Trauma in the Family: Teen with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
June is PTSD awareness month. PTSD is finally recognized as the serious mental health condition that it is. The long-term effects of untreated trauma are well documented. PTSD has multiple symptoms, that may include, but are not limited to flashbacks, emotional and physical responses to triggers that surround the traumatic incident(s), denial of the event(s), difficulty concentrating, startles easily, foreboding of the future, self-destructive behavior, depression, and hopelessness. Prognosis with targeted professional treatment is excellent. With no intervention, PTSD can continue to wreak havoc in your teen’s life.
Teens with PTSD present a wide variety of challenges within the family. Symptoms may vary from a low level of ongoing anger to full-fledged rages. While some teens shut down socially, and become emotionally unresponsive, and withdrawn, others may throw themselves into dangerous social settings. No two teens will experience PTSD symptoms the same, nor will their healing process be the same. This makes the healing process difficult.
Parents, feel helpless and unable to help teens heal, but you are a significant player in your teen’s healing process, supporting them the right way is imperative.
Accept that a new normal may become necessary. Trying to go back to the same way of living may not be possible. The new normal doesn’t have to be “bad.” It can actually be better. Adverse events can make us aware of things in life that we have taken for granted. The new normal may take time to establish; patience will be needed.
Create a safe space for your teen. Ask your teen what would help them feel safe again. Developing a routine may help. Your non-judgmental communication and unconditional acceptance will be invaluable in helping them to restore and regain feelings of self-love and self-acceptance.
Be aware that their personal boundaries have been violated. If the trauma experienced was a crime against their person, they may be sensitive to others in their space. If there was long-term abuse, teens might not know how to set appropriate boundaries. It’s important to model for them how to set boundaries and be careful to respect their personal boundaries, even if they aren’t aware of where their personal physical boundaries ought to be, you being conscientious of their personal physical space will help them recognize where to set their boundaries.
Be careful that you don’t send a message that they are in some way responsible for what has happened. Discussing the incident, especially crimes against the teen person, is a balancing act. The teen may be entrenched in self-blame, and any comment you make may be seen as a criticism of them. Then again, the teen may take your quietness as an indicator that they aren’t allowed to talk about the incident. Be available to LISTEN, when they need to talk. Allow them to express their sadness. Depending on the severity of the abuse, it may take years of therapy with a professional, for your teen to feel capable and safe again. So remember, they may appear to be doing well one day, and the next day or week, it may seem that they are back where they started from. Be reassuring and let them know that they are progressing.
Make sure that your teen isn’t re-exposed to the person who has hurt them. A firm statement must be sent to your teen that you are going to protect them. It will be a bitter feeling of betrayal for your teen to see that your friendship continues with someone who has violated them. Unfortunately, traumatic incidents happen most often within our ranks. Trauma may have been perpetrated against your teen by a family member, a close relative, a church member anyone within your close circle of associates, family, and friends. It’s crucial that your teen doesn’t come in contact with the perpetrator. Especially if a legal case is pending against the perpetrator.
Use your support system, and therapist to process what has happened. The traumatic incident not only happened to the identified victim but also happened to your family. You may be tempted to blame your spouse, and they may be tempted to blame you, but that doesn’t help anything. Both of you must take care of yourself, and your teen, so that the family can survive the tragedy and re-experience joy together as a family.
If you know parents who have a teen that is struggling with PTSD, please forward this blog to them. Whisper a prayer for their teen's speedy recovery, and lend a listening ear to them. They need your support!
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