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Adverse Childhood Experiences

10 Pet Peeves Driven by Childhood Trauma

Being interrupted, ignored, left waiting, and more.

Key points

  • Those who grew up in dysfunctional environments may struggle more deeply emotionally due to internal triggers.
  • Learning about one's trauma wounds is less about blame and more about self-understanding. 
  • Waiting, being interrupted, and being ignored are common pet peeves or triggers.
Source: Pexels/Pixabay
Source: Pexels/Pixabay

Those who experienced trauma often have triggers that follow certain themes that mimic the behavior they experienced in childhood. When these experiences are repeated, they become emotionally activated.

While having pet peeves is a normal human experience, if you find yourself highly activated and unable to shake off the difficult feelings, there might be a connection to your childhood.

Childhood trauma can affect our development and shape our reactivity to subsequent stressors. (Danese & Baldwin, 2017) Here are 10 of the most common emotional activators, or triggers, among childhood family trauma survivors that I have witnessed:

1. Being cut off in traffic or line can trigger the wound of being pushed aside like you do not matter or are not seen/valued. This is so common that we would be an outlier if this didn't bother us. But while most people find this behavior annoying due to the disrespect and entitlement it displays, they are able to recognize that the arrogant action was more about the other person and less about them. Others, especially those whose childhood wounds were activated, become extremely upset–or even enraged. This is because they internalized the behavior, bringing up feelings of not being seen or heard in childhood, being pushed aside, or being walked over.

2. Being interrupted can trigger the wound of being talked over by caregivers and treated like our words do not matter. We have all sat in a meeting with people who interrupt each other. And while many of us would agree that interrupting is rude, we vary in our level of frustration at the behavior when it happens to us. If you are unable to let it go, and instead become confrontational or aggressive, it could be that this behavior is activating an inner wound of being talked over and treated like your opinions do not matter.

3. Eating a meal with someone on their phone can trigger the wound of being ignored. Many of us have that friend who is constantly on their phone. You could be in the middle of a deep, soul-bearing conversation, and she answers an unknown number, "because you never know!" which completely changes the flow and energy of the conversation. This is extremely frustrating. But if you become overly upset by this, it could bring up feelings of being ignored and dismissed from childhood.

4. Waiting can trigger the wound of not knowing if needs will be met. Few of us enjoy waiting. But the familiar feeling of having to wait often brings up inner triggers of waiting for caregivers who were distracted or otherwise unable to meet our needs in that moment. This left the child wondering if their needs would be met.

5. Being put on the spot can trigger the wound of being in trouble. This is a common trigger for people put on the spot in childhood, either by authoritarian parents or caregivers who displayed dysfunctional communication traits such as triangulation and gaslighting. Being put on the spot activates that part of the brain that remembers feeling "stuck," worried that whatever we say will get us in more trouble.

Researchers have found that childhood trauma alters brain activation patterns involved in decision-making. Interestingly, people who experienced childhood trauma and stress also struggle with decision-making (Birn et al., 2017). Therefore, they are likely to feel even more frustrated when they have to make a quick decision.

6. One-uppers can trigger the wound of being dismissed. We all have that friend or coworker who tries to "one-up" every experience we have. You had a bad day? His was worse. Your kid won an award at school? Her kid won three. While it might be worth trying to ignore this person, it's understandable that their actions are annoying, especially for people whose achievements or concerns were dismissed in childhood.

7. People who constantly talk about their diet can trigger the wound of body shame. Many people who experienced childhood family trauma also struggle with self-esteem and body image, and may even use food to cope with negative feelings. Being around someone constantly talking about their body, what they dislike about it, and whatever new diet they are on can be draining. And for many, it brings up uncomfortable feelings about our own bodies.

8. Being lied to can trigger the wound of being unable to trust. Many people lie every day, whether about silly things or bigger things. We cannot control someone else's willingness to tell the truth. Knowing that you have been lied to often brings up uncomfortable feelings of being gaslit. It can remind you that you came from a childhood with caregivers who were untrustworthy, which made you feel unsafe.

9. Passive-aggressive behavior can trigger a wound from behavior experienced in childhood. For those who grew up in homes with caregivers who behaved in a passive-aggressive way, experiencing the same in adulthood takes us back to that feeling of being a small child unable to express their discomfort with their environment.

10. Being teased can trigger the wound of having boundaries violated. Teasing is a common display of affection for people in social groups. However, someone who was made fun of or ridiculed in childhood might be more sensitive to teasing than others who did not have this experience. In childhood, many were not allowed to express their discomfort and were forced to pretend they didn't care. This familiar feeling can cause them to feel uncomfortable when teased in adulthood.

Learning about our trauma wounds is less about blame and more about understanding. Parenting is a hard job for anyone, let alone someone without the emotional tools to handle the job. Learning more about our history can help us know how to move forward.

While many of these pet peeves are commonplace, those who grew up in dysfunctional home environments may struggle with them more deeply due to internal triggers. Experiencing them brings up uncomfortable feelings from a stressful and chaotic childhood, during which we had no control and felt unsafe. This familiar feeling will cause us to react now as if we were still in childhood. However, it's important to remember that in adulthood, we are safe and can walk away from situations that make us uncomfortable.

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Birn, R. M., Roeber, B. J., & Pollak, S. D. (2017). Early childhood stress exposure, reward pathways, and adult decision making. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(51), 13549-13554.

Danese & Baldwin. 2017. Hidden Wounds? Inflammatory Links Between Childhood Trauma and Psychopathology. Accessed 5/20/2023 from:…

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