That’s why it’s important to get help from someone who knows how to tell you what they mean.

Most particularly, you need help from someone who specializes in childhood trauma. You’re very likely scared to trust anyone. Especially if you’ve had failed therapy (or therapies before).

When you’ve had a trauma as a child, trust isn’t easy to come by.


So what can I do now?

There are some wonderful treatments for PTSD. Psychotherapy with someone who specializes in childhood trauma is the best option.

A therapist trained in psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy is most equipped to understand the unconscious meaning of your symptoms. When you get to the root of them, you won’t continue suffering.

It’s important to remember what childhood trauma did to your mind doesn’t define you. It isn’t you, and it isn’t permanent. All of these effects can change.

You’ve tried control. Escape. Avoidance. These are the methods you’ve used on your own.

If one of the results of your trauma is distrust of people or relationships, then relying on yourself has been your go-to option.


If so, you’ve been alone with your terror, fears, and panic. You’ve had no choice but to try to box up your feelings. But this only ends up in another form of flight and leaves you with your symptoms.

If you can take the risk of therapy, your therapist needs to understand and take seriously how difficult it is for you to trust.

Then, psychotherapy can be a place not to be alone with your terrors, fears, and worries anymore. And since these symptoms are largely psychological, they can change with help.

You'll learn to trust again, get to the root of your fears, and grieve the hurt and trauma you experienced. You'll learn to be safe again, which is the most important thing you can do for yourself.


Life can get better. The effects of childhood trauma don’t have to live on.

RELATED: 6 Signs You Were Given The Silent Treatment As A Child — And It's Affecting You Now

Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst who specializes in working with survivors of abuse and childhood trauma.