Juliette Virzi • FollowOctober 31, 2018
It has been said that “no one escapes childhood unscathed.” But sayings like these can have an especially significant meaning for a person who was abused as a child. Unfortunately the effects of childhood abuse don’t usually stay confined to childhood — they often reach into our experience of adulthood.
Maybe your experience growing up with abuse left you with a steady internal monologue of not good enough, not good enough, not good enough whenever you try to accomplish a task. Maybe the only way you can fall asleep is if you rock yourself to sleep — literally rocking back and forth on your bed. Or maybe you experience intense internal shame that no one sees behind the smile you plaster on your face every day.
We wanted to know what “hidden” habits people who were abused as kids have now as adults, so we asked our Mighty community to share their experiences with us.
No matter what your experience of childhood abuse was, it is important to remember you are never alone and there is help available. If you need support right now, reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
Here’s what our community had to say:
1. Rocking Back and Forth Before Going to Sleep
“I rock myself back and forth to sleep every night. I can’t stop myself from doing it unless I concentrate really hard.” — Vade M.
“I sleep in [the] fetal position every night. I rock back and forth when I get too emotional. I run at any sign of yelling or raising of the voice. When someone cusses at me, I get defensive and angry.” — Leo G.
2. Hiding Food
“I hide food. It sounds ridiculous but I have random stashes of canned food spread throughout my house in the most ridiculous places. I always got shamed for being hungry and fighting for food was commonplace in my house because my parents thought a dinner meant for two people could feed their two growing kids as well as themselves. If I didn’t get much dinner to eat then, ‘Oh well, better luck next time.’ So when I got a little older, I got smarter about stockpiling cans of tuna and soup to eat with the money I made from walking other people’s dogs. It wasn’t too bad then, but it’s still prevalent in my life 14 years later whenever I go grocery shopping.” — Ai L.
3. Engaging in Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors
“Biting and chewing at the inside of my cheek until it bleeds. I’ve also developed a bad habit of picking until I create holes in my feet.” — Patience A.
“I shake my leg and/or fidget with my skin, sometimes causing small sores.” — Princess K.
4. Carrying a “Grounding” Object
“I carry a special pillowcase with me wherever I go. It’s my security blanket. I can’t go anywhere without it. I will play with seams with it in my purse and it’s weird that my hand hangs out in my purse all the time but it’s how I handle my anxiety and my flashbacks and just life.” — Kimberly L.
5. Always Having a Secret “Escape Plan”
“I have a really hard time with people walking up behind me. I always have to have an escape plan, and I hate being cornered or my movement restricted in any way. I was chased and cornered a lot as a child, so it’s very triggering. I also struggle with physical contact, especially when I don’t initiate it.” — Shalene R.
“I always know where every exit and possible hiding place is in a room. It’s the first thing I look for in a new place.” — Jenn S.
6. Having Imaginary Friends
“I’m 37 years old with six imaginary friends. One is a comforting mother to me, and three are parts of little girl me at different traumas in my life that I comfort, as if someone was comforting me during those traumas.” — T B.
7. Not Eating Around Others
“Not eating much when I’m around people, then sneaking and stealing food later. One parent was lenient with what I ate so the other one made up for it by trying to ‘keep me healthy.’ Doesn’t help that the first one was always trying to lose weight and not hiding it.” — Sadie B.
8. Sleeping With a Flashlight
“I sleep with a flashlight always on my bed or constantly in reach of my bed ( so I can see what’s coming if I hear any noise or footsteps). I’ve been doing this since I was 3 years old and never felt safe.” — Linda C.
“I was taught as a child to lie. I was forced to lie to cover my abuser, I was forced to lie by my mother to cover the fact that she didn’t protect me, I was forced to lie by my school system because they didn’t zero in on the fact I was being signed out by my abuser once a week so he could abuse me on his schedule. As an adult, I feel compelled to lie to protect people I shouldn’t have to. It’s an everlasting revolving door.” — Jammie G.
10. Having a Complicated Relationship With Sex
“I started to believe I was only an object. I let people use me because I thought that was what I was supposed to do — especially men. I felt I was supposed to have sex when they wanted to, not when I was ready.” — Maria M.
“I get shameful and feel dirty if I enjoy sex.” — Debbie C.
“[I] couldn’t say no to sexually pleasing others, even if I didn’t want it.” — Miranda D.
11. Feeling Responsible for Other People’s Feelings
“I often feel responsible for how other people feel. I feel guilty when others feel bad, even when the situation has nothing to do with me. I sacrifice my own needs in order to make others feel good.” — Kaitlyn L.
“I feel responsible for other’s feelings and their state in life. Like it’s my responsibility alone to make sure their bills are paid etc. I also adopt animals, and most recently learned that it’s probably because animals don’t withhold affection when they are ‘upset’ with you.” — Summer S.
12. Being Unable to Fully Relax
“I am hyper-aware of my surroundings and find it hard to relax and just be. Sometimes I find myself in a fight-or-flight mode, even if I know I’m safe.” — Anthea V.
13. Never Asking for Help
“I’m too afraid to tell people what’s wrong or ask for help. The first time I went to my mother about an issue (I was being bullied in school), she told me to deal with it myself. As a result, I’ve just allowed things to build up because I’m so afraid I’ll be rejected, that I may as well keep it to myself.” — Veronica S.
14. Being Hypervigilant
“I’m hypervigilant. Physical touch isn’t something I do easily, [and I’m] always looking for exits. I size people up, look for physical vulnerability, [have] strong boundaries [and] over-protect my children. That translates to an overly ‘hermitty’ existence, but I’m not complaining.” —Yoli T.
“Hypervigilance 24/7. It’s helped in some of the jobs I’ve had where you need to be on alert, to mask the true source of my hypervigilance. Being overwhelmed and exhausted and needing time to recharge my batteries after going out with friends. I love to be around people, like going to concerts and stuff, but it takes a few days for me to recover from the sensory overload. Insomnia I’ve learned to just accept is part of my life now.” — Jason T.
15. Pushing People Away
“I push people away when they get close to me. I push people away when I get in fights with people. I am reactive. Negative self-talk. I feel guilty a lot.” — Ryan C.
16. Reminding Yourself You Deserve to Live
“When I’m alone I tell myself I deserve to live, that I deserve to be happy. It’s a struggle every day. I still have suicidal thoughts sometimes, but thankfully I have the most supportive group of people around me who love me. Without them I don’t know where I would be.” — Ginna B.