36 People Answer “What’s A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?”

Many people, not without reason, believe that childhood is the happiest time in a person’s life. A period when you don’t have to solve a huge number of various everyday problems, when you constantly learn something new, when you meet new friends and literally every day is like a true holiday.

Of course, for some, all this is 100% true. And yet, for many people, childhood is far from being as bright as we would like – and as, of course, it should have been. There are many reasons for this, and the main one, alas, is problems in the family or the environment of the child. And then additional troubles are already strung on this rod, leaving people alone with a harsh and sometimes cruel world.


A popular thread appeared in the AskReddit community, the author of which asked only one formally simple, but in fact incredibly complex question: “What’s a subtle sign that someone had a rough childhood?” As of today, the thread has over 20.1K upvotes and around 5.6K comments. Behind many of these examples lies a difficult personal story, and many of them are literally woven from pain. has put together a selection of the most popular comments from the original thread for you, so please feel free to scroll to the very end of this list, mark the submissions you think are the most accurate and just tell us your own ideas on how to spot a person with a rough childhood behind them (and how one could help such a person as well).

More info: Reddit



Insanely independent. They’ve learned not to trust anyone to help them so do everything themselves.

anon , HuyNgan Report


36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" When things get tense, they move and breathe very silently and are hyper aware of everything that is happening and everyone else’s actions.

I find that they also read people very well, but still have poor judgement when it comes to close relationships.


magpai , Lukas_Rychvalsky Report


36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Haphephobia, or the fear of being touched, is definitely one of them. Flinching at loud noises or quick movements. Wanting to be at work and doing good all the time. Inconsistent hobby practice- i.e. drawing, but only sometimes drawing, and then dismissing what you drew as “not good enough”.

HelloMissMurphy , Luke Detwiler Report

A recent study shows that living in poor or depressed neighborhoods has the greatest impact on children’s development, ahead of family financial stress, s*xual or physical abuse, and growing up in single-parent families. In addition, the researchers found that stressful conditions experienced before the age of three had a much greater impact than later in life.

“The first three years of life may be an especially important period for shaping biological processes that ultimately give rise to mental health conditions,” says Erin Dunn from the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit in the MGH Center for Genomic Medicine.

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Seeming like they have it all together and definitely don’t need any help from anyone. Oh something serious is happening, make a joke! Oh your anxiety is dibilitating? Better go isolate yourself because god forbid you let anyone know you’re struggling and that you could use some support!

anon , Mario A. P. Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Either isolated or poor choices in friends, unhealthy romantic relationships, unhealthy use of substances, low self esteem, dependence on others for validation, poor self regulation of emotions and behaviour, easily heightened and/ or experience anxiety, no goals or lower than they could achieve and anything else and any combination of these

BushElk , Wokandapix Report

“Based on my professional experience, I can say that a very large part of the mental issues and complexes of adults have their origin in childhood,” confirms Irina Matveeva, a psychologist and certified NLP specialist, whom also asked for comment. “And the sooner a person realizes their difficulties and turns to a specialist, the easier it will be to cope with this.”

“In fact, literally any event of a negative nature in childhood can affect the child’s psyche, since it is extremely flexible at this age. We perceive information from completely different angles in childhood, so that something totally harmless from an adult point of view can leave a really negative imprint on the psyche of the kid. That is why adults need to be very, very careful and restrained in their parenting process.”

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" low self esteem, feels obligated to deal with things all on their own to not ‘bother’, has severe trust issues, either pours all their love on something/someone and doesn’t know when to stop or doesn’t give a shoot.

princessinsweatpants , Nenad Stojkovic Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" They apologise habitually, compulsively, and for everything. Even for things that have nothing to do with them.

Roarlando , 1388843 Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" From the horse’s mouth:

* People-pleasing behaviours (class clown; always agrees)
* Overcompensating with laughter during conversation, in an attempt to appease others
* Self-isolating; stops contacting friends for seemingly no reason (due to feelings of inferiority/worthlessness)
* No motivation to make anything of themselves (believing they would only fail anyway)
* Allows themselves to be bullied; usually hangs out with/dates abusive people
* Conspiracy theorist (can’t live without a sense of impending doom; will unconsciously find one)
* Extremely nervous when doing new things in front of others
* “So mature for their age” = didn’t get to be a kid/teen
* Total inability to accept compliments
* No – or very few distant – friends as an adult
* Barely any memory of childhood
* No happy stories of childhood
* Extremely-negative self-talk

WhingeBinge , Trekking Rinjani Report

A classic example of a rough childhood in popular culture is Harry Potter, who had to grow up in a completely unfriendly environment at his aunt and uncle’s house. And while the end of the wizarding series is a happy one, the later play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” shows that the protagonist, alas, also failed to avoid mental issues in adulthood.

By the way, a popular fan theory says that the aunt and uncle treated little Harry so badly only because he had a fragment of Lord Voldemort’s soul in his own soul, in fact, another Horcrux that had a very strong evil influence on people. Perhaps this fact will now force you to take a fresh look at the story of the relationship between “the boy who lived” and his relatives…

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" They move extremely silently, as though they’ve been conditioned to not be heard or seen.

PS everyone that has ever worked on a kitchen line with me hate how they can’t hear me move around them.

RandyTheB , pen_ash Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" If they subconsciously memorize the sound of everyone’s footsteps. You can tell that someone has done this when they know you’re nearby to ask for something without looking, or even around a corner, or what have you.

Not just “identify family members” footsteps, that’s pretty easy to do if you live with them a long time, but if they can readily identify *everyone* around them, even just coworkers, based on their footsteps? At a minimum they’ve got some serious anxiety running in their brain 24/7 making them worry about who might be and what might they want so they’ve learned to discern who it is.

Valatros Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" My sister in law adopted 3 siblings who are completely self-sustainable at a very young age. When they were visiting, I noticed a lot.

-If I gave anything to the oldest boy, he would pass it off to the youngest sister. Then I’d give him another and it went to the middle-sister. Then I’d give him another and he’d finally keep it for himself.

-I asked if they wanted water. He said “yes” and I asked if the girls wanted water too. “Oh, we can all share this one.” Obviously I gave them all water, but that one hit me pretty hard.

-He knew their eating schedules and would nag my sister in law.

-Offered to make them mac and cheese or noodles or whatever we have laying around. Promised to clean up after. He was 12 years old.

-When “normal” kids play videogames, they’re glued. This kid was constantly checking over his shoulder to make sure everyone was safe and if he felt one of his sisters was up to no good, he would put the controller down even if it meant dying or losing his progress in the game.

-To elaborate on “up to no good” what the oldest brother considered bad behavior was pretty innocuous. There were several instances of things I consider normal childish behavior that he would regularly put a stop to. The most outstanding one was being too loud. It wouldn’t even be yelling or screaming. Just typical 5 year old make-believe noises that would cause him to run over and tell the little one to keep it down.

liquorlanche617 , Nick Page Report

By the way, based on another study made in 2016 by a group of German scientists, severe stress experienced in childhood can also affect our genes and be passed on to offspring. That is why it is so important to try to break this “vicious cycle” and live your life happily, together with your children.

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Being very calm and collected in serious/emergency situations. Having to deal with stressful stuff all my life has made me very capable in tense situations (This could go the complete opposite way too btw just my experience). Many of my friends have me listed as their emergency contacts instead of their parents because they’re like “I know that you can actually help instead of just flip out”.

My childhood wasn’t tough in the “my parents hated me/treated me badly” sense, but they are just basically children, completely unreliable, unable to plan, spiteful(in the way teens are). I had to take care of everything so now I’m just good at keeping it together.

Good people don’t always make good parents.

Edit: seems like many other people had similar experiences. Please remember to love yourselves and to still process all that stuff even tho you were calm at the time! (I say even tho I most certainly do NOT do that)

killerrainbows , josealbafotos Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Defensiveness.

If you’re one of those people who gets super defensive about even the slightest error, it’s usually a good sign that they grew up in an environment where it was definitely not okay to make mistakes.

MadameBurner , ttarasiuk Report

My now boyfriend always used to say jokes like;
Nah you dont hurt me its way worse at home.
But he had a look on his face after saying those type of jokes and nooobody saw it i guesse? So one night when we where on a call I asked him if every thing was alright and if those joke were really a joke. He was quiete for 5 second and told me everything, after that i learned that some people knew but just ignored it. He was so relieve that someone could see his pain and was willing to talk about it. After 3-4 months after that, we where together and are still together. He is the nicest person i have ever met.

lNekoNii Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Insecurity.

My Psychology professor used to joke that, “Psychology is the study of common sense.” When someone is Insecure, it is generally because they lacked security as a child. Parental love was typically conditional and varied depending on the caretaker’s mood. The child becomes insecure due to love not being guaranteed, so to ‘earn’ this basic need, they will go throughout life trying to ‘solve social puzzles’ that don’t exist. solving imaginary puzzles all the time can prove to be fatiguing, so these individuals tend to isolate themselves.

squeeeeenis , aaayyymm eeelectriik Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Can’t figure out whether or not to permanently cut off contact with s****y parents, or who go back and forth, cutting off and trying again, and cutting off and trying again.

Even considering it means your childhood was X s****y. And if you want to but can’t do it, it probably means your childhood was X times sh*ttier than that, to erode your sense of self and healthy boundaries to the point where you know what you have to do, but have been brainwashed by your oppressors to the point where you can’t bring yourself to do it.

ctruemane , Brian Arechiga Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Someone who is very good at staying calm. Like, creepy calm. The room could be on fire and they’d walk out like nothing was wrong.

korebean , oleg_mit Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Boundary issues are common, but reactions still are an individual thing. What helps to keep in mind is the 4F model of trauma responses: Fight, flight, fawn and freeze. When you notice somebody’s reactions are easily categorized as one of those and it is a very persistent pattern, adverse childhood circumstances of some sort are a pretty safe bet.

Edit: to fawn = to court favor by a cringing or flattering manner, so basically the stuff pathological people pleasers are made of.

felis_magnetus , tangi bertin Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Someone who is really uncertain in decision making and never wants to put anyone out of their way. They may also be really loving, but are really scared to be hurt

lukerpatrick , Surprising_Shots Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Everyone is different, but one that automatically raises a red flag for me, and makes me extremely worried is when someone flinches for “no reason”. (I wouldn’t say It’s for no reason, but I don’t know what other words to use. So really sorry about that!).

Like, you raise your voice slightly at them and they flinch, you raise your hands to grab something near them and they flinch, you look at them in a certain way and they flinch, you hug them and they flinch, etc., etc.

yukkkkkk , Jon Seidman Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Mine was when I would say to my wife, our kids won’t have an upbringing like mine I want them to have the best. I thought most people thought like this turns out nope. When my kids were little my mum would say why do you go the kids sports day and the school play the won’t remember I turned and said “oh I remember everyone you weren’t there for which was easy cause you only came once and moaned about how long the carol service was because you wanted to go out and get p*ssed”. sorry this is long winded i just needed to vent.

Dirk_diggler22 , Igor Spasic Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Having the ability to function as their own parent at a young age. Talking like an adult at a young age. Anything else that shows they had to grow up fast.

To everyone else who wants to split hairs over “talking like an adult” please stop explaining your interpretation of this phrase. People who have seen it know what I’m talking about. It’s great if you are raising your kid to speak properly or understand adult topics, obviously I’m not referring to such a situation.
Also the question is “what’s a subtle sign that someone had a rough childhood?” not “ what’s an obvious sign of ABUSE!!!?”.

Hopelesleeoptimistic , Xander John Dacyon Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" I am overly sensitive to people’s emotions or feelings. If someone is quiet for too long I get nervous and think they’re angry with me. I also flinch when people come at me from behind or unexpectedly, both of these are difficult to explain in friendships with people with different childhoods because it’s easy to misinterpret anxiety as insecurity and downplay disproportionate reactions. I still have a hard time explaining that I actually hate being tickled/grabbed and I laugh and scream out of instinct and not fun.

w33dbaby , HolgersFotografie Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Constant analysis of non-verbal cues. I spent my childhood trying to read tiny signals that my abusers sent, that were imperceptible to most people, but big red flags to me. The problem comes when you assume that these signals apply to all people, not just the a******s. I’m triggered by things that my gentle and loving partner does, because my abusers sighed that way, or tapped his hand that way, or got that glint in his eye. My partner is just trying to exist, and I read into everything that he unconsciously does. It’s hard for me to retrain my mind… But I’m working on it with a licensed counselor. I’ve spent nearly 4 decades of my life in flight or fight…. It’s good to be emerging from that mode.

Almostdevine , StockSnap Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" I remember going to summer camp as a kid and meeting Milo. Milo was big on attention seeking and validation, and would take food from the cafeteria back to his bunk, like eggs and toast. I remember thinking he was just weird, but I think looking back and knowing what I know now, he was probably being neglected at home. Thin as a rail and probably malnourished, so he wanted as much food as he could get, and just wanted someone to acknowledge him. Pretty sad stuff.

anon , Nenad Stojkovic Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Jumping at every loud noise, apologizing too much, difficulty maintaing eye contact in stressful situations, if the person suffers from insomnia or severe migraines (this is in my case, the stress from my childhood gave me chronic migraines) and there are many more. These are just from my perspective

Edit: i know that these are also symptoms of anxiety, some are for people/children on the spectrum, these are purely my reactions after suffering a very weird childhood.

lux*y847 , Jorge Franganillo Report

If someone has really simple taste in food, eating mostly PB&J or buttered noodles or whatever, there’s a good chance they grew up poor.

That isn’t to say a poor childhood is necessarily a rough one, just be careful about making fun of someone for only eating “basic” food, that might be all they know.

Notmiefault Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" Watch their table manners.

Meals are forced contact time in bad households and it can easily show. Some examples are becoming less talkative or withdrawn during meals, they realize their elbow is on the table and they jerk it away quickly, or something innocuous like a sneeze at the table causes undue shame or embarrasment.

Conversely, someone who grew up without parental guidance can also develop odd eating habits. In the case of a co-worker of mine, they collect the condiments near them. She would pull the ketchup bottle out of the little rack on the table, use it, and then keep it by her plate instead of putting it back. I asked if she was done with it, and she said, “Oh, sorry. I ate a lot of meals alone growing up.” Turns out she grew up with a single mom who worked 2 jobs, and she was used to nobody being there to pass things.

TGIrving , Michaela Report

36 People Answer "What's A Subtle Sign That Someone Had A Rough Childhood?" The first lesson we learn in childhood is: How much am I worth?

Our caregivers are the first to reflect this worth to us – from when we are infants and toddlers (if we cry, will someone come to us? if we fall down, will someone pick us up?) to when we are kids and teenagers (do our caretakers choose to spend time with us? do we get help with schoolwork/friend drama?). There is an important balance here. As kids, we want to be taught that we are *equally* important as everyone else.

Some kids are taught they are less important, and as adults, they may have a hard time asking for help. They think they are “bothering” someone when they have a problem. They may also prioritize the needs of others based on an underlying belief that other people are more important. Some kids are taught that they’re *more* important than others, and therefore treat others poorly and have trouble learning empathy. They try to justify, in their own minds, why they are “better”, which can lead to some narcissistic-type thinking/behavior.


Lesson: Can I make effective changes in my life? (Basically learning independence – tying shoes, getting a job, resolving conflicts, etc. We want a healthy balance here, a feeling of “for the most part I got this, but sometimes I need help”. Kids who are neglected sometimes feel they can only rely on themselves. Kids who had their problems solved by over-involved caregivers often don’t trust themselves as adults, or never learned how to struggle in healthy ways.)
Lesson: Is the world of safe place? (Again, balance is key here. We want to learn how to take realistic precautions to protect ourselves from the normal dangers of living. We don’t want to get tipped into thinking “the world is terrible and I can’t do anything to keep myself safe” nor do we want to think that nothing bad will ever happen to us.)

panickedwordsmith , dadblunders Report

Sometimes they feel emotionally distant. Like, you can talk to them just fine and it seems like they’re being open to you, but it feels like they’re emotionally untouchable, as if they have walls and barriers put up, but are trying to hide it.

They’ll either be apathetic or grandiose to hide how they might be hurting, this is just in my case, but maybe because showing vulnerability in their family would just be used as ammunition against them in the next argument .

They might keep you at arms length at first, but once you get to know them and really connect with them, they’ll practically hold you above all things, as if you are an essential part of their lives.

TheModernRouge Report

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