14 Ways Repressed Childhood Abuse Affects You in Adulthood


When you grew up in an incredibly abusive or invalidating environment, sometimes the way your brain and body learn to cope is by repressing memories. While this is a survival tactic that can serve children well in the midst of abuse, once the child grows up and leaves the abusive environment, repressed memories can resurface and affect mental health in adulthood.

For some, the resurfacing of repressed childhood memories might mean an uptick in anxiety. For others, it might mean an increased fear of trusting others — or even trouble trusting themselves. Whatever your experience with repressed abusive memories looks like, we want you to know you aren’t alone.

We wanted to know how repressed childhood memories of abuse can affect people in adulthood, so we asked members of our Mighty community to share one way their repressed memories affect them now.

Here’s what they had to say:

  1. “I have extreme anxiety and frequent panic attacks about not having all the information and not knowing things. I constantly over-clarify and over-explain things. Not knowing what really happened to me drives me crazy and I obsess over trying to figure it out. I am extremely defensive and quick to anger and even violent because my fight or flight response is on a hair trigger.” — Amber R.
  2.  “I have a deep-seated fear of being rejected, people leaving me and being insecure in every new situation. I have to plan out different scenarios and solutions, just in case something doesn’t go as planned.” — Mopfel F.
  3. “I have vivid nightmares and am hyper-vigilant anytime I’m around people. I don’t know who to trust because I’m worried that someone is going to hurt me.” — Sarah H.
  4. “I constantly second-guess my decisions because my father always criticized what I did or tried to do. Also I struggle with feelings of rejection and not being good enough.” — Melinda B.
  5. “I’m very needy for things I wasn’t able to get as a child, such as attention or the amount of care I would have liked to have gotten as a child.” — Beth S.
  6. “When the [memories] started coming back, it made me feel like my whole life was spinning out of control. I couldn’t trust anyone or anything. Especially myself. There is a pervasive feeling of being unsafe and a gnawing sense that anything can trigger a new memory and debilitate you for hours or days.” — Monika S.
  7. “I don’t like people because of the things I went through. And I’m angry all the time. I feel like I can’t be happy, even when I want to be.” — Joann S.
  8. “I have no confidence whatsoever.” — Nicolla H.
  9.  “I protect my heart because my childhood was stolen from me, so I want a better life now. But I push people away because I fear them hurting me before they actually do. It’s a never-ending cycle.” — Chelsea F.
  10. “Certain places trigger me. I could be having a great day and then stumble upon a specific place [where] something significant happened years and years ago. It’s usually something I have no recollection of until I’m in that place. Emotions, flashbacks, fight or flight reactions hit me like a brick wall.” — Michaela S.
  11. “I have a fear of failure, trust issues and in a sea of good things, I will find one that is bad and overthink it. I have the urge to know everything in advance so I can ‘prepare’ myself for it.” — Anahita H.
  12. “It completely changed my view of family. My repressed memories revealed I couldn’t and should not ever fully trust my blood relatives. I had been taught family was family no matter what and that you were always kind and loved them even if they didn’t treat you the same. I’ve learned from those memories surfacing that no one has the right to abuse anyone, regardless of the relationship. I now use caution when interacting with those relatives and have realistic expectations of their behavior. I also choose friends and co-worker relationships much more carefully. I am kind, but I am not naive.” — Amber C.
  13. “I don’t trust people.” — Nathan A.
  14. “The smallest things such as a simple word, or color, or sound, even taste, will take me back to that time. And my body, emotions and heart feel the way I felt in the past, and I start to panic because I can’t shake that feeling. And start to question everything around me. What do I deserve? Should I do this or that? Should I try? Then while my heart and mind race, I physically shut down. It has gotten better with therapy, but sometimes, some moments take me back and I can’t help but cry or nap to get away from the flood of emotions.” — Jessica V.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Mental Health

When Childhood Emotional Abuse Makes You Fear Men as an Adult

When my father yells, I try to stand my ground — but my quicksand sucks me into the dark unknown, while he remains tall on his high horse. The years of hurt, the fear of the bigger man with the stronger words takes over. How, after all these years, does he still hold so much [...]
woman sad

Why 'Letting Go' of My Childhood Trauma Won't Cure My Mental Illness

When I explain that I am struggling with mental illness, I am often faced with people questioning why. I usually start off with a fairly terse and technical response about it being a combination of genetics and life experiences, but that answer rarely seems to appease anyone. Though I am not quite sure why so many people [...]
16 Small, but Significant, 'Lifestyle' Changes That Help 20-Somethings With Mental IllnessAdd heading

16 Small, but Significant, 'Lifestyle' Changes That Help 20-Somethings With Mental Illness

If you are a 20-something who lives with a mental illness, you’ve probably had more than one run-in with unprompted (and unwanted) advice from folks who swear they know how to “fix” it. And while it’s more than just annoying when people swear they have the “miracle cure” to mental health struggles, the reality is, there are day-to-day changes you [...]
kanye west

What I Think of Kanye West's Slavery Comments as a Black Woman With a Mental Illness

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I believe it’s the perfect time to address Kanye West’s recent behavior. For the last few weeks, Kanye has been in the media for his provocative tweets, being seen wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and confessing his support for Trump. On May 1, 2018, Kanye was [...]