30 Anxiety Fears That Actually Stem From Childhood Trauma
Not all anxiety stems from trauma, but our past experiences can undoubtably have a huge influence over our current fears. And it makes sense. Trauma stays with us, and by making us anxious, our well-meaning brains might be trying to protect us. As Mighty community member Vicki Peterson wrote in her piece, “We Can’t Keep Treating Anxiety From Complex Trauma the Same Way We Treat Generalized Anxiety“:
For someone dealing with complex trauma, the anxiety they feel does not come from some mysterious unknown source or obsessing about what could happen. For many, the anxiety they feel is not rational… For those who have experienced trauma, anxiety comes from an automatic physiological response to what has actually, already happened. The brain and body have already lived through “worst case scenario” situations, know what it feels like and are hell-bent on never going back there again.
To get an idea of what fears people have now that actually stem from childhood trauma, we reached out to our mental health community. Whether your anxiety is out-of-the-blue, or based on a very real experience in your past, what you’re going through is valid, and you deserve support.
It’s also important to note that having anxiety from past trauma isn’t defined by one diagnosis. For some people, it might manifest in a specific phobia. For others, they might develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) have fears that stem from childhood trauma. Understanding where our anxiety comes from can be a great first in managing it, and if something from your past is still affecting you now, you’re not alone, no matter your diagnosis.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
- “I’m extremely sensitive to people’s tones and choice of words. If anyone says anything in a way I could misinterpret as them having an issue with me, I will react quickly with frustration or anxiety because I’m fearful of judgment and abandonment. This sometimes leads to arguments with people because I then start trying to defend myself against this perceived judgment. I have BPD and experienced childhood trauma.” — Sarah C.
- “People yelling around me. If I’m in a room and people start raising their voices, it triggers all the flashbacks of abuse and I want to go run and hide.” — Christopher C.
- “Being given gifts ‘just because’ makes me highly anxious. Because as a child, I saw gift giving for no reason as a way for adults to cover up and circumvent their wrongdoing. The worse the adult behavior, the greater the gift.” — Jane M.
- “Loud noises make me anxious and scared. They send me back to my childhood when my father communicated his displeasure by throwing things at my brother and me.” — Katlyn M.
- “Aggressive tones of voice/body language — when people become aggressive to get their point across, I completely shut down and start to dissociate in order to block it out because I’ve been so damaged in the past from aggressive/abusive people.” — Sarah M.
- “Making phone calls. I remember a few specific instances of traumatic things involving the telephone, and though when explained to anyone else they seem ridiculous — I absolutely think that’s why I have such bad anxiety when I have to make an important call or even answer one.” — Kathryn A.
- “Going to sleep. My grandmother used to tell me my parents didn’t love me and would leave me in the middle of the night when I was 5. So I used to stay up all night waiting for them to go to bed. That was the beginning of a lifelong battle with insomnia.” — Sloane S.
- “Being intimate with others. I fear of being taken advantage of. It sparks so many flashbacks.” — Brette Y.
- “I’m so anxious that my relationships can turn into abusive ones so I’ll point out small things right away to keep it from ever getting close to happening. Getting ignored is a big one for me. One occurrence can send me into near panic. When I explain my feelings, people might think I may be a bit overdramatic, but I’m just trying to protect myself.” — Janelle G.
- “People. Just people. My parents always told me nobody will ever appreciate what you do, people will use you, everyone is just looking out for themselves, the world is a dangerous place. My experiences as an adult have proven them wrong time and time again — most people actually want to be kind, and they do appreciate me and the things I do — but it’s incredibly hard to shake the narrative I was fed for so many years growing up.” — Sarah K.
- “Compliments. Any compliment my father ever paid was actually a backhanded insult or in complete opposition to or to cover/deflect from his usual abusive behavior. I learned to never trust or believe nice things said about me.” — Selena W.
- “I can’t even handle a small disagreement with someone. I was always expected to be the happy, smiling little girl; no opinions or negative feelings. It’s come to the point where even something as minor as someone not agreeing on a place to eat that night puts me in panic mode. If I get my way, I freak out that the other person will hate me because they didn’t get what they wanted, and eventually leave me. If I don’t get my way, I worry that the other person thinks I’m upset, so I have to make up for it being extra happy and perky. The smallest disagreements or differences in opinion put me over the edge.” – Robin E.
- “When people take longer than they should getting somewhere or getting back from somewhere. I had actual experiences of my mom ‘just going to get a pack of smokes’ and being gone for days due to her meth addiction. I will freak out. I will be calling hospitals and jails and checking traffic reports for accidents.” — Autumn R.
- “Small spaces with no escape is an issue for me. I don’t like being cornered, blocked, or trapped by other people either. Loud sudden noises, like glass breaking, can be triggering as well.” — Nicole L.
- “Being alone, not relationship-wise, but just being home alone for any period of time. My mother is an alcoholic and used to leave my sisters and I home alone for sometimes a week at a time. No babysitters and no food in the house. I get very anxious being by myself as it sends me right back to my childhood, waiting so very anxiously for mommy to come back and pay attention to me.” — Felicia B.
- “Waiting for someone to show up or return from somewhere. All I remember about my childhood was waiting by the living room window all day, waiting for my father to pick us up for the weekend to have fun. I spent all day waiting. Fell asleep on the floor by the window that overlooks our driveway. My mom scoops me up and tucks me in bed. The fear of abandonment just overwhelms my tiny mind and still wrecks it to this day.” — Laura M.
- “Cooking. My mom had an accident while making dinner. I was with her. She had just taken me out of the kitchen when part of the ceiling platform fell where I had been. She stood there. I was only 2 or 3, but I always have felt it was meant for me. I can’t be in a kitchen with her and not feel nervous.” — Denise A.
- “I accidentally strangled myself as a child with a necktie. My dad saved me. I can’t wear chokers or let people touch my neck. Even a shirt that’s too tight around the neck makes me anxious. It’s gotten better over the years thanks to exposure therapy and a few other therapies, but I still get that dropping feeling in my stomach.” — Kelsea H.
- “Water in or around my face. It reminds me of when I fell off my kick board in the deep side of the pool and the lifeguard had to save me. After going through EMDR, I don’t picture myself drowning every time water touches my face anymore, but I get anxious about going underwater.” — Sara C.
- “This is a weird one, but being able to see out my bedroom window, because I spotted a fire that killed two young boys. I had nightmares for months, and I still do. I either face the interior of the room or the wall to sleep if I am at a hotel. My bedroom at home has blackout curtains for many reasons, but it began with this.” — Dory W.
- “Missing a phone call. I missed both the phone call that my dad had died and my god brother because I just didn’t want to answer my phone. Now I can’t miss a phone call without it bringing on a full-blown panic attack.” — Jo S.
- “Being alone with an older man for any reason. I get extremely freaked out if I can’t leave. If they go to touch me, it goes from anxiety to full-blown PTSD and flashbacks and I lash out. Spit also freaks me out. It also causes flashbacks and a lot of anxiety.” — Raven M.
- “Sunscreen, lotion and anything sticky on my skin, especially around my neck. It sends me into complete panic mode and I freeze.” — Monika S.
- “Meeting with or being approached by an authority figure. I spent my entire education learning from my teachers that whenever that happened, I was either in trouble, or about to be told what was wrong with my character.” —Katie D.
- “My bully shoved me off of risers for a music concert and I broke my arm in the fall. I tell people I’m afraid of heights, but I’m really afraid somebody is going to shove me off of whatever I’m on.” — Josh H.
- “Any sort of yelling or loud noises. Thunder, gun shots, even something as simple as something falling over and making a loud crashing noise unexpectedly makes me so nervous and anxious.” — Erica D.
- “Going to my child’s elementary school. It brings back all those feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness and loneliness.” — Kate A.
- “People cleaning around me. My parents would get into really bad fights around cleaning and sometimes I got ‘word shrapnel.’ So now when someone is cleaning near me, I assume they’re angry with me, so I get really anxious.” — Nova T.
- “The sound of a door locking. Before my brother abused me he would lock the door of whatever room we were in.” — Erica M.
- “Hearing my name. Hearing anyone say my first name makes me panic. Tone of voice or what I’m doing at the time can make my reaction much worse. I have C-PTSD.” — Traci S.
If you can relate, share something that’s helped you deal with these anxiety fears in the comments below.