9 unmistakable signs your unhappy childhood is affecting your adult life

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Do you ever sit and wonder how you ended up the way you are? The reason behind those little habits that haunt you everywhere you go. 

Perhaps you anxiously bite your nails, repeatably self-sabotage, or say “sorry” at the drop of a hat. 

Chances are – your past holds some of the answers you’re searching for. 

Just think about it.

Happy or unhappy, our childhood experiences shape who we are. It’s like the foundations of a house. Build them right, and you’ll be set for life. 

But if those foundations are shaky and unstable, it can spell trouble further down the line. And no amount of paint, plaster, or decorative houseplants will fix the problem. 

So, if you recognize these nine signs, your less-than-happy childhood is affecting your adult life.

1) Guilt is your default emotion

Are you constantly fighting the urge to apologize? Maybe you feel inexplicably guilty whenever you interact with others. Or perhaps you’re in constant fear that you’re in the wrong. 

Well, sounds to me like you have a guilt complex. 

Listen, guilt is perfectly normal. It’s our way of taking accountability when we make a mistake or hurt someone. And usually, it’s our conscience telling us we did something wrong.

But if you’re quick to blame yourself, even when it’s NOT your fault, it can signal an underlying problem. And oftentimes, the cause can be traced back to your childhood

Simply put – that internalized and chronic guilt didn’t appear out of thin air. 

No, it was likely taught.  

Perhaps you suffered childhood trauma, grew up in a strict (possibly religious) household, or your parents had impossibly high standards. 

Eitherway, that experience during your formative years made a lasting impact. Something that feeds your low self-esteem and people-pleasing tendencies today.

2) You are a serial people-pleaser

You’re the ultimate people-pleaser, always putting others’ needs before your own. And if someone asks a favor, you feel guilty saying “no”. 

But this behavior goes beyond mere acts of kindness. In fact, you’ll happily bend over backward to gain approval from your peers – even if it’s to your own detriment. 

Truth be told, you’re terrified of disappointing the people you love. Most of all, you fear rejection.

But why? 

In short, you think that’s how you earn love and avoid conflict – a behavior you learned when you were young. 

Now, as an adult, that deep-rooted desire for approval makes you feel insecure. Ultimately, you crave validation to make up for a lack of affirmation as a child.

3) You can’t take a compliment

Compliments are a way for people to get positive social feedback. It tells us that we did a good job and that we’re appreciated. 

At least that’s the idea. 

However, for some people, accepting praise is no easy task. It’s not that they don’t want recognition (quite the opposite), they simply have trouble believing it due to a lack of self-worth. 

The reason? Well, hello, childhood conditioning!

Now, I’m not saying your parents were definitely narcissists. But weaponized praise is a narcissist’s go-to manipulation tactic. It’s a way for them to control others. 

Because of this, you probably grew up thinking compliments were conditional. To you, praise (of any kind) either had hidden motives or came with strings attached. 

Not only has this given you trust issues in adulthood. But as a result, you have trouble accepting praise, even when it’s deserved.

4) You shy away from confrontation (and authority figures)

Ever since you can remember, you’ve had a problem with conflict. You fear it, and you’ll do anything to avoid it. In fact, you often shut down, not wanting to say or do anything that might make things worse.

Not only that – but you also take issue with authority figures. 

Basically, they trigger you.

Well, you guessed it, this behavior probably stems from your upbringing. And your early experiences with volatile authority figures could be holding you back.

As a result, you find it hard to stand up for yourself or assert your opinions out of anticipation of retribution or punishment. Plus, you’re overly worried about upsetting or angering others.

The thing is – this type of behavior isn’t doing your mental health any good. And more often than not, bottling up and repressing your emotions will spill out in other unhealthy ways. 

5) You have difficulty expressing yourself

Still with me? Good, because we’re already halfway through this trauma-filled list. 

If expressing feelings or even understanding them seems like decoding a secret language, your childhood is knocking.

Let me explain.

Emotional and behavioral regulation is an important developmental skill. It’s taught to us when we’re young to identify how we feel and comprehend what we need. In turn, we learn how to manage and control those emotions effectively. 

A baseline that lets us know how to react appropriately.  

For example: say you fall over and scrape your knee. Besides the pain, as a child, you might feel sad, confused, maybe even angry or fearful. 

This skill is called emotional awareness.

But if you were never given the correct tools or full vocabulary as a child, this puts you at a social disadvantage in adulthood. 

Perhaps you were even told that emotions should be downplayed, suppressed, or dismissed.

Now, because of this, letting those feelings out feels like a daunting task. 

Not only that, but your inability to identify, process, and express emotions makes it difficult for you to make informed decisions. 

6) You have terrible decision-making skills

According to a recent study, the average American adult makes 35,000 decisions a day. 

Wow, that’s a lot. In fact, it’s pretty unnerving. 

But for some, they prefer a passive role. Not because of decision fatigue. No, it’s because the thought of making a decision fills them with panic. 

In short, they’re worried about messing up or making a mistake.

If you lack self-esteem, it can have a negative effect on your decision-making skills. Perhaps you worry about the consequences of your decision or that you’ll be judged by others. 

Maybe you simply harbor an unhealthy amount of self-doubt. Therefore, you need approval from others before committing – a way of releasing yourself from any responsibility. 

What’s more, you probably lacked guidance or consistent parenting during your crucial developmental stages. In turn, it’s impaired your ability to be decisive and make sound choices. 

7) You feel unworthy of love

This lack of self-esteem doesn’t just affect your decision-making skills, it also messes with your relationships. 

And that’s because you feel unworthy of love. 

Perhaps you attract emotionally unavailable partners. Or maybe you’re the one who struggles with closeness and intimacy.

Well, one way or another, that’s probably your childhood beckoning again. 

Think about it.

Children are like sponges. As they grow, they learn by example. 

So if they’re constantly criticized or made to feel inadequate and unlovable by an authority figure, it’s bound to have a lasting effect. The same goes for being abandoned as a child. 

And unsurprisingly, growing up in this type of hypercritical or unstable environment makes love seem unattainable. 

Not only that but trust and self-acceptance is a real struggle for you. 

The fact is – you don’t know what a healthy relationship is. You never got to experience or witness one firsthand when you were little. 

Let me put it this way. 

You have no reference point. Instead, you have an impaired sense of self and an undeveloped emotional intelligence. As a result, you’re overly critical and too hard on yourself.

Something which brings us to the next point.

8) You exhibit unhealthy attachment patterns

Let’s face it. Your childhood left you emotionally stunted. You’re unable to process or express your feelings properly because you never learned how.

And now, you find it difficult to trust others or build meaningful relationships. 

Here’s the thing – there are many ways this can impact you in adulthood. This includes recreating unhealthy patterns later in life. 

And research shows, these behaviors are often learned during childhood. 

Perhaps you’re overly clingy, dismissive, or in need of constant validation. Maybe you have no coping strategy at all. 

My point is – these insecure attachment styles make you act in unpredictable ways. You not only lack trust, but you may also be overly anxious or ambivalent around others. 

And that’s because you didn’t grow up in a consistent or supportive environment. 

Now, the problem you have is, you’re unconsciously repeating the same unhealthy patterns and dynamics you experienced during childhood

9) You keep self-sabotaging

You’re a perfectionist at heart. You want to do well, but something’s holding you back. Deep down in your subconscious, you keep fighting the urge not to self-sabotage – yet again.

It’s tough. I know. But sadly, you’re caught in a loop. 

You keep repeating the same damaging behaviors over and over. 

It always starts the same. You have the best intentions, telling yourself “Not this time, okay”. But just like before, you succumb to the same patterns you’ve displayed whenever you get this far. 

And that interferes with your personal success. 

Perhaps you procrastinate, become overly critical, or set yourself impossible goals. Maybe you even overindulge in illicit substances and alcohol. 

The thing is – the method may change but the results remain the same. Your anxiety and lack of self-belief keep getting in the way. 

And until you break free of the cycle and examine the root cause, these negative behaviors are here to stay. 

Leila El-Dean

Leila is a passionate writer with a background in photography and art. She has over ten years of experience in branding, marketing, and building websites. She loves travelling and has lived in several countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Spain, and Malta. When she’s not writing (or ogling cats), Leila loves trying new food and drinking copious amounts of Earl Grey tea.

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