Symptoms of Unresolved Childhood Trauma in Adults

Childhood trauma is not uncommon in the United States. More than two-thirds of children report at least one traumatic event by the age of 16. From bullying to neglect to abuse, trauma is an unfortunate part of growing up for many children. Trauma is not necessarily a specific event that occurs, it is the lack of support around the event leaving the child feeling alone and unsupported with the strong emotional response to the event.  

Those effects can carry over into adulthood if not properly healed. It can affect your mental health and even your physical health.

If you’ve landed on this page, you may be wondering if you are dealing with the lingering effects of childhood trauma. Before we look into the lingering effects and their warning signs, let’s start by defining what trauma is.

What is Trauma?

First, it’s important to understand that with childhood trauma, there’s no set cause and effect relationship. There are many different forms of trauma and each person’s reaction to that trauma is unique. It depends on many different factors, including whether you were able to process the event with healthy support systems. 

Here are some common forms of childhood trauma, known as ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Witnessing domestic abuse
  • Household substance abuse
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation/divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

Some other forms of childhood trauma can also include: 

  • Community or school violence
  • Racism
  • Bullying
  • Going through a natural disaster 
  • Homelessness
  • Poverty or economic stress
  • Death of a loved one
  • Serious illness or accident

Remember, these are just some of the more common examples of trauma. Your experiences may not be reflected in these lists, but were traumatic for you.

Signs of Lingering or Untreated Childhood Trauma

There are many different ways that lingering or untreated childhood trauma can influence you into adulthood. Let’s take a look at some of the signs that you are dealing with lingering childhood trauma.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Many people are aware of PTSD, especially in soldiers who have returned home from war. PTSD stems from unresolved trauma, however, it is a very specific mental health issue that doesn’t develop in everyone who experiences trauma. 

Some of the signs of PTSD include:

  • Reliving the event (flashbacks/nightmares)
  • Avoidance
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Issues with trust
  • Self-destructive or risky behaviors
  • Withdrawal

If any of these apply to you as an adult for no reason you can think of, you may be dealing with unresolved PTSD from your childhood.

Attachment and Relationship Issues

Another warning sign that you are dealing with lingering childhood trauma is issues forming attachments and relationships, or forming unhealthy ones. Childhood trauma is caused by an adult breaking the trust of a child. Children with trauma learned to mistrust adults. Or if they were neglected, they may have sought out unhealthy relationships to fill something they were missing in their life. This can carry over into adulthood, affecting your relationships with others. If you struggle with forming healthy relationships, you may be dealing with unresolved childhood trauma. A healthy relationship may feel unsafe or boring when most relationships you have known have been threatening or unsafe.