The #1 Sign of Unresolved Trauma

Neon sign that reads "This is the sign you've been looking for."

Humans have just been procreating and traumatizing the shit out of each other since the dawn of time. Largely not on purpose, I believe. But the emotional suppression required to live with unresolved trauma is exactly the ignorance that ensures we inflict our wounds onto those around us — especially our children.

To clarify, trauma isn’t necessarily some monumental tragedy. Yes, it could certainly be a horrific accident, hardship, or injustice. But oftentimes, it’s chronically unmet needs or emotional neglect. Trauma responses can even be passed down generationally. I.e., your nervous system could be wired for a trauma that you yourself have not even experienced personally.

“Trauma isn’t what happens to you,” Gabor Maté writes, “trauma is what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you.” The doctor further explains that trauma teaches us to fear our feelings instead of feel our feelings. It’s an experience of powerlessness that overwhelms our ability to process reality.

Thus, trauma is fundamentally a dissociative coping mechanism — disconnecting us from ourselves, others, and the world we live in.

A Million Ways to Dissociate

People distract themselves from the pain and confusion of their unresolved childhood trauma in innumerable ways, some more obvious than others. Folks who self-medicate with food, process addictions, and substances are usually pretty easy to spot. Hoarders and ragers are unmistakable. Netflix and video game bingers are low-hanging fruit, too.

Then you have the workaholics, busyness addicts, and clean-freaks. The chronically ambitious and perpetually helpful. Ruminators. People constantly preoccupied with romantic relationships or totally consumed by hobbies and passion projects. These can be a bit harder to identify if you’re not paying attention.

The biggest challenge in recognizing dissociative behavior, however, is that the activity itself isn’t necessarily the problem. Nothing I listed above (food, TV, work) is objectively bad. You can drink alcohol to have a pleasant time with friends or to seek emotional oblivion from your intolerable existential dread. Do you see? Alcohol isn’t the problem here.

How and why you do these things and your ability to stop or moderate are much more indicative of the underlying issue.

The Fastest Way to Identify Unresolved Trauma

Compulsive behavior is the number one telltale sign of lingering trauma.

We all know somebody who can’t NOT do some shit. Somebody who just has to say some negative ass comment, every time. The guy who would rather die than not have the last word. The girl who can’t stop apologizing to everyone for literally fucking everything.

Whether it’s working too much, biting your nails, people-pleasing, mansplaining, driving too fast, saying “like” every five words, falling head over heels in love with random schmucks, cracking your knuckles, tidying everything, uncontrollably mowing down whole packages of Oreos like a damn grizzly bear… anything you appear to be utterly powerless to stop doing is the obvious tip of a trauma iceberg.

Hence, every addiction on earth has a wound at its core.

Unfortunately, trauma (the word for wound in Greek) induces toxic shame one hundred percent of the time. And because shame has a “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” relationship to trauma, I’d call it the second most definitive indicator of unresolved trauma.

The problem is that people often cover up shame with perfectionism, overachievement, high heels, fast cars, and all kinds of pretty stuff, so it’s difficult to put your finger on it. Nevertheless, toxic shame wakes you up every morning and gingerly whispers in your ear, “You don’t have unresolved trauma, you’re just an unlovable piece of shit. Now get out there and pretend everything’s fine before someone notices.”

Thus, traumatized people are the least likely to ask for help.

Oh, but they’ll breed.

OMG, I Have Unresolved Trauma!

After reading this article, you may notice a super uncomfortable existential crisis knocking on your door like NYPD with a search warrant. I want you to know first and foremost that you are not alone and you are not terminally unique.

I truly believe trauma is inherently part of the human experience and the vast majority of folks are walking around right now with a ration of unexamined childhood shit in their carry-on luggage. It’s fine.

But what are you gonna do about it, though? That’s the million-dollar question.

This article is meant to be a diagnostic piece, so my job here is done. But if I’ve piqued your interest in the healing process, let me direct your attention to last week’s article When Your Survival Strategies Start Killing You. It contains a ton of helpful information, links, and suggestions that I do hope you’ll take advantage of.

Because what you don’t transform, you will definitely transmit.


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Published by Adam

Mentor, coach, speaker and educator for over 12 years. I have survived, recovered from and triumphed over many obstacles and afflictions. It brings me tremendous joy to help others overcome similar circumstances so they can live their best lives.

2 thoughts on “The #1 Sign of Unresolved Trauma

  1. Ha!! Omg, this is brilliant and so me! All the way through the breeding….of kids who now have compulsive behaviors and shame, too. Goddamnit.

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