Signs Of Repressed Childhood Trauma In Adults & Treatments 2023

signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults
Childhood trauma can cause mental health conditions in adulthood

Repressed childhood trauma can have a profound impact on adults — often manifesting in various emotional, mental, and physical symptoms. Recognizing the signs of repressed trauma in adults and understanding the available treatments is essential for healing and overcoming its long-lasting effects.

In this article, we will explore the causes of childhood trauma, the unique signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults, and the best treatments available to help individuals heal and move forward.

7 Symptoms Of Childhood Trauma In Adulthood

There can be many signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults, such as: 

  1. Intense mood swings, such as sudden, extreme shifts in emotions. 
  2. Memory loss, such as difficulties recalling specific childhood events.
  3. Low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, and inadequacy. 
  4. Unhealthy relationships, patterns of abuse, and codependency.
  5. Physical health problems like chronic pain, fatigue, or gastrointestinal issues.
  6. Substance abuse as a coping mechanism for emotional pain.
  7. Mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. 

With evidence-based treatment and the right support, it is possible to heal from childhood trauma.

What Is Trauma?

According to the American Psychological Association,[1] trauma is an emotional response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event, such as abuse, natural disasters, or accidents. When a traumatic event occurs in childhood, it can significantly impact the individual’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being, often leading to various mental health disorders.[2]

Early childhood trauma can result in adverse childhood experiences,[3] which increase the risk of developing mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Research has also shown that unresolved childhood trauma can contribute to chronic pain, substance abuse,[4] and unhealthy relationships[5] in adulthood. Therefore, addressing childhood trauma is critical to promoting mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Causes Of Childhood Trauma In Adults

Childhood trauma can be caused by several adverse experiences, such as abuse, neglect, witnessing domestic violence, or the loss of a loved one. These traumatic events can leave lasting effects on a person’s mental and physical health, often resurfacing[6] in adulthood as unresolved issues.

Childhood trauma can be caused by:

  • Adverse childhood experiences, such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
  • Witnessing domestic violence,[7] causing emotional distress and increased risk of mental health issues.
  • Emotional neglect or abandonment impacts attachment and emotional regulation in adulthood.
  • Getting bullied by peers[8] contributes to low self-esteem, anxiety, and adult and teen depression.
  • Experiencing a natural disaster or severe accident, resulting in potential PTSD.

While various factors cause childhood trauma, not all traumas persist equally into adulthood. Certain factors[9] influence the persistence of childhood trauma in adults, such as:

  • The severity and frequency of the trauma: More severe and frequent events will be more likely to leave lasting impacts.
  • The child’s age at the time of the trauma: Younger children may be more vulnerable to long-term effects.
  • The relationship between the child and the perpetrator: Closer relationships may cause more significant harm.
  • The child’s coping skills and support system: Adequate support[10] can help mitigate long-term effects.

7 Unique Signs Of Repressed Childhood Trauma In Adults

Unresolved childhood trauma can manifest in various ways throughout adulthood, affecting an individual’s emotional, physical, and mental health. The following unique signs can indicate the presence of repressed trauma in adults:

Intense Mood Swings

signs of repressed childhood trauma in adult
Adults with repressed childhood trauma can experience intense mood swings

Emotional shifts are first in our list of symptoms of childhood trauma in adults. These extreme emotional shifts[11] can lead to sudden bouts of anger, sadness, or anxiety. These mood swings may be a sign of unresolved trauma in adults. 

For example, a person might feel inexplicably happy one moment and suddenly become irritable or tearful without apparent reason. This emotional instability can create difficulties in personal and professional relationships and negatively impact overall mental health.

Unhealthy Relationships

signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults
Repressed childhood trauma increases the risk of unhealthy adult relationships

Adults with unresolved childhood trauma may struggle to form and maintain healthy relationships, often engaging in patterns of emotional or physical abuse.[5] They might have difficulty remembering childhood trauma and how it has affected their ability to establish healthy relationships. 

In some cases they may seek out an unhealthy relationship that repeats the abuse they experienced in childhood. This could involve attracting partners who are emotionally unavailable, controlling, or abusive or becoming the abuser themselves in relationships.

Low Self-Esteem

signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults
Adults with repressed childhood trauma may experience low self-esteem

Trauma survivors who have developed a mental illness such as bipolar disorder may develop feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem,[12] manifesting in various areas of their lives. These feelings can result in additional mental health problems and further exacerbate symptoms of childhood trauma in adulthood. 

People with low self-esteem may struggle with asserting themselves, setting boundaries, or pursuing their goals and dreams, all of which can limit their overall quality of life.

Substance Abuse

signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults
Repressed childhood trauma increases the risk of adult substance abuse

Individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain and cope with their unresolved trauma. Substance abuse disorders can be a common issue for those who have experienced childhood trauma. 

This form of self-medication may provide temporary relief, but in the long term, it can lead to addiction, worsening mental health, and many physical health problems. For instance, trauma survivors may experience headaches, muscle tension, or gastrointestinal issues with no identifiable medical cause. These physical symptoms may be a constant reminder of unresolved trauma and can be debilitating in daily life.

Chronic Pain

signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults
Adults with repressed childhood trauma may experience chronic pain

Repressed trauma can manifest as chronic pain[12] or other physical health problems. Childhood emotional or physical abuse can have long-lasting effects on physical health. 

For instance, trauma survivors may experience headaches, muscle tension, or gastrointestinal issues with no identifiable medical cause. These physical symptoms may be a constant reminder of unresolved trauma and can be debilitating in daily life.

Dissociative Amnesia

signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults
Dissociative amnesia is a unique sign of repressed childhood trauma

Some individuals may experience memory loss or dissociation[13] as their minds attempt to protect them from the painful memories. Memory repression is a coping mechanism for individuals with repressed childhood memories. 

For example, they may have difficulty recalling specific details of the traumatic events or even entire periods of their lives. These memory gaps can create confusion and feelings of disconnection from their own experiences, making it challenging to address and heal from the trauma.

Mental Health Disorders

signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults
Unresolved childhood trauma can trigger mental health disorders in adulthood

Unresolved trauma can lead to mental health issues,[14] such as anxiety disorders, depression, or PTSD. 

Mental illness can develop as a result of unresolved childhood trauma. These disorders can significantly impair an individual’s ability to function and enjoy life, making it essential to seek appropriate treatment and support to overcome the lasting effects of childhood trauma.

Best Treatments For Unresolved Childhood Trauma

Various treatment approaches can help individuals address and overcome the effects of unresolved childhood trauma, aiding in their emotional healing and overall well-being. Some of the best treatment options include:

Cognitive Processing Therapy, Or CPT 

CPT[15] helps individuals process and reframe traumatic memories, allowing for emotional healing. This therapy addresses distorted beliefs and thought patterns related to the traumatic event, teaches emotional regulation skills, and promotes resilience.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Prolonged exposure therapy[16] involves gradually confronting and processing traumatic memories to reduce their impact. It is an effective treatment for those struggling with traumatic stress and other mental health concerns stemming from unresolved childhood trauma. This form of treatment can be conducted as online therapy or in-person support.

Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing, Or EMDR

EMDR combines elements of psychotherapy with eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation to help individuals process and integrate traumatic memories.

Research[17] has shown EMDR to effectively treat traumatic stress, including PTSD and other mental health disorders.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Or TF-CBT

TF-CBT is a short-term, evidence-based treatment that helps individuals and families overcome the effects of childhood trauma.

This therapy addresses early childhood trauma,[18] distorted beliefs, and thought patterns related to the traumatic event, teaches emotional regulation skills and promotes resilience.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy Or DBT

DBT is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy focusing on developing emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and mindfulness skills. 

This therapy is beneficial for individuals who struggle with intense emotions and impulsivity[19] due to childhood trauma.


In some cases, medication[20] may be prescribed to help manage symptoms associated with repressed childhood trauma. It can be one of several remedies for anxiety, depression, or sleep disturbances. Working closely with a mental health professional to determine the most appropriate medication and dosage is important.

Support Groups

Participating in support groups can provide a safe space for individuals to share their experiences, learn from others, and receive emotional support. Support groups can be an important supplement to individual therapy, offering a sense of community and understanding.

Final Thoughts

Acknowledging the signs of repressed trauma in adults is the first step toward recovery. Healing from childhood trauma is a process that takes time and persistence, but with consistent, evidence-based treatment, adults can overcome their childhood trauma. 

Recovery from childhood trauma may involve various treatment options, such as cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, or EMDR. Mental health professionals can play a critical role in an adult’s recovery process, by helping them uncover repressed memories and addressing the impact of childhood trauma on their mental and physical health.

+ 20 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. Trauma (2022). Trauma. [online] Available at:
  2. Torjesen, I. (2019). Childhood trauma doubles risk of mental health conditions. BMJ, [online] p.l854. doi:
  3. Cole, B.S. (2021). Recognizing the Trauma of Adverse Childhood Experiences. Journal of Christian Nursing, [online] 38(4), pp.248–252. doi:
  4. Lotzin, A., Grundmann, J., Hiller, P., Pawils, S. and Schäfer, I. (2019). Profiles of Childhood Trauma in Women With Substance Use Disorders and Comorbid Posttraumatic Stress Disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry, [online] 10. doi:
  5. Van Nieuwenhove, K., Truijens, F., Meganck, R., Cornelis, S. and Desmet, M. (2020). Working through childhood trauma-related interpersonal patterns in psychodynamic treatment: An evidence-based case study. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, [online] 12(1), pp.64–74. doi:
  6. Voith, L.A., Logan-Greene, P., Strodthoff, T. and Bender, A.E. (2018). A Paradigm Shift in Batterer Intervention Programming: A Need to Address Unresolved Trauma. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, [online] 21(4), pp.691–705. doi:
  7. Wamser-Nanney, R., Nanney, J.T., Conrad, E. and Constans, J.I. (2019). Childhood trauma exposure and gun violence risk factors among victims of gun violence. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, [online] 11(1), pp.99–106. doi:
  8. Copeland, W.E., Wolke, D., Angold, A. and Costello, E.J. (2013). Adult Psychiatric Outcomes of Bullying and Being Bullied by Peers in Childhood and Adolescence. JAMA Psychiatry, [online] 70(4), p.419. doi:
  9. Copeland, W.E., Shanahan, L., Hinesley, J., Chan, R.F., Aberg, K.A., Fairbank, J.A., van den Oord, E.J.C.G. and Costello, E.J. (2018). Association of Childhood Trauma Exposure With Adult Psychiatric Disorders and Functional Outcomes. JAMA Network Open, [online] 1(7), p.e184493. doi:
  10. Sheng, X., Yang, M., Ge, M., Zhang, L., Huang, C., Cui, S., Yuan, Q., Ye, M., Zhou, R., Cao, P., Peng, R., Zhang, K. and Zhou, X. (2022). The relationship between Internet addiction and childhood trauma in adolescents: The mediating role of social support. Frontiers in Psychology, [online] 13. doi:
  11. Jaworska-Andryszewska, P. and Rybakowski, J.K. (2019). Childhood trauma in mood disorders: Neurobiological mechanisms and implications for treatment. Pharmacological Reports, [online] 71(1), pp.112–120. doi:
  12. Wrobel, A.L., Cotton, S.M., Jayasinghe, A., Diaz‐Byrd, C., Yocum, A.K., Turner, A., Dean, O.M., Russell, S.E., Duval, E.R., Ehrlich, T.J., Marshall, D.F., Berk, M. and McInnis, M.G. (2023). Childhood trauma and depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder: A network analysis. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, [online] 147(3), pp.286–300. doi:
  13. Terock, J., Van der Auwera, S., Janowitz, D., Spitzer, C., Barnow, S., Miertsch, M., Freyberger, H.J. and Grabe, H.-J. (2016). From Childhood Trauma to Adult Dissociation: The Role of PTSD and Alexithymia. Psychopathology, [online] 49(5), pp.374–382. doi:
  14. Wota, A.P., Byrne, C., Murray, I., Ofuafor, T., Nisar, Z., Neuner, F. and Hallahan, B.P. (2014). An examination of childhood trauma in individuals attending an adult mental health service. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, [online] 31(4), pp.259–270. doi:
  15. Dorresteijn, S., Gladwin, T.E., Eekhout, I., Vermetten, E. and Geuze, E. (2019). Childhood trauma and the role of self-blame on psychological well-being after deployment in male veterans. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, [online] 10(1). doi:
  16. Oprel, D.A.C., Hoeboer, C.M., Schoorl, M., Kleine, R.A. de, Cloitre, M., Wigard, I.G., van Minnen, A. and van der Does, W. (2021). Effect of Prolonged Exposure, intensified Prolonged Exposure and STAIR+Prolonged Exposure in patients with PTSD related to childhood abuse: a randomized controlled trial. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, [online] 12(1). doi:
  17. Chen, L., Zhang, G., Hu, M. and Liang, X. (2015). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Versus Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Adult Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, [online] 203(6), pp.443–451. doi:
  18. Vanderzee, K.L., Sigel, B.A., Pemberton, J.R. and John, S.G. (2018). Treatments for Early Childhood Trauma: Decision Considerations for Clinicians. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, [online] 12(4), pp.515–528. doi:
  19. DeCou, C.R., Comtois, K.A. and Landes, S.J. (2019). Dialectical Behavior Therapy Is Effective for the Treatment of Suicidal Behavior: A Meta-Analysis. Behavior Therapy, [online] 50(1), pp.60–72. doi:
  20. Williams, T., Phillips, N.J., Stein, D.J. and Ipser, J.C. (2022). Pharmacotherapy for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, [online] 2022(3). doi:
Emma Loker

Emma Loker is a professional writer specializing in psychology. She has a 1st class honors degree in Psychology and is currently training as a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapeutic Counsellor at the University of Cambridge.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Harvard Health Publishing

Database from Health Information and Medical Information

Harvard Medical School
Go to source

Trusted Source

Database From Cleveland Clinic Foundation

Go to source

Trusted Source

Database From U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Governmental Authority
Go to source


Database from World Health Organization

Go to source

Neurology Journals

American Academy of Neurology Journals

American Academy of Neurology
Go to source


United Nations Global Compact
Go to source

Trusted Source

Database From National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Go to source

Trusted Source

Database from U.S. National Library of Medicine

U.S. Federal Government
Go to source

Trusted Source

Database From Department of Health and Human Services

Governmental Authority
Go to source

PubMed Central

Database From National Institute Of Health

U.S National Library of Medicine
Go to source

Help us rate this article

Thank you for your feedback

Keep in touch to see our improvement