We all know growing up can be tough. But for some, it’s more than just the usual ups and downs.
Some of us had a really hard time as kids, and those tough times can leave marks that follow us into adulthood. They can lead us to act in ways that hurt us more than they help us.
But here’s the good news: we can change. We can spot these harmful habits and work on getting rid of them. If this sounds like you, then keep reading.
We’re going to talk about 11 ways you might be hurting yourself because of your tough past – and how you can stop.
1. Holding onto the Past
One of the most common self-destructive behaviors is holding onto past pain. It’s like carrying a heavy backpack everywhere you go – it only weighs you down.
You might find yourself constantly thinking about the bad stuff that happened when you were a kid. This can lead to feelings of anger, sadness, or even guilt.
But why do we hold onto the past? Sometimes it’s because it feels familiar. Or maybe it’s because we hope that by thinking about it enough, we can somehow change it.
The truth is, you can’t change what happened in the past. But you can change how you let it affect your present and your future. Start by recognizing when you’re dwelling on the past. Try to gently bring yourself back to the present moment. This isn’t easy and it won’t happen overnight, but with time and practice, letting go of the past can become a reality for you.
2. Not Trusting Others
If you’ve had a difficult upbringing, trust could be a big issue for you. Maybe you were let down by the people who were supposed to look after you. So, now you might find it difficult to trust others, worrying that they’ll disappoint or hurt you just like before.
But here’s the thing: not everyone is out to get you. Sure, there are people who might let us down, but there are also many who want to lift us up. It’s important to give people a chance.
Try opening up a little. Share something small about yourself with someone you think is trustworthy – a friend, a partner, or even a therapist. Notice how it feels when they respond with understanding or kindness.
3. Always Expecting the Worst
Early in my life, I learned to always expect the worst. Growing up, my home was unpredictable and often chaotic. I never knew what was going to happen next, so I started to brace myself for bad things.
This habit followed me into adulthood. Whenever something good happened, I would immediately start thinking about how it could go wrong. And while this did protect me from some disappointments, it also robbed me of joy and excitement.
Then one day, a friend pointed out how often I expected the worst. This realization was a wake-up call for me. I decided to actively start challenging these negative expectations.
Now, whenever I catch myself expecting the worst, I stop and ask myself: “Is this really likely to happen?” Most of the time, the answer is no. This simple question has helped me shift from constantly worrying about what could go wrong, to appreciating what’s going right.
One of the most pervasive self-destructive behaviors is relentless self-criticism. If you’ve had a difficult upbringing, you may have internalized negative messages about yourself, leading you to always be hard on yourself.
But elf-criticism can actually harm our mental health, leading to issues like depression and anxiety. What’s more, it doesn’t motivate us to do better. Instead, it often leads to feelings of defeat and hopelessness.
So how can you combat self-criticism? Start by becoming aware of your inner critic. Notice when you’re being hard on yourself and what you’re saying. Is it fair? Is it true? Would you say it to a friend?
Then, try to replace these negative messages with kinder, more realistic ones. Instead of saying “I’m such a failure,” try saying “I made a mistake this time, but I can learn and improve.”
5. Neglecting Self-Care
When you’ve grown up in a tough environment, taking care of yourself might not be something you’re used to. You might be so accustomed to focusing on survival or taking care of others, that you neglect your own needs and wellbeing.
But here’s the thing: you matter. Your needs matter. You deserve to be taken care of, and not just by others, but by yourself too. Self-care isn’t selfish or indulgent – it’s essential.
Self-care can mean different things to different people. For some, it might be taking time to relax with a good book. For others, it might be going for a run or cooking a healthy meal. It could even be as simple as saying no when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Start by carving out a little time each day for something that makes you feel good. It may feel strange at first, especially if you’re used to putting others first. But with time, it will become more natural, and you’ll start to see the positive effects on your physical and emotional health.
6. Avoiding Emotions
Growing up, my household wasn’t exactly an open forum for feelings. Emotions were something to be hidden, not shared. So, I learned to bottle up my feelings and just keep moving forward.
As an adult, I found myself doing the same thing – avoiding my emotions rather than dealing with them. If I felt sad or angry, I would ignore the feelings or distract myself with work or hobbies. But over time, I realized this wasn’t healthy. Avoiding emotions doesn’t make them go away; it just causes them to build up until they become overwhelming.
I’ve since learned that it’s okay to feel things, even if those feelings are uncomfortable. Now, when I start feeling upset or stressed, I give myself permission to feel these emotions without judgment. I acknowledge them, allow myself to experience them, and then gently let them go.
It’s not an easy process and it takes time, but it’s much healthier than cramming everything into a mental “junk drawer”.
7. Downplaying Your Own Desires
A lot of us who had a hard time growing up learned to put our wants and needs on the back burner. Maybe we were told they weren’t important, or we felt we had to sacrifice them for the sake of others. So, we started downplaying our own desires, telling ourselves they didn’t matter.
But here’s the thing: your wants and needs do matter. Your dreams matter. You have every right to pursue what makes you happy and fulfilled.
So stop minimizing your desires. If you want something – whether it’s a career goal, a lifestyle change, or even just a slice of cake – admit it to yourself. You don’t have to act on every desire, but acknowledging them is the first step towards understanding what you want out of life.
When you’ve had a rough upbringing, it can be tempting to isolate yourself. After all, if you’re alone, no one can hurt you, right? But while solitude can be good for self-reflection and recharge, too much of it can actually harm your mental health.
Here’s an interesting fact: according to psychological research, social isolation can lead to a host of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. Humans are social creatures by nature; we thrive on connection and interaction.
So, even if it feels uncomfortable at first, try to connect with others. Reach out to an old friend, join a club or group that interests you, or even strike up a conversation with a stranger. Yes, there’s a risk of getting hurt or rejected, but there’s also the potential for friendship, love, and support.
9. Fear of Success
This one might sound strange, but bear with me. Growing up, my family situation was far from ideal. There was a lot of struggle and not a lot of success. So, success became something unfamiliar, even scary.
As an adult, I found myself sabotaging my own chances of success. Whether it was a job opportunity or a healthy relationship, I’d find a way to mess it up. It was as if I was more comfortable with failure because that’s what I knew.
But one day, I realized that I deserved better. Just because I came from a difficult background didn’t mean I had to keep struggling. So, I started challenging my fear of success. Every time an opportunity came up, I’d remind myself that I deserved it just as much as anyone else.
And here’s the thing: overcoming the fear of success doesn’t mean you’ll always succeed. You’ll still face challenges and setbacks – everyone does. But you won’t let these hold you back from trying again.
10. Playing the Victim
When you’ve had a difficult upbringing, it’s easy to slip into the victim role. It’s easy to look at your past and think, “This is why I can’t do better, this is why I’m stuck.” And while your past may have been out of your control, your present and future are not.
Playing the victim might make you feel better momentarily, as it shifts blame away from yourself. But in the long run, it just keeps you stuck. It robs you of your power to change and grow.
Stop seeing yourself as a victim of your past. Instead, start seeing yourself as a survivor, as someone capable of overcoming and growing from their challenges. You are stronger than you think.
11. Ignoring Your Strengths
Finally, many people with hard pasts tend to overlook their own strengths. Maybe you were never praised as a child, or your accomplishments were always belittled. So you learned to focus on your weaknesses instead.
But here’s the raw truth: focusing only on your weaknesses won’t make you stronger; it’ll just make you feel worse. You have strengths – everyone does. Maybe you’re creative, or kind, or resilient. Maybe you’re great at solving problems or comforting others.
Whatever your strengths may be, it’s time to acknowledge them. Start by making a list of things you’re good at or qualities you like about yourself. Add to this list regularly and refer back to it when you’re feeling down.