If you recognize these 7 signs, you probably had a pretty tough childhood

If there’s one thing I’m well-versed in, it’s childhood difficulties. 

As unfortunate as it is to retrospect on my early childhood years and have to say “It was pretty rough,” it’s what made me who I am. 

I know that sounds cliché — but it’s true. 

I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of person I’d be without having lived through struggles in childhood. 

Would I roll the dice to find out? No. I’m happy with who I am. 

Even with all the quirks and scars, I’d rather be the me I know. And I hope you can say the same. 

What happens in our childhoods never really leaves us. And for better or worse, a large part of us is shaped in our formative years. 

How can you know you had a tough childhood? Aside from remembering the raw experience, if you recognize some of the following signs, you likely had it a little rough in childhood. Let’s get into it. 

1) Things that go “bump” in the night

Aren’t dreams fascinating? 

With so many theories out there about what purpose they serve or where they come from, it can feel like trying to understand dreams is a lost cause — even as a psychologist. 

But one thing that’s clear is that trauma comes out in dreams.

Do you have recurring dreams that leave you with a heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach? 

Do you often feel nervous about going to sleep because you don’t know you’ll like what’s on the other side of your consciousness?

And it’s not just dreams. How you approach sleep also says a lot about what’s going on in your mind. 

Ever find yourself checking locks twice or jumping at shadows as an adult? That could be a leftover from those restless nights.

I suffer a lot from sleep paralysis which has been linked to PTSD. Even nearing the age of thirty, I sometimes find it difficult to get restful and fear-free sleep.

2) Unsettled by the quiet — why can’t I relax?

Ever walked into a peaceful room and felt like you just didn’t belong? That’s a classic sign of a rough childhood

You might think you’d crave calm after a stormy upbringing, but it’s often the opposite. 

A study by Heim and Nemeroff shows that early adverse experiences can wire your brain to be more comfortable in chaos than in calm. Crazy, right? 

But think about it — when you’re used to noise and drama, silence can seem suspicious.

I remember when I was younger, and I’d go over to a friend’s house. I’d always be shocked by how quiet and calm their families were. 

What was normal for them made me feel like I was on holiday or at a wellness spa. 

Coming from a big family, peace and quiet was hard to come by. And when I had it, it felt…. a little eerie!

3) You’re a danger radar

Do you find yourself always scanning for threats, even in safe environments? That’s hypervigilance. 

You’re constantly on the lookout for danger, even when there’s none around. This can be exhausting and often leads to anxiety

This is a type of catastrophic thinking or catastrophic rumination. 

Unfortunately, it’s often a by-product of living through rough times.

And it’s a tough habit to break, but recognizing it is the first step. 

Think of it like having an internal alarm system that never shuts off. It’s always there, whispering warnings, making you second-guess even the safest situations. 

You might avoid certain places or people, not because they’re actually dangerous, but because your brain can’t stop ringing the alarm bells. 

It’s a defense mechanism, sure, but it’s also a heavy burden to carry.

4) You have an insecure attachment style

Insecure attachment styles are a common aftermath of a challenging childhood. Ever feel like you’re either too clingy or too distant in relationships? That’s your early experiences talking. 

It’s a well-established psychological understanding that your childhood plays a gargantuan role in forming your attachment styles.

The relationship you had with your primary caregiver at the age of three still affects you deep into adulthood.

It shapes how you connect with others — especially intimate partners. It’s not your fault, but it’s something you can work on. 

You see, growing up in uncertainty can make you crave constant reassurance in relationships

On the flip side, it can also make you fiercely independent to the point of isolation and being unable to trust or depend on others. 

It’s like walking a tightrope of trust — never quite finding the balance.

5) Boundaries? What boundaries?

toxic work environment If you recognize these 7 signs, you probably had a pretty tough childhood

For a long time, I just thought I had a personal distaste for boundaries. 

I liked the idea of coloring outside the lines far more than keeping things within limits. 

The idea of limits just bothered me altogether. 

This attitude has positives and negatives. 

On the one hand, it opens you up a interesting new experiences and people. The downside is they might not always be the healthiest experiences or people. 

It took me a long time to realize that boundaries needed to have their place in my life — and an even longer time to learn how to make them. I’m still learning, to be honest.

A turbulent childhood often means you grew up without clear limits. It’s like trying to navigate a city without a map — confusing and overwhelming. 

But here’s the good news — you can learn to set boundaries. It’s never too late to start! Lack of boundaries in childhood can lead to a lifetime of saying ‘yes’ when you really mean ‘no.’ 

It might feel like you’re being torn in a million directions. But boundaries are essential for healthy relationships. 

6) The people-pleasing never stops

While this isn’t one I struggle with personally, I see it in other people. 

People who have been traumatized by conflict can sometimes grow up to fear it so much, they’ll do just about anything to avoid it. They end up spending their lives pleasing everyone but themselves. 

Do you find it hard to say no? That’s people-pleasing. It often stems from a desire to avoid conflict, a trait many develop in rocky childhoods. 

But always saying yes can leave you drained. It’s important to find that balance. 

People-pleasing might seem like the easy route, but it’s a path that often leads to resentment and burnout. You give and give until there’s nothing left for yourself. 

Not sure whether you’re a people-pleaser? Here are some indicators you might be:

  • Difficulty saying no
  • Constantly seeking approval
  • Avoiding conflict
  • Feeling responsible for others’ feelings
  • Neglecting your needs
  • Over-apologizing
  • Lack of assertiveness
  • Overcommitting

If you recognize many of the above, it might mean you should consider reassessing how you interact with people. 

7) Comfort in chaos — is normal boring?

Will it bother me if you’re a bit of a nutcase? Not all all. 

It might be painfully boring for me if you’re “normal” though. 

Finding normalcy dull can be a sign of a tumultuous past. It’s like your life’s excitement meter got recalibrated. 

When you’ve grown accustomed to high drama, the quiet of a ‘normal’ life can feel unsettling. You might mistake the lack of chaos for something being wrong. 

It’s as if your internal drama radar is constantly searching for the next big thing. But here’s the thing — there’s beauty in the ordinary. 

The simple, everyday moments can bring a sense of peace and stability that chaos never could. 

Last thoughts

We are what our childhoods make us — it’s just the way it is. 

While it may not always be easy living with scars from the past or knowing our flaws comes from a place of past turmoil. 

We can choose to run from it or embrace it. And embracing it doesn’t mean we have to let it define us for the rest of our lives. 

If you’re struggling with the remnants of a tough upbringing, just remember — change might be hard, but it’s certainly possible. And your experiences are what make you unique.

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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