18 Traits of Someone Who Had a Difficult Childhood

Childhood struggle and trauma can manifest both negatively and positively in adulthood. Different situations cause different reactions, and some people develop completely different traits than others. Nonetheless, these 18 traits are common signs that someone didn’t have it nice growing up.


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When you have to face struggles every day of your life, it won’t take long before you develop a hard skin to cope with them. People who experienced a bad childhood do great in difficult situations as adults, as they’ve developed the willpower needed to push through them.


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Part of being able to get through difficult situations is having enough flexibility to do what’s needed to survive. For instance, if your family was comfortable financially and witnessed a bad change of fortune in your childhood, it’ll be easier for you to adapt to this type of experience as an adult.

Apt Problem Solving

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With resilience and adaptability comes the ability to find unique solutions to problems they face. If you’re one of them, you always know that anything that seems difficult has a solution somewhere, and you don’t stop until there’s a way forward, even if it means improvising or compromising.

Substance Abuse

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A study at Columbia University showed that childhood trauma increases the likelihood of adolescents experimenting with drugs. Some people find physical or emotional escape through hard drugs, which may have degenerated into an addiction to psychoactive substances. In extreme cases, the use of these drugs may have started during childhood.

Attention to Detail

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Maybe the cause of trauma was a parent or guardian nitpicking flaws in the things they did. In this case, you see that this person is quicker and more accurate than others in noticing inefficiencies or changes in the environment. They easily point out when something isn’t in place.


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When attention to detail can be comprehensively transformed into words and shared with people, you see that this person is one of the most insightful people you know. They don’t just notice changing patterns; they are also able to explain why this pattern is occurring, even linking seemingly anomalous events.


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In other cases, instead of watching out for things out of place, a person who has had a bad childhood may be constantly watching out for things that may go bad. More attention is placed on negative changes, and this is another trait developed due to living in an unstable environment. As Verywell Mind shares, “Hypervigilance is an exaggerated fear of danger seen with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”


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Since they’ve always had to face and conquer challenges alone, people with bad childhoods don’t need anyone to thrive as adults. In the more extreme cases, you see signs of hyper-independence, where they go all out of their way to avoid asking for help or relying on anyone.

High Sensitivity

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There are a lot of ways heightened sensitivity manifests in someone with a difficult childhood. For instance, if the cause of trauma was having to live in an unstable emotional environment, this person may develop a higher sensitivity to subtle emotional changes as an adult. You may also be more sensitive to physical triggers, like noise.

Low self-esteem

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One undesirable trait developed in environments with emotional instability and abuse is low self-esteem. This is usually present in people who have had to face constant criticism, name-calling, and embarrassment. There’s usually self-doubt and a poor sense of self-worth, as they don’t receive a lot of praise.

Increased Empathy

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Now, when it comes to emotional intelligence, there are extreme but opposing traits that develop based on how you react to trauma. Some people have increased empathy for others because they’ve been in those shoes before. They are able to understand what someone else is feeling, whether physical or emotional, and this trait may develop because they received empathy from others at some point.

Reduced Empathy

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For others, there’s an extreme disregard for the feelings of others. On one hand, this may be due to physical abuse that’s made them numb to how others may feel. On the other hand, this may be because they experienced neglect when they needed others during childhood and have developed tendencies to neglect others as well.

Difficulty Regulating Emotions

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Certain people also find it difficult to manage their emotions properly. They overreact to the slightest provocations, even if these were jokes, and they may even switch between calm, sad, irritable, and aggressive moods without a proportionate trigger.

People Pleasing

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When you have had to go out of your way to get your parents back into a good mood as a child, you develop people-pleasing traits that spill over to benefit other people. As clinical psychologist Dr. Lindsay C. Gibson shares with Business Insider, you’ve “learned to be extra sensitive and vigilant to other people’s discomfort or disapproval.”

Lack of Trust

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With trauma caused by loved ones, you may also not find it easy to trust others again. There are deep-seated trust issues that arose from situations of manipulation, betrayal, or abandonment, and these may have followed you into adulthood.

Attachment Issues

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There are three attachment styles that could develop from difficult childhood situations—anxious, avoidant, and disorganized attachment. Respectively, you may notice that people with bad childhoods have obsessive difficulty being away from people they love, fear getting close to them, or act too hot and too cold with loved ones.


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Unlike people who had adults to protect them, some children only got their fair share of things when they stood up for themselves. Having to do this as a child builds up courage in you, and you have a tendency to face adversity head-on without worrying about the consequences.


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On the opposite side, a difficult childhood may cause anxiety disorders where, instead of developing courage, some people develop a fear of the unknown. As the CDC shares, children develop anxiety when they “experience trauma or stress, when they are maltreated, when they are bullied or rejected by other children, or when their own parents have anxiety or depression.

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