People who had a dysfunctional childhood often display these 8 traits

Few people can say they’ve had a perfect childhood. Most people experienced something slightly off with their upbringing.

Yet most people manage to live a full life without too many insecurities.

But people who had a dysfunctional childhood often struggle a little more.

A dysfunctional childhood is officially classed as one where a person experienced some form of physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or abandonment.

Which could stretch from anything, from being bullied by your family and having your parents’ divorce to much more serious, deep-rooted trauma.

Experiencing these things from a young age can seriously impact a person’s development.

It can stay with you for a long, long time and impact your behavior in all kinds of ways. Unfortunately, the way it affects you is mostly negative.

If someone has had a dysfunctional childhood, they’ll often display these 8 traits.

Let’s dive in.

1) They lack inner confidence

First up, people who’ve had a dysfunctional childhood tend to have some confidence issues. Any kind of abuse or neglect can impact a person’s self-esteem.

So they might struggle to speak up in friendship groups, or just groups in general! They might feel a similar way in their relationships and careers, too.

They might not feel worthy of going for a promotion, leaving a toxic relationship, or dating someone they deem attractive.

They might also seriously struggle with their physical appearance, viewing themselves as unattractive compared to everyone else.

2) They seek reassurance often

When someone had a dysfunctional childhood, they can feel insecure around others.

This is particularly visible in those who were bullied, neglected, ignored, or just experienced a lack of love and affection as a child.

So they tend to seek a lot more reassurance as an adult.

You might hear them ask questions like the following:

  • Do you still love me?
  • Why do you like me?
  • Are you mad at me?
  • Are you sure you’re OK?

Experts say there’s nothing wrong with seeking reassurance in a relationship. Everyone needs reassurance sometimes.

It’s always better to ask for reassurance than let it come out in unhealthy ways (like picking fights or acting out to make your partner jealous).

However, constantly seeking reassurance can be a sign that someone had a dysfunctional childhood.

They may have had an unpredictable parent, who’d give love and take it away. Or they might have been bullied severely as a child or teen.  

3) They people please

People pleasing is when you act in a certain way to make other people happy when it doesn’t make you happy.

Like if someone asked if you wanted to get drinks tonight after work. You don’t want to, but you want them to like you, so you say yes.

Or if someone wanted to borrow $100 from you. You don’t want to lend them money, but you want to make them happy, so you do it.

Some people develop this trait from a genuine compassionate nature. They want to help people and give back, so they do things for others even when they don’t want to.

For others, it stems from their childhood traumas. They people please to fit in, avoid conflict, and to feel accepted, validated, and even loved.

4) They’re insecure in relationships

There are three main types of attachment styles in relationships; anxious, avoidant, and secure.

Anxious and avoidant attachment styles are classed as insecure attachment styles – and they can impact people’s lives in pretty serious ways!

How? Anxious people fear abandonment and rejection. They need constant reassurance that their partner still loves and cares for them.

Avoidants also fear abandonment and rejection. But instead of seeking reassurance, they withdraw.

Why? Because their fear of rejection makes them fear intimacy, so they feel safer when they stop being intimate with someone.

Both these attachment styles can come from a dysfunctional childhood.

A person with an anxious attachment style may have had an unpredictable parent growing up. While a person with an avoidant attachment style may have had a distant or emotionally unavailable parent.

Either way, it’s usually a sign that they couldn’t rely on their caregivers growing up, and so in adulthood, they struggle to trust and feel secure in relationships.

5) They have trust issues

Trust issues People who had a dysfunctional childhood often display these 8 traits

Trust issues are also common in people who grew up with a dysfunctional childhood – understandably so!

Psychologist, Erik Erikson, theorizes that you learn whether the people around you can or can’t be trusted in your early years.

When you develop mistrust in your caregivers and social network, you’re more likely to have trust issues in your later life.

I hear a lot of people joke about having trust issues, like it’s a trendy or modern trait to have. But it actually has pretty serious consequences.

It can make you feel lonely, isolated, and misunderstood throughout your life. It also impacts your ability to form healthy, stable relationships – if you manage to build any at all!

You can usually recognize trust issues in a person if they do things like:

  • Challenge people on the most basic things
  • Never believe anything people say
  • Always suspect there’s an ulterior motive to someone’s behavior
  • Can’t accept compliments
  • Self-sabotage parts of their life
  • Refuse to forgive
  • Distance themselves from everyone

6) They crave attention

You might not always suspect someone has low self-esteem by how “confident” they appear. They might be the loudest person in the class or the center of attention at the party. They might seem like the most confident person ever!

But someone who craves attention usually lacks self-esteem. They need the attention because they feel like they never had any in their childhood.

Sometimes, these people can come across as loud and (somewhat) annoying. Other times, they can come across as really rude.

Yet it’s all things they’re doing to get a reaction from you (and others) and to feel seen, needed, liked, or validated.

Signs someone might be craving attention include:

  • Criticizing others unnecessarily
  • Creating drama or inventing gossip
  • Misbehaving or acting out
  • Talking excessively and interrupting others
  • Getting themselves into bad situations

7) They’re highly observant

Another trait you might notice in a person with a dysfunctional childhood is hypervigilance.

Observance is a good trait, that’s for sure. It’s good to notice when your partner gets a new haircut or if there’s a spelling mistake in your email!

But this kind of observance is different from hypervigilance, which is when you’re constantly on the lookout for danger and ready to flight/fight.

People with this trait usually had an unpredictable caregiver growing up.

Because, as a child, they never knew what mood their parent was going to be in, they had to stay alert all the time.

They learned to look out for subtle signs that something was wrong, from body language and tone of voice to shows they were watching on TV.

People with this trait usually don’t even know they have it or are doing it. Being alert comes naturally to them.

When they spot a change in behavior or atmosphere, they can react quite badly or unexpectedly to it all.

8) They’re extremely sensitive

People who’ve had a dysfunctional childhood may come across as very sensitive. They might also “overreact” in some situations.

You might feel like they’re always misjudging situations or taking extreme measures to protect themselves.

Like if someone they just started dating made a casual comment about something, and they block them, delete their number, and never speak to them ever again.

Or if a partner says something casual, and they explode in anger about it; crying, shouting, and accusing their partner of all kinds of things.

This might seem like an overreaction, and it kind of is, really. But the thing is, traumas can trigger us in all kinds of unexpected ways.

Usually, the person who’s triggered doesn’t even realize that they’re reacting in a certain way because a childhood trauma is resurfacing.

Final thoughts

Someone’s past doesn’t have to predict their future.

A person who experienced trauma from a young age is more likely to develop certain traits. Most of these are likely to be negative, too (like trust issues, low self-esteem, and hypervigilance).

But there’s always space to change. How you start doesn’t have to be how you go on.

If you know someone who had a dysfunctional childhood, treating them with kindness and compassion can be the best route.

If you notice these traits in yourself, recognition is the first step to healing. Therapy and other self-improvement paths can also help.

Picture of Amy Reed

Amy Reed

Amy Reed is a content writer from London working with international brands. As an empath, she loves sharing her life insights to help others. When she’s not writing, she enjoys a simple life of reading, gardening, and making a fuss over her two cats.

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