Can Childhood Abuse Cause Anxiety Disorder?

April 8, 2015 Greg Weber

Can childhood abuse cause anxiety disorder? That's a question many with mental illness have asked themselves. Anxiety disorder is a primary or comorbid mental health issue that affects millions of people all over the world, so it's a natural thing to wonder about. But, can anxiety disorder actually be caused by childhood abuse?

Do you suspect childhood abuse may have caused your adult anxiety disorder? Learn more about the hidden link between anxiety and childhood abuse.In my particular case, I feel that most of my struggles with anxiety disorder and depression were directly caused by childhood abuse. I grew up in a family marked by violence, neglect, child sexual abuse, and alcoholism. Plus, my mother suffered from severe -- and largely untreated -- depression and anxiety. I know that the trauma I endured as a child, and the resulting post-traumatic stress disorder I developed as an adult, have profoundly (and negatively) impacted my psyche. I will carry some of those scars for the rest of my life.

The Link Between Anxiety Disorder and Childhood Abuse

Social and medical science have long suspected that childhood abuse plays a strong role in the development of mental health disorders later in life, especially problems with anxiety disorder and depression. Scientific disciplines that have examined this link include psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and neurology.

However, the systematic study of the effects of childhood abuse is a fairly recent phenomenon. One major reason is Sigmund Freud's theory of the unconscious mind. It was later suggested that Freud's theoretical construct was a cover for the descriptions of actual sexual abuse he was hearing from the patients on his now famous couch. Victorian-era Europe was very hostile towards the idea of widespread childhood abuse, which is not surprising, considering the repressive and highly patriarchal nature of early 20th century society. The result of Freud's theories, some claim, is that serious study of the link between childhood abuse and emotional problems like anxiety disorder got delayed for at least 60 years after Freud's death.

Childhood Abuse Can Definitely Cause Anxiety Disorder

It's now widely accepted that childhood abuse can indeed cause anxiety disorder, along with a wide range of other mental health issues. The rather vague term "childhood abuse" is generally understood by most researchers to include the following:

  • Child neglect / abandonment
  • Sexual abuse
  • Child physical abuse
  • Shaming / berating / criticizing / humiliating
  • Bullying
  • Witnessing physical / sexual abuse of a parent or sibling
  • Witnessing abuse of animals
  • Homelessness / not having enough to eat / extreme poverty

Does this mean that all anxiety disorders are the result of childhood abuse? No, of course not, although experiencing childhood abuse does greatly increase the likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder later in life. Anxiety disorder may also be the result of genetics, neurological problems, and many other poorly understood factors.

Childhood abuse can certainly cause anxiety disorder, although it's by no means the only cause. My personal feeling is that childhood abuse is still more prevalent than we as a society believe. Facing childhood abuse can be very, very painful, and I believe it's impossible to do it alone. Fortunately, many helpful resources exist, including the HealthyPlace Abuse Issues forum.

I've gained significant freedom from facing some of my own abuse, but there's still a lot left to deal with. Some of it I will never be able to deal with, and that's okay. Even though childhood abuse has caused much of my anxiety disorder, I'm grateful for the relief I have experienced from facing those issues as best I can.


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APA Reference
Weber, G. (2015, April 8). Can Childhood Abuse Cause Anxiety Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 16 from

Author: Greg Weber

May, 29 2018 at 1:19 am

VERY helpful. excellent research too.

Frank Gerkman
November, 1 2017 at 9:47 am

Social anxiety, generalized anxiety, avoidant personality, depressive reaction and anti-social personality are all consequences of being born in a post WWII DP refugee camp and experiencing harsh physical/emotional punishment at the hands of a father who himself was damaged as a result of the war. Beatings, abuse, neglect and "bad programming" haunt me to this day.

charlotte bignell
October, 11 2017 at 10:10 pm

thanks very much most helpful xx

charlotte bignell
September, 21 2017 at 12:03 am

fab article i am currently looking into this myself and was wondering how childabuse can affect relationships as adults and how the anxiety caused from childhood trauma effects relationships with partners, id be grateful for any info you may have on this or personal experiences? many thanks charlotte

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 21 2017 at 3:35 am

Hi, Charlotte ~
Childhood trauma can have lasting effects into adulthood, including on relationships. You might want to look into some information on things like PTSD from childhood abuse and attachment or adjustment disorders. These links may get you started:…,…,

April, 11 2015 at 8:37 am

Childhood abuse can cause Anxiety Disorder, Depression and some other conditions as well, within the adult years. Nicely written article, with some great content. Respectfully.

April, 10 2015 at 12:37 pm

Childhood abuse most certainly causes anxiety problems in adulthood!!

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