Trauma is a deeply disturbing experience with long-lasting psychological consequences.
Throughout life, many different types of events have the potential to be traumatic – especially for young people, who do not benefit from the mature frame of reference for their emotions that adults have the opportunity to develop.
Many types of trauma stem from a sense of personal vulnerability. In fact, some researchers have concluded it’s precisely this feeling of being unable to change an outcome or protect yourself that makes some events so difficult to process emotionally.
Teens and adolescents face a much wider range of experiences that may make them feel acutely vulnerable than adults do. For example, adolescents who face bullying – especially intense, consistent bullying with no escape – can perceive that as very threatening and traumatic.
Hence, they may find it difficult to put that experience in context, grow, and move forward.
Some events that can produce trauma in young people may seem at first to be minor to adults. Look more closely, however, and you realize that many experiences in youth do not have precise adult equivalents at all. In cases where they do, adults are furnished with more resources and agency.
For example, what is bullying but a form of assault? Adults have recourse to the police or other authorities if they are assaulted. Yet, many children endure it every day with little or no support.
The Effect of Trauma on Teens and Adolescents
No matter what form trauma takes, it has the potential to deeply impact how a young person’s brain and personality develop. Trauma early in life can disrupt neural pathways that govern how an individual manages stress, deals with uncertainty, and regulates emotions.
Trauma has different effects based on the age at which it begins as well as:
- How long it lasts.
- Its precise nature.
Early childhood trauma usually leads to internalizing behaviors like feelings of guilt, self-doubt, withdrawal from social relationships, and depression. Trauma with roots in the school years is more likely to result in risky and attention-seeking behaviors (“acting out.”)
Trauma also affects boys’ and girls’ brains differently. After trauma, boys and girls may show different patterns of behavior. Certain patterns are also associated with certain kinds of abuse or neglect – for example, victims of parental violence are more likely to become violent themselves.
Reflection Helps Young People Move Forward from Trauma
Trauma is as diverse as the human experience, but one factor remains the same: To break free of the anxiety, depression, or other symptoms caused by trauma, the sufferer must have a way to safely, yet thoroughly “process” the traumatic event.
Ordinary events are processed by the brain into memories in a short time. They are safely and easily incorporated into a person’s frame of reference, adding to the mental resources he or she uses to navigate future challenges.
Intense negative emotions inhibit the processing of traumatic experiences. As a result, they warp or paralyze the sufferer’s frame of reference. Many traumas become a psychological fixation (literally an “unchanging point”) that creates constant fearful thoughts.
Reflection on the traumatic event can spur the mental processes that allow kids and teens to move forward. Journaling is one form of reflection that lets them look at the event from a fresh perspective. Silent meditation can also help.
In a supportive and nonjudgmental group setting, such as wilderness therapy, young people can “unfreeze” their unprocessed emotions by sharing their experiences. Acceptance from peers, trusted mentors, and experienced therapists helps them understand that they aren’t to blame and aren’t defined by trauma.
To learn more, contact WinGate Wilderness Therapy today.