How do you know if your childhood is negatively affecting your adulthood? You don’t want to be a victim to what happened to you as a child and blame everything on your parents, but you still feel that childhood experiences may be holding you back. If you have worked hard to avoid thinking about the difficult things that have happened to you, you may believe you have put the past behind you. After all, you made it through the past fires and they aren’t burning anymore. You’ve moved out of mom’s house. However, things still aren’t going the way you hoped they would. Here are four indicators that your childhood may be affecting your adulthood. 

  1. Your intimate relationships follow a negative pattern you can’t seem to escape.
    If you’ve dated several versions of the same guy with a different name who is all wrong for you, you know what I am talking about. You may find yourself responding to others the way mom or dad responded to each other. Typically, people end up in a romantic partnership with someone who treats them very similarly to how they were treated as a child or a partner who is on the opposite end of the continuum. For example, if you were raised by an emotionally neglectful parent, you will most likely have an emotionally absent partner or one who is emotionally dependent on you in an unhealthy way. You will gravitate towards someone who treats you how you believe you deserve to be treated. You may even push away healthy people because you don’t believe you deserve the love they have to give to you. The healthier you are, the healthier people you will attract into your life. The reverse is also true.
  2. You have intense emotional reactions that don’t match the present situations.
    If you react to a situation with an emotional level of 8 when the situation calls for a 3, you might be reacting out of trauma. Understand that your brain is constantly linking situations together in order to protect you. When you  experience something similar to when the unsafe event happened, the emotions and body sensations connected to that memory flood in faster than you know what hit you. This can happen without a specific picture or memory coming to mind. You may not even be aware of what triggered the emotional reaction or why. If you have experienced trauma, you might say, “I feel crazy.” Often, an immense amount of guilt and shame follows these emotional outbursts. You feel like you should be more in control of your emotional responses and have tried to change, but the same things still keep happening.
  3. You can’t stop thinking about your childhood or you can’t remember it at all.
    These are two extremes that can happen as a result of trauma. You may have frequent flashbacks of the difficulties that happened in childhood or frequent nightmares. These are classic symptoms of PTSD. On the other hand, you may have difficulty remembering anything before a certain point in your life such as age 10. Not remembering large periods of your childhood is a symptom of dissociation. Dissociation happens when what you experience in the present is too much for your nervous system to bear, so you have to disconnect from it. This can happen without conscious awareness. If you lose large periods of time in the present where you “zone out,” this can also be a symptom of dissociation.
  4. You don’t feel fully adult.
    You can point to many of the adult things you do such as working full time or attending college, and raising children. However, you don’t feel it internally. You regularly encounter situations in which you feel like a child: helpless, lost, and alone. You may know mentally that you can leave your job, but emotionally, you feel stuck. You may know that you can say no or set a boundary, but when you try, your voice is shaky. 

The good news is there is hope.
If you believe that your childhood is affecting your adulthood, therapy can help. Learning new ways of coping, relating to others, and processing trauma can get you to a place where the past is truly in the past. When you are no longer haunted by the experiences in your childhood, you can progress forward into a more healthy adulthood.   

Carrie Bock, LPC-MHSP of By The Well Counseling is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in helping clients with trauma, anxiety and OCD get to a deeper level of healing through EMDR via online counseling across Tennessee and in person intensive therapy sessions. Carrie is the host of the Hope for Anxiety and OCD podcast, which is a welcome place for struggling Christians to reduce shame, increase hope, and develop healthier connections with God and others.