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Exploring the Unseen: 10 Adult Behaviours Linked to Childhood Trauma

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Let's begin by acknowledging one universal truth: we're all a little bit of a puzzle, aren't we? Each of us is shaped by a unique blend of experiences, emotions and memories from early childhood through to the present day, some delightful and some distressing. Today, we're going to delve into a topic that many of us might find resonating: the potential link between certain adult behaviours, past trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


You might be surprised to discover that some quirks and characteristics you've always brushed off could actually be your mind's way of dealing with traumatic events from yesteryears. Fear not, this isn't a journey you'll be taking alone. Together, in plain English, we'll explore these behaviours, shedding light on their possible roots in past trauma. So, grab a cuppa, settle in, and let's unravel this intriguing aspect of human psychology together!


10 Adult Behaviours Linked to Childhood Trauma

Decoding Childhood Trauma: What's It All About?


So, what is trauma? In simple, plain English, trauma is an experience that's not just distressing but deeply disturbing, so much so that it drowns our capacity to cope. Imagine being caught in a sudden thunderstorm without an umbrella; that's a trauma for you, unexpected and overwhelmingly intense. It could sneak up on you in various disguises, be it physical or emotional childhood abuse, neglect, accidents, witnessing violence or even natural disasters.


Now, here's where it gets a bit tricky. Trauma is a personal experience and it doesn't affect everyone the same way. What one person finds traumatic could just be another day at the office for someone else. These traumatic events can leave indelible footprints on our minds, bodies and emotions, subtly moulding the way we interact with the world around us.

Why does this matter? Well, once we untangle the complex web of childhood trauma in adults and the effects of PTSD, we can make sense of the behaviours and reactions that bubble up in our adult lives. Recognising these behaviours as potential responses to trauma is the first step towards healing from our past.


Now, you might be wondering, how do I start peeling back the layers of past trauma? Well, there's a whole range of professional support available, including therapeutic interventions like counselling. As we've chatted about in a previous blog post about overcoming childhood trauma, counselling provides a secure environment to express, dissect and face our childhood experiences head-on. This journey of therapeutic exploration can guide us to understand the origin of our trauma responses, create healthier ways of dealing with stress, and ultimately build resilience and personal growth. It's all about taking back the reins of your life, charging ahead with renewed strength and self-assuredness. So, shall we dive in?


Phone Avoidance - Hesitant to Answer or Make Calls

1. Phone Avoidance - Hesitant to Answer or Make Calls


Avoiding phone calls can often be a sign of a trauma response, especially in individuals who have had past experiences where telephone conversations have led to distressing situations or negative outcomes. This can range from receiving unsettling news to experiencing verbal harm over the phone. People with social anxieties or fears of judgment may also exhibit phone avoidance behaviour as a self-protective mechanism to prevent discomfort or vulnerability. Understanding the root cause of this inclination to avoid phone calls and implementing personalised strategies to manage this behaviour can help you regain control over your communication habits and cultivate healthier relationships.


2. Hyper-independence


Experiencing childhood trauma often leads to heightened self-reliance and a strong need for independence. This hyper-independence can be a defence mechanism developed as a result of past abandonment, letdowns or betrayals. By relying solely on ourselves, we gain a sense of control and safety, protecting ourselves from potential harm.


While independence is generally positive, hyper-independence can have drawbacks in adult relationships and self-care. It may make it difficult to trust others or ask for help when needed, creating distance and hindering emotional connections. Ultimately, it can neglect personal needs and well-being, as the focus is primarily on self-reliance.


Finding a balance between independence and support is essential for healthy relationships and self-care. Acknowledging the impact of hyper-independence and actively working towards a healthier approach can create a more fulfilling and balanced life.


Talens Health Support Services offers affordable and accessible online counselling. Your first appointment is free. Get the help you need to explore and overcome childhood trauma.


3. Shutting Down or Being Silent in Social Settings


In response to childhood trauma, individuals may become quiet or silent in social situations, known as 'shutting down'. It's a coping mechanism to protect yourself from triggers or distress. When exposed to social settings, those who have experienced trauma may feel overwhelmed, anxious or unsafe. Silence or withdrawal can be a way of self-preservation, helping you avoid confrontation or emotional distress. This behaviour may stem from past traumatic experiences where self-expression led to negative consequences. Avoiding social interaction can lead to isolation and affect personal relationships. Seeking professional help, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) or trauma-focused therapies, can provide techniques to manage anxiety and address the root cause. Remember, healing is a personal journey and it's important to honour your unique process.


Trauma response Not wanting to have people over to your house because you cannot control when they leave

4. Apologising all the time, even for things that aren't your fault


Constantly apologising, even when not at fault, can stem from past trauma. This behaviour often arises from adverse childhood experiences of fear and anxiety, developed in an environment of excessive scrutiny or criticism. Unfair blame or punishment in the past can lead to heightened guilt or a sense of responsibility beyond your control.


In such cases, constant apologising serves as a defence mechanism, avoiding conflict and further emotional harm. It becomes a self-protective measure, with taking blame feeling safer than confrontation or self-advocacy.


While seemingly harmless, excessive apologising undermines self-esteem, confidence and fosters guilt and anxiety. It hinders the development of healthy, balanced relationships.


5. Not wanting to have people over to your house because you cannot control when they leave


This trauma response may stem from a need to maintain control over your environment, which may have been disrupted in the past. Fear of encroachment on personal space or anxiety about unpredictable situations might come into play.


The home is a sanctuary, a safe space where you control your surroundings. When this control is threatened, it can trigger anxiety. Uncertainty about guests' departure may create unease and lead to hosting avoidance.


6. Being a People Pleaser


People pleasing often arises from a constant need to satisfy others, disregarding your own needs and desires. It stems from a fear of rejection and a desire for validation and acceptance, which can be traced back to traumatic experiences where your needs were disregarded or invalidated. In cases of past trauma, people-pleasing becomes a survival tool, allowing you to avoid conflict or harm. However, this pattern can lead to emotional exhaustion, resentment and strained relationships, as you suppress your own needs and feelings.


Trauma response Emotional numbness

7. Emotional numbness


Emotional numbness, which is often a result of experiencing trauma, manifests as a diminished capacity to feel or connect with emotions on a deep level. This defensive mechanism is adopted to cope with overwhelming distress, providing temporary relief from intense feelings. However, it can inadvertently lead to isolation and challenges in establishing meaningful relationships. The state of emotional numbness hampers the ability to fully engage with positive experiences, as it dulls emotional responses, making it harder to fully appreciate and embrace the joys that life has to offer.


8. Remaining neutral


In times of conflict or potential harm, you may take a neutral stance as a protective measure. This behaviour arises from a desire to avoid conflict, maintain peace or evade past harm. By not expressing your opinion or choosing sides, you may feel that you are protecting yourself from potential backlash or criticism. However, constant neutrality can affect your emotional health and compromise your authenticity. It can lead to suppressed feelings and unexpressed thoughts, causing feelings of unfulfillment and frustration in your interactions.


Talens Health Support Services offers affordable and accessible online counselling. Your first appointment is free. Get the help you need to explore and overcome childhood trauma.


9. Being nervous or uncomfortable when someone sits too close to you


This reaction may stem from past experiences where your personal space was violated, leading to discomfort, fear or anxiety. Maintaining personal boundaries is crucial for our safety and well-being, especially in cases of sexual abuse or when a caregiver oversteps their role. When these boundaries are repeatedly violated, it can result in hypersensitivity towards physical proximity. Your personal space serves as a protective buffer, shielding you from potential harm. When this boundary feels invaded, it can trigger a trauma response, causing anxiety, discomfort, or panic. This may arise from a fear of losing control, potential harm or discomfort with close physical contact.


10. Overeating or over drinking


Overeating or over-drinking can provide temporary relief or a sense of escape from painful feelings, memories or experiences linked to trauma. Consuming food or alcohol can trigger the release of endorphins, creating a fleeting sense of pleasure or numbing, which can serve as a soothing mechanism.


However, these strategies are not sustainable and can lead to further physical and psychological complications. Overeating can contribute to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues. Over-drinking can lead to alcohol dependence, liver disease and other significant health problems, not to mention the potential negative impact on work, relationships and overall quality of life.


Trauma response Being nervous or uncomfortable when someone sits too close to you

Seeking support with trauma responses


While we have explored a few behaviours that could indicate a trauma response, it's important to note that there are many other behaviours that may also be linked to past childhood trauma. Trauma can manifest in various ways and you may experience a wide range of responses and behaviours. It is essential to approach your experiences with self-empathy and understanding, as trauma affects individuals differently.


If you see any of these behaviours in yourself, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Counsellors, psychotherapists, and other mental health professionals are equipped with the skills and knowledge to support you on your journey towards recovery and healing. Techniques such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, mindfulness and grounding exercises can be instrumental in helping you develop healthier coping mechanisms and ultimately helping you heal from childhood trauma.


Remember, it's okay to ask for help, and it's okay to take the time you need to heal. Everyone's recovery journey is unique, so be patient and gentle with yourself. You've already taken the first step by becoming more aware of your behaviours and their potential origins. You're on the path towards understanding, healing and ultimately, a healthier relationship with yourself.


Talens Health Support Services online counselling support for mental  health

At Talens Health Support Services, we understand the intricate complexities of childhood trauma and its effects on an individual's adult life. Our team of BACP-Registered counsellors are dedicated to providing affordable and easily accessible online counselling services. We have a wealth of experience in managing and resolving issues discussed in this blog, including the effects of childhood trauma, trauma responses, emotional numbness, people-pleasing tendencies, and more. Our aim is to guide you through your journey to better mental health and help you build a healthier relationship with yourself. You are not alone in your journey, and we are here to support you every step of the way. If you need help navigating through this, don't hesitate to contact us. Together, we can help you find the path towards understanding, healing, and ultimately, peace.



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