Causes of Anxiety and How They Relate to PTSD and Child Abuse

Let us look at some of the causes of anxiety and how they might relate to PTSD and child abuse.

Unfortunately, you can't surgically dislodge anxiety and treat it as something separate from the rest of who you are.

And who you are is a little more complex.

Anxiety in itself is already confusing. It saps your energy away from reason and thinking clearly, stirring up other parts, making you either want to run, confront, or freeze altogether, each depending on their severity and your particular character.

Anxiety also curtails your self-esteem and projects itself onto… well, pretty much everything. How people see you, your performance at work, how you look at your self in terms of body-image or sense of self.

 Anxiety saps your energy away from reason and thinking clearly, stirring up other parts, making you either want to run, confront, or freeze altogether, each depending on their severity and your particular character.

In short, anxiety can take over your life.

Listing the Causes of Anxiety and How it is Part of a Bigger Picture

There are different ways through which fear and the causes of anxiety start to manifest themselves. It can be caused by:

  1. An incident or series of incidents that have been overwhelming to you and where your life was in danger.
  2. Prolonged periods of stress that split your sense of time and caused conflict.
  3. Early life Post-Traumatic Stress that hasn't been dealt with.

Let’s go a little deeper into these separately:

1.) When your life has been in danger, for example; through an auto accident, being exposed to violence or (sexual) abuse and you feel you haven't been able to fully process it, that can continue to fire up your alarm bells through projection or flashbacks and give cause for anxiety.

2.) When you are continuously working to deadlines, or are in a relationship that isn't working for you, but can't move out of it, or other forms of prolonged stress that splits your sense of time and sense of self.

With deadlines, you are concerned about a future goal to be achieved and finished while your body lives in the here and now. Within a conflicting relationship, part of you wants to get out while the reality might be that you stay with it, out of insecurity.

That sense of living in the future and wanting to be somewhere else from where you create division within yourself and hence there is anxiety. And when this goes on for too long it becomes chronic as your body chemistry start to adapt to it.

Child Abuse, Child Neglect and it’s contribution to Causing Anxiety

3.) And the third one is much more likely to occur but far less recognizable, which is when your anxiety relates directly to your past:

Most anxiety doesn't just start from one day to the next. There has already been a gradual emotional build-up that has started to compromise your healthy sense of self.

That initial build-up, when addressing developmental issues, is often anger and frustration.

Expressing one’s own meaning, truth, anger, and frustration, in an abusive environment, is often met by more abuse or neglect, and so you learn to keep it locked inside. While on the outside you may have had to resort to: avoiding situations, withdrawing into yourself, pretend that all is OK, or please the ones around you, for your survival.

Persistence of Complex PTSD Symptoms and Anger

When that persists and continues for a longer period of time, while growing up, that very suppression of anger results in a lack of boundaries and compromises your ability to say your own ‘yes’ or ‘no’ authentically.

And that absence of boundaries makes for confusion as to who you are and what you want, and also who the other is or what they want, as you are constantly adapting to others: (parents, siblings, teachers).

Hence, this is where anxiety slowly starts to take over.

This confusion which gives rise to a lack of a 'sense of self' makes for anxiety and depression. It is this anxiety that starts to project itself onto your life situations. Anxiety covers up the deep hurt and anger which sits deeper than that but is intimately related to anxiety.

It is by addressing, expressing and owning the deeper held anger, that anxiety will drastically diminish and can be transformed into healthy alertness and excitement.

Which expression and causes of anxiety did you resonate with most? Leave your comment below.

  • Rebecca says:

    Definitely the third one. Through therapy I’ve been able to largely diminish the first two, and have gotten the tools to deal with the third, but the third is what continues to overwhelm me on a consistent basis, and what takes concentrated mindfulness to deal with.

    • Roland says:

      Thanks for your comment! Some patterns does take more time to lose there force. There is the emotional residue to be worked through and further on there is the addressing of the identity that has been build around that hurt but can keep infusing new energy into old wounds. Both need to be tackled in the end.

  • Elaine says:

    The one that resonates mostly is the 3rd about boundaries and always saying yes when I don’t want to and always trying to please others to get approval

  • Gina says:

    I could barely finish the article, everything relates. My whole childhood was one huge conglomerate of feelings, thoughts, and anything that had to do with who I was trapped inside myself with no avenue of escape. No one wanted to hear it, I didn’t have a voice, even if I did try, I was silenced. Fear was my life. I did not know what anxiety was – but I knew that I was an empty shell of a person. Then somehow I would get into these relationships, one in particular that I recall in which I was so unhappy but remained in for seven years because I was loved. I experienced extreme guilt, remorse, fear, depression – matter of fact this is when I became clinically depressed for the first time, having to seek professional help. Because my mother had been so mentally ill, so narcissistic, and so evil, I felt like I could not betray my partner by leaving when she loved me so. I finally did get out – but I did it in a very dysfunctional manner and ended up losing my career in the process. It is very safe to say —Anxiety has ruined my life. PTSD has ruined my life. It still rules my life – even after 25 years of therapy. So, I concur. Thanks for the information.

  • Jacqueline says:

    I have started my lengthy treatment and from session 1 to 2 i find me focused on my anger. Its been there a long time but hidden away making me feel ill. Its surfacing along with other emotions and I feel very ill physically and emotionally. I am exhausted but commited to the process. It is interesting how anger has become the first awarness i have in this process. I want to feel it, understand it and be able to let it go. I want to move on but its going to be a long process…..and thats ok.

    • Roland says:

      Hi Jacqueline. Happy to hear you are working on this and seeing the relationship between anger and anxiety. Often the prep for allowing oneself to feel and having enough resilience to meet what is within oneself takes more of the work then the actual moving through the emotion(s). Both are necessary though.

  • Eve says:

    After learning so much about the horrid manifestations of many different types of trauma I have had to deal with, the biggest light bulb moment was learning to live without being in victim mode. Victims attract prey and understanding this simple truth has started me on the wonderful path to freedom. Every word or action I make now includes a 3 second thought process….NOT to portray the victim I was and rather empower myself with words and actions of strength. So far so good and I do believe the new me is beginning to bud

  • clis says:

    I concur, but it doesnt have to be a negative experience. I have had lifelong anxiety, depression, guilt etc. and I finally have almost completely turned it around by changing my perception. Might as well just check out if you think it is all for naught, but I am of the mindset that it is all for my growth into the Divine Being I was always meant to be. I had to go through all of this and come out the other side to truly be myself. Thank you, everyone, who participated in my angst!

  • Marina says:

    Not respecting own boundaries truths sense of self…

  • Majella says:

    Once the damage is caused during early childhood does anxiety become part of you just as security or happiness becomes part of you with proper care and if so is it simply impossible to ever lose it.

  • Mary says:

    Childhood neglect and VERY complex relationship with a domineering mother who herself had survived a childhood where extreme physical abuse and neglect were treaded as normal. If she suffered sexual abuse, she brought that to the grave. But left us all traumatised by her inability to give OR receive affection.. Add to this a severe breakdown sparked by possible date-rape while a VERY lonely, confused 1st year uni student – the harm copper -fastened by “intensive ect”… And i wonder why i’m still alive? Sheer ANGER and RAGE has kept me going, but at 59 i am totally totally burnt out. Off psych drugs (for now) desperately anxious, suicidal at times, frequent ptsd-like crying, trauma therapy proving more traumatic than the trauma (if you know what i mean) my biggest concern is the date-rape-deleted memories. I am DETERMINED to recall them, cannot let go, will never forgiv… Yeah. Dunno why i’m bothering to write this! Cos it feels like l don’t matter anymore… as if i ever did!

  • Claire says:

    That split between being in a situation and not able to escape it – as a child with an alcoholic mother – I think meant I wanted to be elsewhere. I literally
    tried to go back in time to the farm we left when parents broke up to ‘fix it’, maybe I also held my breath? I read a lot,escaping into books, not going to school and hiding at home reading.

  • Annmarie says:

    I acknowledge your article in it’s entirety. I know that I am a very anxious person. I recognise most of what people are saying in the comments as I grew up in a dysfunctional family, and there was much neglect and emotional/ physical abuse, but I’m also very aware that I carried that dysfunction into my own mothering as well and this shames me.

    • Roland says:

      Post-Trauma does become more complex over time and inter-generational. Guilt, shame and blame seem to compound it even more. Hope you are working with someone to address and work through your issues.

    • Majella says:

      Me too. Through counselling I am learning such is the nature of the beast. Therefore let us say the book stops here.

  • Joanna says:

    I am astounded by the way you can write these short articles that make more sense and gives more insight than 20 long years of self help, counselling etc! The thing I find the hardest now (after hopefully having completed the hardest initial years of healing from anxiety and depression) are how easy it is to fall back into old habits. The paradox is is that when you feel really bad – it is easier to apply the self help etc because you almost have no choice but when you feel better and forget how bad you can feel – you can slip back into the habits that bring it about/maintain it in the first place. And also – and this is really tough – is when you have family that don’t understand any kind of psychology and will say things like – you have always been neurotic! It’s a load of rubbish. I haven’t got time to be depressed! And so you have a whole other layer of trauma to deal with. I know now that the way my Father treated me (a seemingly affable man but emotionally abusive) and my parents divorce set me up for years of people pleasing and not knowing who I was. As soon as I reached adulthood I had no idea how to cope with real life or who I was/what I wanted. This led to years of such severe anxiety I didn’t know how I survived. Thank goodness that through never actually giving up and endlessly questing for answers and I now really feel with some help from a higher power – over the last few years I have left my abusive marriage and reunited with my first love and am creating a whole new life for myself. I have some way to go but by discovering and facing all three of these reasons for my anxiety I am unrecognisable from the shell of a woman I was a few years ago. For me the main thing was realising how emotional abuse had been prevalent in my family and this had set me up to be abused by others. I still find it hard to get my head around that even a parent does not necessarily have their own child’s wellbeing at heart. My Dad and his side of the family supported my abusive ex during our divorce and I eventually cut off contact because they wouldn’t ensure my safety and I could not trust them. Of course – they would rubbish this and say it’s all in my head – just like the same things they used to say to me as a child! (And they wonder why I grew up with issues). I feel so worried still for people who suffer terrible emotional problems caused at least in part from people in their own family who are abusing them but it goes below the radar because I think it is hard to find true healing until you are aware of all the poison in your life. A good piece of advice is to think about whether you can truly be relaxed in someone’s company. You might think you have a good relationship with someone but if you feel on edge around them or their actions don’t show they rule care about you – something is wrong.

  • Barbara says:

    I experienced serious abuse and ridicule at home as a young girl and just kept it all inside. I survived by doing well in school, and people pleasing. I have a lot of anger in me, way down. How can I go about addressing, expressing, owning this anger? Thanks.

    • Roland says:

      It needs to be done carefully and preferably with people you feel safe with or in a therapeutic setting as anxiety will mount first while you start expressing anger/boundaries. Writing can be a good tool to start with as well.

  • Hele says:

    …”And that absence of boundaries makes for confusion as to who you are and what you want, and also who the other is and what they want, as you are constantly adapting to others… this gives rise to a lack of “sense of self”…
    Clearly, the third is me.
    This explains why I used to be (a bit less so now) socially clueless, always trying to figure out what the “normal people” do in any given social gathering. I was (still do, at times) continuously analyzing/observing the dynamics of a gathering of people in a conversation, while being the bystander, though by nature I’m not shy; often feeling that what I added to the conversation was insignificant, that I was insignificant, almost invisible.
    You have given me some work to do. As always, thanks for the amazing insights.

  • Hele says:

    Why does the suppression of anger result in a lack of boundaries?

    • Roland says:

      Boundaries and anger are of the same energy. If not expressed or contained in turns into anger, if healthily expressed it becomes boundaries and more clarity.

  • Lyann says:

    anger and frustration are how my symptoms are displayed – from childhood emotional / physical abuse and then sexual abuse. Of course, you could never acknowledge there was a problem – it was always put on a ‘brave’ face. I want to understand it but it is hard to relive it.

  • Julie says:

    As an adoptee I had PTSD from my first day of my life. But as most adoptees I was a pleaser, afraid to be myself for fear of another abandonment and also unable to express my feelings due to lack of words to even put to them. What I felt was unhappy and unworthy. Then came my reunion with my birth family 15 years ago at age 52. The floodgates opened, all the repressed anger, all the time insecurities, all the doubt about my worthiness as a person. It’s only grown over the years. I don’t know how to contain it or deal with it. But I trulybwish I hadn’t opened Pandoras box. Too much pain. Maybe therapy would help but it seems to embedded in my psyche….

    • Roland says:

      Hi Julie. Thanks for your comment and sharing your story. Keep tuned in here and to the resources available. Therapy with the right person would definitely help.

  • kay says:

    #3 currently resonates with me, it continues to rear its ugly head, even though I have been in counselling for a couple of years and understand
    * why* I react he way I do, it still continues. I recognise that I slip back into *numbness* as a protection mode. I also still have unresolved fears around 2 life threatening health issues from 12 years ago, one in which I lost *my voice*, so little me feels still the pain of having to speak with an electronic device… I have spent possibly almost 60 years of my life presenting a façade to the world whilst I am dying inside.
    Thank you Roland for this information…

  • Karen says:

    I have been looking at your work and it is frightening how accurate you are. I can relate to everything, my life is “my normal” never considered it was anything else till now.

  • Kelly says:

    All of them for me, I was abused as a child, bullied at school and work, first tried to kill myself at 12 years old had no help for it just got abused even more. I now have trust and anger problems can’t trust a therapist I’ve had 30 plus over the years, they just drug me up anyway, I struggle with every relationship in my life, my partner is leaving soon and it will be me and my cat once she dies, well……

  • Giordano says:

    Even having a balanced life and not having deep problems, anxiety may arise if my attention is totally directed toward outside.. news..noise… all kind of forms without any insight of my inner state of consciousness…
    a space for quietness and self-observation helps me to return in the.. here and now…and dissolves anxiety

  • Nicole says:

    How do you go into the past and bring up th residue and deal with it ? Isit it a chemical reaction a emotional release of trauma of past hurts ? How does the pain surface and where does it go ?
    I have battled anxiety for so long and it affects my relationships the most especially with my loved ones. This was born from my upbringing. How do we go back and remember then resurface to surrender ?

    • Roland says:

      It is a careful process of negotiating allowance to ‘sit’ with activation and uncomfortable feeling of the past and by doing that slowly on process that emotional residue. If it is hard to do on your own I’d suggest to do with someone who know the territory.

  • Maggie says:

    I relate to number three. Since both parents have passed there are a lot of unanswered questions. One right out lied to my sister and I on her death bed.

  • Louise says:

    The third type of anxiety definitely resonates with me, I feel i suffered trauma from early emotional neglect and as I was growing up I was never able to express anger. My self esteem and sense of myself has been affected throughout my life and when my wounds are triggered, I can experience what feels like extreme anxiety and feels extremely debilitating where I go into freeze or flight mode and I feel like I disappear into myself and become a shell. I experienced this recently while I was on a personal development course and even though some people were supportive, I massively struggled and found the whole experience diminishing and very difficult. I have had therapy and tried many types of personal development for a number of years now, however the anxiety continues and can feel totally debilitating at times.

  • Claire says:

    What do you mean when you say anxiety splits your sense of time?

  • Louise says:

    Whao Roland – you put into words exactly what I am dealing with right now. I have PTSD and as a grown up child of a father with a drinking problem. I am conecting with all the layers of mixed up emotions and learning – not to survive but to live. It’s one step at a time. It might be babysteps but it’s my steps. BCST and talking to a priest is what works for me. In both ways I feel another person holding my heart and I move closer to myself – my inner self.

  • Aine says:

    I really enjoyed this article along with others ive read on the subject here. I used to find it harder to have boundaries and say no when asked to do something I didnt want to do but now with 4 kids I am able to say no more but its still hard and I realise I put more value on everyone elses time.
    I have definately gotten in touch with my anger in the last 2 years but its embedded in fear and anxiety, sometimes I feel my anxiety is being expressed through anger as it feels slightly more safe than making me feel weak like I was as a child or vulnerable but this expression of anger makes me feel out of control and I dont know if its healthy or not, it can be overwhelming trying to heal or connect with the broken parts within

  • christabel says:

    this was quite helpful as I could relate it to some my cases and it gives more insight as to how they react in certain ways to situations

  • Mary says:

    Dear Roland,
    Having problems re-finding the article on which i wished to comment… It was about child abuse/ neglect and homed in on “idolizing the neglectful parent” in a situation where the other parent is domineering and physically/ verbally abusive. You give as an example a domineering mother and a father who is unable to protect his children (or himself) from her excesses…
    Once again, i find you have hit-the-nail-on-the-head as regards getting to the heart of what went wrong in my childhood. And yes, i did – and to a certain extent still do – idolize my father. He was gentle, affectionate, a talented musician… (and i am so proud to have inherited some of his own talents!) But sadly unable to cope with a marriage partner who (obviously) had suffered a traumatic childhood (of which she was in total denial) and was so completely unable to give or receive affection… My mother, God love her, never ever – not even ONCE – told me she loved me. Never hugged or kissed me (or my sister) though she DID seem to show affection for our brother, however, it was a sorta greedy affection (if you know what I mean?) it was only given with the intention of being reciprocated. It was not selfless or without a ‘payback’ required. Thus my brother grew to hate our mother even MORE than me or my sister ever did.
    Our saviour was our paternal grandmother who lavished affection on both of us (though I was desperately jealous and tried to hog ‘Nanny’s affection all for myself!)

    As you outline in your description of the weak father/ abusive mother scenario, both myself and my sister have tended to idolize our father (i always did but – in my view – my sister has only done so since his death) Of course i am over-simplifying what was really a complex and dreadful childhood for all 3 of us – and a not atal unusual situation in our country during the ’60’s and ’70’s. Yeah. We survived. Sort of. None of us talking to each other any more… God! What hope is there that we have not equally traumatized our own children, despite desperately wanting something better for them?? ,”( Mary

  • Terry says:

    The only cure is mindfulness and being present. Anxiety is projecting the past into the now or future. The egoic mind must be terminated do not subsume to its hectic spirialing insidious entropy! It’s the path to insanity not the yellow brick road

  • Maggie says:

    I could totally relate to all of it, the egg shell wlking and knowing what topics cannot spoke of.

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