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17 'Habits' of People With Anxiety From Complex Trauma


If you’ve never heard the term “complex trauma” before, you’re not alone. Complex trauma essentially refers to exposure to trauma over long periods of time, often during childhood. In some cases, complex trauma leads to mental health struggles like anxiety, depression and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).

Anxiety due to complex trauma is often difficult to shake. This is something Mighty contributor Vicki Peterson wrote about 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 those who have experienced trauma, anxiety comes from an automatic physiological response to what has actuallyalready 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. 

If you’re someone who struggles with the kind of anxiety that tries to keep you safe after surviving years of trauma, you’re not alone. We wanted to know what anxiety-related “habits” complex trauma survivors developed in adulthood, so we turned to our community to share their experiences.

We hope hearing from others helps you feel less alone in dealing with your complex trauma. To connect with others and get support from a community that truly cares, you can post on The Mighty using the hashtag #TraumaSurvivors.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. Having ‘Unhealthy’ Relationships

“My trauma experience has eventually made me feel less confident as an individual, therefore harming my ability to have a healthy relationship. I am filled with anxiousness and anxiety in any relationship and I tend to dive in head over heels or completely block out any chance of a connection with an individual. Two extreme differences, but both directly relate to my past traumatic relationships.” — Gretchen P.

2. Struggling to Trust Own Judgment

“I have a difficult time trusting my own judgment and/or perception. After my trauma, I experienced several breaks from reality or brief psychotic episodes. As a result, I constantly question myself. Am I reacting appropriately or is my anxiety driving me? I ask my trusted friends and families to listen to a given situation and then I ask them if I’m responding appropriately.” — Sonia R.

3. Isolating

I spend a lot of time alone in my room because it is my safe haven. I can read, sleep, watch a movie or whatever I want to help calm my anxiety. In a way, I am isolating myself from everybody else because I can’t stand crowds of people and it makes me feel more in control of myself and helps me figure things out. But people think I am ignoring them or they feel like I don’t want to be around them.” — Sarah H.

“I close myself off from those around me, the people I work with, even family and friends. They think I am mad and am giving them the silent treatment, but it usually means one of two things: I am terrified and trying to protect myself or I have gone emotionally ‘numb’ and I just don’t care about anything around me.” — Tammy C.

4. Being the ‘Life of the Party’

“Being the life of the party. It sounds strange, but I always used to try to keep my abusive mother pleased. So I would try to be funny and put on shows. I have social anxiety, so when I am put in those situations, I revert to trying to be entertaining even though I’m scared inside.” — Jeneane M.

5. Avoiding Public Places

“I was once an extrovert  very social, always happy and the life of the party! Now I get anxiety just thinking about going out with the public. I freak out! I have to force myself to go places I once had no problem with.” — Allison F.

“Stay away from ‘big’ stores and places where there are a lot of people.” — Tammy R.

6. Holding Back Emotions

“I hold back my emotions and keep things to myself. I was forced to never show emotion due to an abusive home because of my step dad, his mother, and brother. Because I hold my emotions back, my mom and sister think I don’t care about anything even though I’m constantly stressed, worried and have anxiety/depression episodes. They tell me to open up, but I feel like I can’t.” — Ariel A.

7. Oversleeping

“Oversleep. To an extreme. And I’m always tired because I sleep terribly due to nightmares and being an insanely light sleeper.” — Michelle A.

8. Feeling Uncomfortable Around New People

“I’m very quiet with groups of people I’m not familiar with, even if we’ve hung out a handful of times… I also sometimes get so overwhelmed I will go off on my own in a quiet/dark room and separate myself to decompress. I don’t say anything, I just disappear.” — Mia R.

9. Skin Picking

“Picking at my face, nails, and body. I cause myself to bleed so much without realizing, just from anxiety.” — Ember H.

“I get frustrated super easy. I also pick at the skin on my fingers.” — Carrie G.

10. Fearing Abandonment

“I am very needy and then I also push people away without meaning to. People may think I am difficult but I just have a fear of being abandoned.” — Sophie R.

11. Wringing Your Hands

“I wring my hands. Most of the time I don’t even know I’m doing it. I could be in a social setting, appear to be listening to what is being said. Wringing my hands, I don’t even tune into the conversation, but give the obligatory nod or chuckle. The hand thing allows me to stay mostly grounded until it is socially acceptable to remove myself.” — Tara S.

12. Over-Explaining

“Over-explaining, especially if I’ve done something wrong. I feel like I’m on trial and I have to compensate for every little detail and the reason why. Perfectionism, overworking and feeling like I am under some invisible obligation to help people. A difficulty with putting my feelings first.” — Ketsi H.

13. Struggling With Suicidal Thoughts

“Have suicidal thoughts almost every day just to escape the trauma. My mom thinks I’m overreacting…” — Laura F.

If you experience suicidal thoughts because of your complex trauma, there is help available. If you need support now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

14. Getting Easily Startled

“I’m easily startled. Mostly at work and I’m in a busy kitchen where staff accidentally brush past each other which is normal when we are busy but the brief unexpected contact can give me a slight fright and my whole body will ‘jump.’ It’s annoying and embarrassing but it’s my body always on high alert.” — Samantha H.

“I scare really easily and jump at the slightest of things. People think it’s funny and I pretend it is too, but it’s not at all. I hate the feeling so much.” — Justine E.

15. Being Hypervigilant

“I don’t think people realize how hypervigilant I am! I’m always seeing, always watching, always trying to anticipate others’ actions and reactions! It’s absolutely exhausting and I can’t seem to switch it off!” —Emily S.

16. Having ‘Outbursts’ of Anger

“Outbursts of anger rooted in deep frustration of how I’m feeling and how much anxiety impacts my well-being at times.” — Gaylene T.

17. Leaving Social Situations Abruptly

“I leave social situations abruptly. I become overwhelmed suddenly by a random association and have to leave. People always get offended and think I’m snotty and pretentious. In reality, I’m silently freaking out.” — Laurel S.

When you live with anxiety due to complex trauma, it’s natural to feel like no one “gets” what you’re going through. We hope that reading about others’ habits and experiences helps you feel less alone.

To connect with other trauma survivors who understand what it’s like to live with complex trauma by posting a Thought or Question on The Mighty using the hashtag #TraumaSurvivors.

GettyImages photo via Grandfailure