18 Subtle Signs That a Person Had a Troubled Childhood

There are many subtle signs of a troubled childhood, and recognizing these patterns in adults can help you get a deeper understanding of their behaviors and struggles. In this article, we’ll share 18 of the signs, from hyperempathy to difficulty accepting praise.

Emotional Unavailability

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Someone who is emotionally unavailable likely grew up in a home where emotional expression was discouraged or met with negativity. As a result, they find it difficult to form deep emotional connections due to a fear of vulnerability or rejection. They may appear cold or distant but are likely experiencing lots of suppressed emotions.

Overdependence on Independence

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Many people with difficult childhoods have learned to cope alone from an early age, possibly due to absent or unreliable caregivers. They may struggle with seeking help and view it as a sign of weakness. This excessive self-reliance can lead to social isolation and difficulty in trusting others.


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Developed from personal hardships, those with hyperempathy tend to be extremely sensitive to others’ pain. As shared by VeryWell Mind, “A hyper-empathic person may find themselves regularly tired or worn out just by being around others.” While empathy itself is beneficial, this trait can complicate personal boundaries and relationships.

Avoidance of Family Discussions

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If someone you know is reluctant or uncomfortable discussing family, it likely stems from past traumas or dysfunctional relationships. They may have severed ties with family to avoid painful memories and this can be a protective measure to maintain emotional stability.

People-Pleasing Behavior

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Rooted in traumatic responses from childhood, people-pleasing is often a survival tactic used to avoid conflict. People with this trait may have difficulty setting boundaries, leading to chronic over-accommodation of others. This behavior can persist into adulthood, affecting personal and professional relationships.

Apologizing Excessively

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Frequently apologizing can indicate a background where the individual was often blamed. It reflects a lingering sense of guilt and responsibility for things beyond their control. Those who had a troubled childhood may also struggle with self-esteem and assertiveness.

Destructive Relationship Patterns

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Many of those with difficult upbringings have an attraction to problematic or abusive relationships, mirroring early negative experiences. According to Psych Central, “Even though we know it’s dysfunctional and not working well for us, we repeat behaviors because they feel familiar.” These people may repeatedly engage in relationships that are emotionally draining or harmful.

Avoidance of Close Relationships

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Opting to remain alone or keeping others at a distance to avoid the pain associated with intimacy is another subtle sign of a troubled childhood. This avoidance can hinder personal growth and the development of a healthy adult identity. It often results from negative experiences involving close relationships during formative years.

Dislike for Self-Reflection

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An avoidance of introspection due to associated discomfort or negative feelings is also common in people with difficult pasts. This can limit personal growth and delay the healing process from past traumas. It may also manifest as low self-esteem or chronic self-criticism.

Compulsive Control

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Someone who seems to constantly want to control environments and outcomes as a way to manage underlying anxiety likely didn’t have the best childhood. This trait stems from childhood uncertainties or chaotic home environments, and the need for control can lead to stress and difficulties in relationships where flexibility is required.

Fear of Abandonment

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The persistent worry about being left by friends or partners is another subtle sign, often a consequence of early losses or instability. “This behavior can have unhealthy consequences. Over time, it can ruin relationships. It can also prevent the development of healthy bonds,” as per Healthline. It may result in clingy or dependent behaviors in relationships.


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The next sign of a troubled childhood is someone feeling excessively responsible for the well-being of others or for outcomes that are not their fault. This is likely rooted in childhood roles where they had to take on adult responsibilities prematurely, which can lead to burnout and difficulty enjoying personal achievements.


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Do you know someone who is constantly on alert or always anticipating threats or the next problem? This is a behavior often developed in unsafe or unpredictable childhood environments. It can unfortunately lead to chronic anxiety and difficulty relaxing.

Difficulty Accepting Praise

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The tendency to deflect compliments or downplay achievements is another subtle sign of a difficult childhood. It reflects deep-seated feelings of unworthiness and low self-esteem from critical or unsupportive caregivers. Overcoming this involves practicing self-compassion and recognizing that they have inherent value.

Challenges Setting Boundaries

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As shared by BetterUp, “Effective boundaries protect our personal space, our physical and mental health, and our safety and security.” However, those with troubled childhoods often struggle with asserting their needs and setting healthy limits in relationships. They tend to put others’ needs ahead of their own, leading to emotional exhaustion.

Seeking External Validation

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Some have a reliance on others for affirmation and self-worth, filling emotional voids left from childhood. This can hinder the development of a secure, self-affirmed identity. Building self-esteem through personal achievements and supportive relationships is key.

Fear of Rejection

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The avoidance of new relationships or opportunities due to a fear of being rejected is another subtle sign to look out for. This fear can be paralyzing, preventing personal and professional growth. Addressing this issue involves acknowledging its presence and gradually confronting situations that pose a risk of rejection.

Chronic Overthinking

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Those who had a difficult upbringing also have a tendency to ruminate on possible negative outcomes, often due to an unpredictable childhood. This can increase anxiety and complicate decision-making processes. Techniques like mindfulness and focusing on the present can help mitigate overthinking.

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