7 subtle signs that someone is still deeply affected by their past

We’re all in one way or another, haunted by our past.

While some of us are better able to navigate this, others find it more difficult to let go. Sometimes, it can take a person an entire lifetime to move on.

As a result, our past influences our actions, the way we interact with others, and how we perceive the world.

It also helps us understand why some people act the way they do. While these signs may be subtle, today we’ll identify some of the more common ones so that you can not only recognize them in others but yourself as well.

1) Avoidance of certain topics

Discussing certain topics may bring up unfavorable memories that can hit a nerve or surface negative emotions. 

As a result, people who haven’t recovered from their negative experiences would prefer to avoid these topics as they aren’t ready to confront these emotions or thoughts.

I had a neighbor who didn’t enjoy talking about marriage or weddings because his wife left him many years ago, which resulted in an ugly divorce. He never recovered from it and was always very bitter whenever he mentioned her. 

Whenever a couple within the group just happened to talk about wedding preparations, he’d immediately glue himself to his phone or leave, just so that he could avoid this topic.

The divorce may have occurred over a decade ago, but to him, the memory of it stays fresh.

As such, if you find that the other person continuously avoids talking about a specific topic, there may be a bit more under the surface than pure indifference or boredom.

2) Difficulty trusting

For those who have been betrayed or hurt by someone they trust, it’s common for them to find it difficult to trust another person again.

It may take them longer than usual to warm up to people or lower their boundaries because they find that it’s safer to keep a distance. When you talk to them, you can sense that they’re perfectly fine keeping the conversation to a very surface level. 

But when the conversation gets deeper, as people become more vulnerable with one another as they share about their past, you’ll realize that they will grow quiet, or leave.

It’s not that they’re trying to be rude, but they’d rather not place themselves in that position, where everyone’s expecting the other person to reveal their inner thoughts.

3) Having recurring nightmares or flashbacks

Sometimes these people may lack sleep because they’re plagued by recurring nightmares. They may even have flashbacks of that traumatic memory during the day, which can severely affect their mood. 

Their energy levels may dip and you’ll find them suddenly withdrawing emotionally from the group or activity.

They may have unresolved trauma that they never addressed and continued to suppress as the years went by. They let the emotions bottle up until they surface in the form of nightmares that rob them of sleep.

If the person you know hasn’t been able to get quality sleep in a long time or is used to waking up many times during the night – there may be something that’s affecting them on a deeper level.

4) Difficulty letting go

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Another sign of a person who’s still affected by their past is their inability to let go.

They aren’t able to let go of the hurts that the other party caused them, and they continue living a life full of unforgiveness, bitterness, and even hatred.

They feel that letting go – regardless if the other party had apologized for their mistakes – would be a sign of defeat, of giving up.

But the only person they’re hurting is themselves. The other party may not even remember or know the amount of trauma they have caused. 

This can manifest in someone being bitter all the time, as the inability to let go of grudges and hurt can influence a person’s state of mind. They may tend to perceive everything negatively, always complain, and never have anything good to say.

While the solution seems easy (essentially just letting these hurts go), a lot of them have carried these memories for decades, and leaving them behind may not be as simple as you think.

5) Chronic anxiety or depression

At times, these emotions can also impact a person’s well-being.

It can take a toll on their mental health and lead to bouts of depression, or chronic anxiety. They may start to get regular panic attacks to the extent that they may not even be able to function properly.

They may need to seek professional help and receive treatment in the form of medication or therapy so that they can lead a decent quality of life.

6) Physical ailments

This could also lead to physical ailments, such as migraines or aches in various parts of the body.

It could also affect their appetite. They may lose interest in food when they’re feeling very low, but others may use food as a way to distract themselves from what they’re facing.

They then put on a lot of weight – which can cause additional health problems.

Some may also take out their frustrations through working out, but this can also lead to burnout.

When a person is already stressed, sometimes, working out (especially high-intensity workouts) can cause additional stress on the body. And this may lead to injuries.

7) Escapism

To avoid having to face reality, these people may try to bury their feelings in activities such as video games, food, or television programs.

While indulging once in a while in food, video games or other forms of entertainment is harmless, doing it excessively can be.

It may remove them from their problems temporarily, but we all have to face reality at one point or another. Unresolved issues will keep surfacing until we address them.

When it gets too much, people who are still affected by their past may resort to more harmful activities, such as substance abuse, excessive drinking, or gambling.

And the fact is, people can hide their vices very well. You may never even suspect that they’re resorting to these behind closed doors.

But after a while, cracks will form in the facade. They may start borrowing more money from their friends, hang out less with others, or seem more fatigued than usual.


It’s good to check in on the people around you once in a while, especially if they present the signs mentioned above. It’s important to show empathy and support, but also to tread sensitively.

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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