When an adolescent experiences symptoms of post-traumatic stress, it’s not unusual for her parents to feel confused and suspicious. That’s because it’s incredibly painful for a parent to know that their child has been so deeply wounded. In fact, it can be so difficult to process a child’s trauma that the parent may unwittingly minimize and deny—it’s just too much to take in.
When this happens, parents may experience their own sympathetic PTSD symptoms. Other times, they may see only the acting out behaviors that are symptomatic of the trauma, such as distancing, shutting down, anxiety reactions, situational avoidance, etcetera. This further compounds confusion as the parent wonders, “who is this person? This is not my child. My daughter does not do these things.”
In treatment, the key to moving through this denial and confusion is to provide a parallel process to both the child and the parents when trauma is suspected. Working through the parents’ own PTSD and/or denial can, in turn, help them cope with their daughter’s trauma. Once they understand that their daughter will be okay, the denial often breaks and real progress in family system can occur.