Trauma symptoms in teens can be caused by many things, from in utero stress, to adoption, or an unwanted event.
Because traumatic events can be partly or completely blocked from the memory, it can be difficult to connect the symptoms of traumatic stress to traumatic events.
Healing takes time, but is possible.
Trauma is something that is forced upon another person that is not wanted.
What is trauma?
Trauma is something that is forced upon another person that is not wanted. It can be a single event (such as sexual assault, a car accident, or natural disasters), or a series of smaller incidences (such as relentless stress, bullying at school, or a life-threatening illness). Either way, the experience is so overwhelming that the brain isn’t able to process the event. Instead, the brain freezes and goes into a state of shock.
During or after a traumatic event, the logical side of the brain goes offline. It cannot process the event, so the experience is stored in the emotional side of the brain.
The emotional/survival part of the brain is trying to process the information, but it’s too big for the brain to handle and it gets stuck in a loop. This loop is what keeps the trauma victim from moving on, and why trauma victims often seem to “repeat” the trauma or put themselves in similar situations. This is the brain’s attempt to process the event.
How do you know if your daughter’s behaviors are signs of traumatic stress?
You might already know about a traumatic event in your daughter’s life, or you might be wondering if she’s experienced traumatic events she’s not telling you about.
To make things even harder, symptoms of traumatic stress can emerge years after traumatic experiences and your daughter might have blocked out the event from her memory. So even if she has no conscious memories of traumatic experiences, her body remembers and could be manifesting the symptoms of PTSD now.
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Symptoms of Emotional Trauma
The following are some of the most common signs parents see that are indicative or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):
- Withdrawal and other avoidance symptoms
- Feeling chronic shame/lack of self-worth
- Suicidal thoughts/gestures
- Struggles to follow rules and limits (more than the average teenager)
- Substance abuse
- Feelings of depression
- Feelings of anxiety
- School struggles
- Drastic changes in peer group; drawn to negative peer influences
- Less communication with family and close friends
- Poor self-care
- Drastic changes in interests and hobbies
- Sleep changes, including nightmares, fatigue, and insomnia
- Appetite changes
- Seeming to “recreate” the trauma by putting herself in similar situations
- Difficulty concentrating
- Easily startled
If these symptoms seem to be more severe or last longer than the average teen, or if she is struggling in multiple areas at once, they’re more likely to be symptoms of trauma.
Some of these symptoms can be part of normal teenage struggles. But if these symptoms seem to be more severe or last longer than the average teen, or if she is struggling in multiple areas at once, they’re more likely to be symptoms of trauma.
How can you help your daughter when you think she’s experiencing PTSD symptoms?
As a parent, you want to take away your daughter’s pain and fix the situation. One of the hardest things to do when trauma is involved is to accept that you can support her, but you cannot fix it or take away the pain.
Offer your daughter support and let her know you’re there for her, but don’t force her to talk or be with you. Give her some space if she wants it.
Try to maintain some normalcy in her life. Do things she enjoys, such as going to movies, shopping, going out to eat, or watching a sibling’s baseball game, without mentioning the trauma. Let her bring it up if and when she wants to.
If your daughter does open up to you, let her have the space she needs to talk and express herself. Allow her to experience the emotions without trying to fix it for her or console her immediately. Allow her to have the experience, and then validate her emotions. It can be hard to give her this space without jumping in to help. Remind yourself that she can heal, and healing will take time. Respect her process.
By letting her choose when she opens up, what she shares with you, and what kind of help she wants to pursue, she can feel a little more in control.
If you notice your daughter is coping in unhealthy ways, such as self-harm or substance abuse, don’t be afraid to point it out. Remind her that there are ways to heal and you’re willing to support her however she needs.
You can help her find local support groups, therapists specializing in trauma, and residential treatment centers. Find a variety of options (such as equine therapy or trauma-sensitive yoga) and let her look through the options and decide what will be a good fit for her. Let her know you can go with her, or let her go alone.
When your daughter has experienced psychological trauma, she has experienced a loss of control. By letting her choose when she opens up, what she shares with you, and what kind of help she wants to pursue, she can feel a little more in control.
What if my daughter doesn’t get better?
Children and teens are incredibly resilient. While no one survives trauma completely unscathed, many trauma survivors are able to accept the ongoing healing process, learn coping skills for the long-term effects of PTSD, and go on to live healthy, fulfilling lives.
But everyone is different, and many need extensive outside help to process the trauma and move forward. If your daughter is showing a lack of functioning in multiple areas, is experiencing co-occurring mental health disorders, or is posing any harm to herself or others, your daughter may need the 24-hour support and supervision of a residential treatment center.
About New Haven
New Haven Residential Treatment Center is a program specializing in helping teen girls and their families heal from traumatic stress. Your daughter will be able to heal from complex trauma, emotional distress, self-destructive behaviors, sexual abuse, and co-occurring mental health disorders in a safe, home-like environment.
To process through post-traumatic stress symptoms and other negative emotions, your daughter will participate in 20 hours/week of individual, family, and group therapy. As she rewrites her traumatic memories with the help of therapy and a supportive community, you’ll notice a decrease in emotional trauma symptoms and experience your daughter’s transformations into a healthy, empowered young woman.