What is your level of satisfaction with your current life? If you find yourself stuck in unfulfilling patterns of behavior or unhealthy relationships, your past may play a role in it. Our present can be strongly impacted by our traumatic history, which remains in our minds and bodies until we fully address it.
Of course, looking at all those memories and the way they impacted you can be quite painful, but it’s the first step to better understanding current patterns of behaviors, emotions, and life situations you are experiencing at this moment. This article will guide you to answer this question that you may already have considered: what previous traumas am I unconsciously struggling with?
While you won’t get all the answers you need in this article, it will hopefully still trigger a self-reflection process. To complete your understanding of your previous traumas, it is recommended that you consult a psychotherapist.
How can I identify my childhood trauma?
The best way to understand your childhood trauma is to contact a specialist. But let’s face it, there are certain factors that stop some people from contacting therapists:
- Inability to open up to strangers
- Lack of access to mental health services
With that in mind, we’re proposing a good way to figure out whether you truly experienced childhood trauma and if you did, to what degree. An ACE test, or more broadly an adverse experience test, is designed to help you understand if you have an increased risk of health concerns that are linked to adverse childhood experiences. This test cannot be a substitute for professional help.
An adverse childhood experience is a traumatic event that occurred during your childhood.
This can have lasting, negative impacts on health, well-being in childhood, and life opportunities, such as education, relationships, and job potential in adulthood (8).
Therefore, this quiz could help you find the answer to two main questions:
- Could my childhood trauma affect my current or future well-being?
- How traumatic was my childhood? (3).
It’s important to add that researchers have found that people who suffered adversity in their childhood may have mental and physical ailments in later life (4). Therefore, this test may be a helpful start to your trauma realization.
It should be noted that this ACE test cannot fully measure whether or not your present concerns are connected to traumatic events. Therefore, even after taking this test, we highly recommend that you take the time to talk to a therapist who works with people who are suffering from ACE.
Do I have unresolved childhood trauma?
Previous traumatic events represent a threat to the nervous system. They affect people physically, mentally, socially, spiritually, and emotionally (10) and leave them in a constant fight, flight, or freeze mode. This is how childhood trauma can be explained in a simplistic way.
Your traumatic event could evoke a wide spectrum of negative emotions. For example, it could be connected to the last situation that made you stressed, agitated, or scared.
Your unresolved trauma causes you to experience disruptive physical and emotional reactions in the present as your body and mind continue to defend against the past threat.
To other people, you may appear okay, but in reality, your body is still fighting an unseen danger.
If you are unsure whether you experienced something traumatic in the past, try to pay attention to the following things:
- Your physical well-being
- Your relationships with others
- Your life choices
- Your self-esteem and relationship with yourself
- Your ability to relax, rest, and switch off from current responsibilities
Unresolved trauma symptoms negatively impact a person’s physical well-being. Studies have shown that unaddressed trauma may negatively affect your sleep (7). Trauma experiences may sometimes lead to physical responses (5).
Therefore, you should pay attention to your overall physical well-being. If you’re experiencing sleep disturbances and/or simply feel uncomfortable in your own body, there is a slight chance that you’re dealing with an unresolved childhood trauma experience.
You should consider taking up physical activities. This can be something enjoyable without high-intensity workouts.
For example, you could try a 28-day Somatic Exercise for Trauma Relief, yoga, or dancing.
Opt for healthier food and create a sleeping schedule for yourself. It will be tough at first, but with discipline and patience, you’ll see amazing results in just a few weeks in your general well-being
If you are experiencing physical health issues, consult with a healthcare professional or physician instead.
Relationships with others
Take a moment to reflect on the quality of the relationships in your life. Are they fulfilling, nurturing, and balanced, or do they cause you stress, and frustration, and trigger past wounds? Unfortunately, unhealed childhood wounds can show up in your behavior and attitudes toward others. This can look like:
- People pleasing
- Low self-esteem
- Fear of abandonment
- Attracting the wrong partners
- Being narcissistic
- Need for external validation
- Tolerating toxic behavior (11)
These symptoms impair the quality of your relationships with others, in addition to your attitude to yourself. In order to alleviate these symptoms, you should start by paying attention to them and share what you observe with somebody you trust. However, it’s important to keep in mind that your friends or loved ones aren’t always able to listen and hold space for such difficult conversations. Therefore, the best course of action is to seek advice from a mental health professional.
In addition, you could implement Breathing For Focus into your routine. Benefits Of Breath Work are beneficial for your well-being, particularly your emotional state. This tool could also act as an emotional regulation strategy as you delve deeper into your previous trauma.
Your life choices
You should give yourself some space to answer the following questions:
- Do you enjoy your job?
- Do you lead an active life?
- Do you have hobbies that make you feel content?
- Are you in a fulfilling and stable relationship?
- Are you happy with the direction in which your life is going?
Even if you think these questions have nothing to do with your past, at a closer glance, you will see that there is a strong link between them. Unfortunately, any distressing event from the past acts as an invisible threat to our nervous system and can lead to suboptimal personal choices.
For example, if you suffered from chronic neglect in your childhood, it may be difficult for you to trust yourself and follow the career of your dreams. Similarly, some other types of trauma may keep you stuck in a job you hate. You don’t travel because someone may judge you for not saving some money for more “meaningful things”. You refuse to get into physical activities because you’re either scared of not being strong or skillful enough. You have no hobbies you’re passionate about. You allow your partner to abuse or gaslight you because you told yourself no one else will ever love you.
In this way, your previous trauma has a ripple effect on your ability to be fulfilled in the present.
What are the 7 adverse childhood experiences?
Adverse childhood experiences refer to stressful, overwhelming, and threatening situations that happen to children aged between 1 and 17 years (1).
These experiences are generally traumatic events that can affect a person’s health throughout their lifetime. People who suffer from ACEs may be prone to mental health conditions, chronic physical health conditions, and/or substance use disorders (1).
The traumatic event can cause long-term or extreme stress in a person’s life. During this event, you may feel terrified, helpless, at risk of danger, and physically hurt.
There are seven examples of adverse childhood experiences:
- Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse
- Exposure to domestic violence
- Living with someone who abused alcohol
- Living with someone who abused drugs
- Living with someone with a serious mental illness
- Living with someone who has been to prison
- Losing a parent through divorce, death, or abandonment (2)
Do I have trauma or am I overreacting?
You may have experienced situations where somebody has dismissed, minimized, or invalidated your emotional reactions. While there are situations when our emotional reaction is unsuitable for an event, most of the time, any strong emotions can indicate a wound or trigger in ourselves.
However, it is important to remember that there are many nuances and complexities in this particular example.
If you’re still not certain whether you’re just ‘exaggerating’ or you’re truly affected by traumatic events, here’s something you can do:
- Look at the aforementioned symptoms of childhood trauma and compare them to your current struggles. For example, an inability to sleep and eat well
- Look at your life choices. Some individuals are constantly living up to their parents’ or other people’s expectations. Therefore, you did the job that your mother imposed on you, you dated a guy that your father convinced you to, and even crammed math daily instead of playing volleyball because your parents wanted you to go to a prestigious college. Reflect on your choices and make the difference: is it something I wanted or is it something my parents or other close people expected from me?
- Analyze the trauma. Another clear argument that showcases whether it’s trauma or not is related to the event that happened to you. If you relived something that was mentioned in the previous section, there is no doubt that you’re not overreacting.
The only good way of defining the truth is to seek professional help. Those who tell you that you are overreacting do not fully acknowledge your emotions, your feelings, or your daily challenges.
In this case, a therapist is more unbiased and more helpful. Before you dive into therapy, you can take an ACE test to get a clearer idea of the impact potential past traumas have on your present.
If you have PTSD or any other mental health condition, please consult a mental health specialist.
Was I neglected as a child?
Child neglect is a form of child mistreatment where you’re affected both physically and mentally. If you remember situations when your parents deprived you of basic things such as health care, normal clothing, adequate supervision, and housing, in addition to other emotional, safety, social, and educational needs, there is a strong chance that you were neglected during your childhood.
Do I show signs of trauma?
Signs of trauma are versatile. They touch upon your physical, mental, and emotional states. If you notice any complaints that impair your physical and mental health, you should contact a healthcare provider for guidance.
What are the signs of unhealed trauma?
The main signs of unhealed trauma manifest in your emotional well-being (a lack of trust and difficulty opening up to people, low self-esteem, mood swings, and difficulty regulating your emotions), mental and physical well-being
What does undiagnosed trauma look like?
If your trauma is not treated properly, you may experience nightmares, flashbacks, bad sleep, anger, irritability, and/or hopelessness. You will focus less on your overall well-being, your relationships with people will get worse, and your attitude toward yourself and your life in general will worsen.
If you notice any complaints that impair your physical and mental health, you should contact a healthcare provider for guidance.
The Bottom Line
What childhood trauma do I have? Hopefully, after reading this article, you have a clearer idea of how you have been impacted by previous events. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this is not a diagnosis guideline.
Therefore, you should try taking a specialized ACE test to see how you’re impacted by the events in the past. You can then contact a therapist and share your insights with them.
Unresolved childhood trauma may negatively impact your physical, emotional, and mental sttes. Your well-being and your relationships with others may also deteriorate.
This may be the consequence of past adverse childhood experiences: physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, exposure to domestic violence, living with someone who abused alcohol, living with someone who abused drugs, living with someone with a serious mental illness, living with someone who has been to prison, or losing a parent through divorce, death, or abandonment.
Remember that your past trauma doesn’t define you, but your ability to manage it properly does. Find someone you can talk to and who you trust, and focus on healthy ways to grow in your life.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) (2023, clevelandclinic.org)
- Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Attachment (2023, mft.nhs.uk)
- Adverse Childhood Experiences Test (2023, psychcentral.com)
- Adversity in childhood is linked to mental and physical health throughout life (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Coping with a Disaster or Traumatic Event (2018, cdc.gov)
- Cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure as early markers of PTSD risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Disturbed Sleep in PTSD: Thinking Beyond Nightmares (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fast Facts: Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (2023, cdc.gov)
- Trauma and Health Symptoms in a Community Sample: Examining the Influences of Gender and Daily Stress (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Trauma and Violence (2022, samhsa.gov)
- Unresolved childhood trauma – how does it affect our adulthood? (2023, counselling-directory.org.uk)