5 signs you’re still holding onto wounds from childhood, according to psychology

It’s easy to think we’ve left those early years behind—all the awkward family gatherings and cringe-worthy school moments. 

But it’s simply not the case. 

Research has shown that our formative years, with all their ups and downs, have a sneaky way of embedding themselves into our grown-up lives, often without us even realizing it.

And less-than-perfect childhoods are more common than you might imagine. At least, they are more common than I thought before diving into research for this topic. According to the National Library of Medicine, an estimated 25% of children experience child abuse or neglect in their lifetime. 

Yes, one in four. Pretty shocking, right?

Anyway, today, we dive into some psychology-backed signs that our childhood wounds are still very much in play. 

Many of these surprised me. They might surprise you, too. 

Let’s get to ‘em. 

1) You often have trouble expressing yourself

Ever feel like expressing yourself is more like navigating a minefield?

We all do from time to time but if it happens often, it might actually be coming from your childhood experiences. 

As noted by Psych Central, the way we express ourselves, listen, and respond to others can mirror the communication dynamics we observed and experienced in our early years.

If your household was a battlefield where open, honest discussions were rare, or if silent treatments were the norm, you might find yourself inadvertently replicating these patterns in your adult life.

Or, if the conflict was always met with hostility or avoidance, you might find yourself dodging disagreements at all costs. 

These ingrained habits can make authentic communication a challenge, to say the least. 

However, the silver lining lies in recognizing these patterns for what they are: echoes of the past that can be acknowledged, understood, and, ultimately, transformed. 

This awareness is the first step towards fostering a healthier communication style, one that reflects your true self rather than the shadows of your childhood experiences.

2) For some reason, you just can’t allow yourself to be happy 

This is a huge one. 

I think it’s fair to say that we all desire to be happy. When we break it down, it’s the reason most of us do whatever we choose to do in our lives. 

We buy those new shoes yes because we might need them but also because we think they will make us happy. 

We work to make money because that will provide us with security, peace of mind, social status…whatever it may be. Why?

Because somewhere inside ourselves, we think these things will make us happy. You get the point. 

But what if, deep down, you are actually afraid to be happy? Well, that might well be the case. You might not even realize it. 

As found in a 2022 study, this fear of happiness, or “cherophobia,” can often trace its origins back to the less-than-sunny days of our youth. 

This tendency to shy away from happiness persists even when other aspects of life, like relationships and social connections, are flourishing. As Mohsen Joshanloo, the study director, said, “…experiences as a child may have a long-lasting impact on the person’s perception of happiness, independently of the individual’s satisfaction with current relationships in adulthood.”

But of course, recognizing this hidden barrier is the first step towards breaking free from the chains of our past and embracing joy.

3) You tend to keep your true emotions close to your chest

Think about your relationships for a moment. When it comes to sharing the deeper, more vulnerable parts of yourself, do you find yourself slamming the emotional gates shut?

If so, you’re not alone. 

And this emotional barricade might be due to childhood experiences. As noted by Healthline, an unhappy childhood can lead to a state of “emotional unavailability.” 

It isn’t necessarily about a lack of feelings, though, but rather a deeply ingrained reluctance to express them. 

As you might imagine, this reluctance can lead to significant barriers to forming meaningful, intimate relationships. Partners, friends, or family might perceive you as distant or detached. Sound familiar?

What they may not realize, however, is that this guardedness might stem from a place of self-preservation, a tactic learned in the unpredictable emotional landscapes of your childhood.

Like the other signs on this list, acknowledging this pattern is the first step toward dismantling the walls you’ve built around your emotions. 

It’s about recognizing that vulnerability, while difficult, isn’t a weakness but a strength. It’s a pathway to deeper connections and a more authentic life. Or as put by renowned researcher and author Dr. Brené Brown, it’s “the center of difficult emotion, but it’s also the birthplace of every positive emotion we need in our lives.”

This next one probably isn’t easy to talk about, but it can’t be ignored.

4) You struggle with depression

I think we could all guess that this one would make the list. 

The link between childhood experiences and adult depression is well-documented by experts. Researchers of a 2021 study, for example, found a higher prevalence of anxiety and depression in those who had highly negative experiences in childhood.

If you find yourself wrestling with depression, it’s worth considering the roots of these feelings. While depression can be a complex condition with multiple contributing factors, understanding the potential link to childhood experiences can be a vital piece of the puzzle.

5) Trusting others is always a challenge

Do you find yourself perpetually on guard, waiting for people to show their true colors and betray your trust? 

Trust is foundational to any relationship, yet for many, it seems impossible. And as noted by the folks at Healthline, this deep-seated difficulty in trusting others also often stems from childhood neglect. 

When we break it down, it makes sense: when the very people who were supposed to be the most reliable and caring ended up causing pain or neglect, the fundamental bonds of childhood trust are broken or strained. This sets a precedent that can make every subsequent relationship feel like a risky venture.

Such a reluctance to trust can turn into a self-protective fortress, keeping potential hurts at bay, but it also isolates us from the deep, close relationships that make life rich and fulfilling

In fact, Harvard researchers, in the longest study ever on the topic, found that more than anything else, such close relationships influence how happy we are and how long we will live. 

Yes, how long we will live…relationships were found to be a better predictor of this than physical signs like cholesterol!

The bottom line

So there you have it, folks. 

Our formative years, with all their complexities, continue to shape us in ways we might not have fully acknowledged. 

As always, I hope you found some value in this post. 

Until next time. 

Picture of Mal James

Mal James

Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business. As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys. In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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