Living with anxiety can often feel, for those who are affected, like tasks and situations that come so easily to others – things that are non- eventful – are such a struggle for them. “I feel like my brain is broken,” is something you might hear a lot from those who struggle with anxiety. They don’t understand why they notice what they notice, and fixate what they fixate on, while it feels like everyone around them just sort of skates through life. The smallest comment from a neighbor or feedback from a boss can leave their mind and body riddled with anxiety for days, interrupting their sleep, and even manifesting in physical ways such as stomach aches and teeth grinding.
The truth is that anxiety disorders rarely come from nowhere. Like many mental disorders dealt with as adults, anxiety comes from – you guessed it – childhood. At least that’s true in many cases. Traumatic experiences in adulthood can certainly lead to anxiety disorders, but for a lot of individuals, persistent and prevalent dynamics from their childhood are to blame. While it can feel futile saying, “This is my parents’ fault,” there can be some peace found in knowing that some situations would give anyone adult anxiety. It’s not just you. Here are childhood dynamics that have been proven to increase the risk of adult anxiety,
Growing up in financial stress
Those who only face financial stress for the first time as adults might have the mental tools to combat that. Growing up in a stable and financially fruitful home gave them a solid foundation from which they could assess adulthood financial stress. But children who grow up in poverty don’t yet have the mental tools to distance themselves from the associated stress. The bills fall on their parents, sure, but the children internalize the constant stress their parents feel and express surrounding money. According to ScienceDaily, research shows that growing up in poverty increases both stress and feelings of helplessness in adults. A study even found that sons have a 40 percent likelihood of making the same type of income their fathers did, which doesn’t bode well for kids who grew up in poverty, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported. Participants in one study were asked to remember sequences of information. Those who grew up in poverty remembered much less information than the others in the group, showing that growing up in poverty can even impact one’s ability to absorb information.
Having controlling parents
If you grew up with extremely strict parents, there is a good chance that you struggle with anxiety today. Growing up in conditions where there was no or little room to make a mistake or try things a new way can lead to a constant fear that you’ll get in trouble from authority figures or romantic partners as an adult. Research cited by Child Development found children who grew up with overly-controlling parents struggle to develop a sense of autonomy later, and even making the smallest of decisions on their own causes stress. In many cases, controlling parents use manipulation tactics, such as giving a child a silent treatment when they fail to make the parent happy. This can, naturally, also lead to an anxious disposition later in life.
Having highly critical parents
If you grew up in a home where nothing you ever did was good enough, you may struggle with anxiety today. While some parents make a point to reward the effort rather than the results, or to give the positive feedback along with the constructive criticism, others only focus on what the kid did wrong, or whether or not they “succeeded” by conventional standards. So, rather than being applauded for placing in the top three of a tournament, you’re criticized for the reasons you weren’t number one. Children who grow up in such a household tend to grow up and develop an overreaction to adversity. Not getting that job or not getting that second date feels like the end of the world, rather than the small bump in the road it feels like for others. Scientific American shared research that showed those who grew up with overly-critical parents have higher levels of what the psychology community calls “Error Related Negativity.” Essentially, it’s an intense reaction to making mistakes. Put simply, these individuals are too hard on themselves.
Having parents who fought often
Parents who no longer love each other but are staying together for the kids might pay attention to this one. Children who grow up in a household where the parents constantly fight are at a high risk for developing anxiety in adulthood. Research finds that witnessing parental violence can be especially problematic, and children who suffer that are not only more likely to develop depression and alcohol dependency as adults, but they’re also more likely to commit violence against their own partner. Even if parents “leave the kids out of it,” children can often still hear the fighting go on. Children are also smarter than we think, and they pick up on tension between parents – even when it’s silent. It can lead them to be in a constant state of fearing everything is about to fall apart.
Growing up with a chronically ill parent
Unfortunately, there is little any parent can do to prevent this. So while the cause is often unavoidable, the results are important to be aware of. Children who grow up with a chronically ill parent are at a higher risk for developing mental illness later in life. A research article published in BMC Public Health it can show up both externally, through issues like aggression and delinquency, as well as internally, through issues such as depression, social isolation, and, of course, anxiety. Worrying about the health and survival of a parent is not the natural order of things. That’s usually what the parent worries about for their child – not the other way around. This dynamic can rob children of what are typically the care-free years of their life and put them in a constant state of worry.
Being a middle child
Middle child syndrome is very real, so if you feel some of your problems result from being the second in a row of three children, you’re not wrong. Research has found that being a middle child correlates with many issues later in life. Studies have consistently shown that the middle child is typically less family oriented than the eldest and youngest child, meaning they’re already in a place of having less family connection and feeling less family support. Middle children are also more prone to perfectionism, which welcomes anxiety, and are more likely to become aggravated when things do not go as planned.