17 Adult Traits That Are Frequently Traced Back to Difficult Childhoods

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By Jonathan Trent

The effects of having a difficult childhood can be devastating, harmful, and long-lasting, molding us into the person we are today in many ways. We hope that your childhood was peaceful, but here are 17 traits that are frequently traced back to troublesome childhoods.

Low Self-Esteem

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Children who have not gotten enough validation and support during their formative years may have low self-esteem as adults, struggling with feeling worthy. Having been constantly criticized or neglected by their parents, these traumatic experiences can leave a lasting mark, undermining their confidence.

Trust Issues

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Being betrayed or abandoned by caregivers can manifest in trust issues as a grown-up. If you had inconsistent or unreliable parental figures, you might find it difficult to form lasting bonds in adulthood, as you were exposed to unhealthy relationships in childhood.

Fear of Intimacy

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According to Psych Central, growing up in a household that disregards your emotions can lead to a lack of essential ingredients for thriving emotionally, as you may have been encouraged to bottle up your feelings. Sadly, this can culminate in a lack of secure attachment and a fear of intimacy as an adult.

Difficulty in Managing Emotions

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In relation to the previous point, it’s also common to experience emotional dysregulation in adulthood if you were encouraged to suppress your feelings as a child. If your emotions were invalidated and there was a lack of healthy emotional regulation models for you, you may not be self-aware about how you feel.

Chronic Stress

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As an adult, if you are extremely stressed all of the time, there is a high chance that you had a troublesome childhood. Persistent exposure to adversity in childhood means that these traumatic events can replay in your head, triggering ongoing anxiety as an adult.


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Having a tough childhood is usually linked to a lack of boundaries, routine, or structure. Individuals grow up to be impulsive as a subconscious coping mechanism for unmet emotional needs. This is essentially because they want instant validation for past scarcity.

Substance Abuse

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Escaping from trauma becomes high on the agenda of people who have troubled childhoods. Sadly, this usually manifests as substance abuse in an attempt to block out memories of the trauma they experienced in the past. Sadly, they may even be mimicking the behavior of their caregivers.


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If you had a challenging childhood, you may have been pressured to excel in a chaotic environment, with nothing you did ever being enough. This can lead to you fearing failure, with Psychology Today noting that you will also tend to crave success in an effort to ease the pain of the past.

Avoidant Personality

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As individuals who were raised in troubled homes were told to shun their emotions, they fail to open up to others as they mature. In many cases, this emotional closedness can turn into adopting an avoidant personality as a coping mechanism for childhood neglect or rejection.


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Kids who were always walking on eggshells may have tried to get approval from their parents. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change in adulthood as these individuals will often seek validation from other people outside of their family, attempting to fill the emotional voids created in childhood.

Difficulty in Setting Boundaries

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The lack of boundaries modeled by caregivers means that children may grow up to be pushovers. They fear the rejection inflicted in childhood will be repeated, so they will accommodate other people even when it is at the expense of their own happiness. They’re certainly selfless, but this can be self-destructive in excess.

Chronic Self-Doubt

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As The New York Times notes, an individual’s resilience is dictated by a combination of genetics, personal history, environment, and situational context. In fact, a lack of support or encouragement in childhood can lead to these children becoming critical of themselves, making them less resilient.

Trouble in Forming Healthy Relationships

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Dysfunctional relationships modeled in childhood can result in children having attachment issues in adulthood, often due to becoming anxious or avoidant. With chaotic parenting and unstable familiar structures, these individuals will find it hard to connect with and trust other people because of their past experiences.

Avoidance of Conflict

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Witnessing conflict escalation in childhood has a lifelong effect; where healthy, functional families have an open line of communication, dysfunctional families will argue and may even resort to violence. In order to keep the peace, children from these types of homes will step away from drama, often making them easy targets for bullies.

Control Issues

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Having a lack of control in childhood often means that kids in troubled households will try to regain a sense of security by being overly controlling. They may be afraid to let go of the reins as this usually means extreme repercussions from their caregivers, using control as a coping mechanism.

Depending on Validation

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As the parents in toxic households expect their children to take on responsibilities, the children will become dependent on their validation, and this continues into adulthood. Forbes highlights that children who fail to learn basic love and trust at home are handicapped later in mastering assertiveness, initiative, and autonomy.

Difficulty in Expressing Emotions

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Finally, emotional suppression is, unfortunately, prevalent in those who have had their feelings invalidated in childhood. As it wasn’t safe for them to open up to those around them, they may have adopted a fear of vulnerability and an inability to identify and articulate their feelings. In this situation, therapy is recommended to ease the pain. 

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