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Hypervigilance is a common symptom after a trumatic event.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/Graphics Mouse

I’ve been a therapist for a decade now.  I’ve worked with teens in private practice for that entire duration.  I’ve heard a lot of different stories, many of which involve trauma.  I’ve noticed with trauma there is a natural tendency to incorrectly predict its effects on teens.  Some parents overreact, and others are so overwhelmed that they downplay the significance of the traumatic event.  For parents it’s a very helpless feeling when something horrific has happened to your child.

 

In 1926 a sweet baby girl was born to a young mother who was divorced with very few financial prospects in life.  While this girl’s early life was pleasant and full of love from her mother, eventually things began to unravel.  Her mother did not have enough money to care for her and she was placed into foster care.  Finally her mother was able to get her back, but when the young girl was 7.5 years old, her mother had a psychotic break from reality.  Her mother ended up diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.  What was a young girl with no father and now no mother to do in the 1930’s?  She was moved through foster cares and orphanages where she either felt alone and abandoned, or was sexually abused.  Eventually she married the first guy she could find simply to put some stability in her life.  Do you know whose story this is?  It’s Marilyn Monroe.  We all know the tragic ending her life took after three divorces and drug abuse struggles.  By the age of 36 she had overdosed, and it was called a likely suicide.

 

This isn’t to say that if you’re child has experienced a trauma they will end up like Marilyn Monroe.  What I am hoping to point out from her really sad story is that recurring trauma absolutely wears a person down.  We all have some amount of resilience build into us, but if we come to the point that we expect to be battered by life again and again, we will look to whatever escape we can find.  The tragic irony of this is that many of those escapes ultimately cause further trauma.  An example of this is using drugs to escape the deep anxiety, sadness, shame and hopelessness caused by trauma.  Over time though, being around people who use drugs means being exposed to people who resort to all means to obtain more drugs.  Now there is increased risk for more traumatic exposure.

 

To heal from deep trauma there are many components.  I will talk about only a couple of them here.  One is having something reliable and unchanging.  People die and places change, but God never changes.  A deep, meaningful faith is really helpful to healing from trauma.  Knowing there is still hope, still love, and still something to lean on is important.  But, this is complicated because a lot of trauma survivors feels abandoned by God as they question how He could have let something awful occur in the first place.  While there are good answers to these very important questions, it’s outside a therapist’s purview to answer them.  I strongly encourage you to have this discussion with your own religious leaders as you try to seek answers.

 

Another extremely important element to healing from trauma is addressing and uncovering shame.  Shame says, “I am bad,” for whatever happened.  This is different from regret or some other similar emotion which says, “That event was bad.”  Many trauma survivors feel the event was somehow their own fault.  It takes some deep work to change this belief.

 

Overcoming trauma is extremely important.  During a lifetime each and every one of us will experience deeply disturbing and upsetting circumstances.  Some of us will be unlucky enough to witness death, have our own lives threatened, or see our own children hurt in unimaginable ways.  Resilience is built into our psyches and our hearts, but it can be really hard to find it sometimes.  If you worry about your teen’s reaction to trauma, please seek a professional opinion.  Sometimes just one event can continue to traumatize its victim over and over again.  At Teen Therapy OC we desperately want your adolescent to have a joy-filled life, not one full of fear, anxiety, shame and hypervigilance.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT