Trauma / Violence Stressors

Teenagers who were abused as children are three to four times more likely to be depressed / suicidal than teens who were never abused. This includes teens who have been physically or sexually abused, teased and bullied. Sexual abuse, though, carries the greatest risk for suicide.

Potential Stressors

Oftentimes, the sexual abuser is someone the child trusts, such as a family member, friend or neighbor. Unfortunately, many victims of sexual abuse keep it a secret, which can become a deadly secret if it progresses to the point where the person becomes depressed and commits suicide. Many children think that no one will believe them or that they will be blamed for the abuse. It is important to listen to children without judging or interrupting and allow them to express feelings.

Sometimes children think their parents never listen to them and may then hold their pain inside. Showing children you care about what they say and listening to them without reacting will provide a safe place for them to talk. It is also important to recognize the symptoms of abuse.

Studies show that victims of teasing and bullying often feel anxious and tense and have low self-esteem. Some victims become depressed and suicidal. Victims of bullying often keep the bullying a secret out of shame or fear that the bullying will get worse if they tell. Victims may also believe they will be blamed for the bullying or told to ignore it or to handle it on their own.
Approximately 80 percent of teen rapes are date or acquaintance rapes. Often, one or both people have been drinking when this occurs, which will raise a question as to whether the victim had the legal capacity to give consent, if that is what the perpetrator says happened. Since many teens say that sex is occurring at parties when people are using drugs or drinking alcohol, it is likely that teens are being sexually abused at these parties. Again, some teens are reluctant to tell because they may be ashamed or afraid of being blamed because they were drinking alcohol or doing drugs at the time.

Symptoms of Experiencing Abuse

The Division of Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center provides a list of symptoms for trauma / violence:

  • Flashbacks: reliving the experience through a memory flashing before your mind’s eye. This memory is painful for the person and is usually triggered by some event and isn’t intentionally thought about by the person.
  • Nightmares 
  • Emotional numbing: Feeling numb after abuse and / or a painful experience is a protective mechanism against the pain, but is maladaptive because the person is unable to feel pleasure when numb. It is unpleasant to feel numb, which is one reason why some children and teens self-mutilate or intentionally hurt themselves.
  • Avoidance of reminders of the abuse: The person will avoid similar situations of the abuse. For example, many times children who have been sexually abused will refuse to sleep in their bed because the bed is a reminder of where they were abused. Instead, they may sleep on the floor.
  • Substance abuse 
  • Somatic complaints: These are bodily symptoms that the person experiences without any explanation for it. For example, this may involve having headaches, stomach aches and muscle aches for no apparent reason.
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: Learn more about the causes, symptoms and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder

Violation of Boundaries with Abuse

Abused children have experienced a violation of their boundaries, which not only causes them to feel unsafe, but often results in them having poor boundaries or boundary problems. Boundaries define us, telling us what is ours and what is not ours. They tell us where our responsibilities stop and another person’s begins. Boundaries serve to keep the bad things out while allowing the good things to come in. It is important for children and teens to recognize boundary problems and for them to know how to set appropriate boundaries. Boundaries will help teens be safer in their relationships with others.

Examples of Boundary Problems

The compliant person is someone who can’t say “no” to others. This person is a “people pleaser” and runs the risk of saying “yes” to something that is harmful or not good for her. For example, Janie’s parents thought she was the “model” child and always did what she was told. However, she never learned to say, “No,” and ended up having sex with her boyfriend even though she wanted to wait until she was older.
The nonresponsive person is someone who doesn’t respond to the needs of others. This person is either too interested in his own needs, makes fun of others’ needs, or just doesn’t care about or ignores the needs of others. For example, Susie tried to tell her friend, Matt, that she didn’t like it when he teased her. Matt replied, “What’s the matter? Can’t you take a joke?
The controller is someone who doesn’t take “no” for an answer. Controllers will try to get their way by being forceful, manipulative, charming or harassing. For example, Steve manipulated Janie into having sex by telling her, “If you really love me, you’ll have sex with me.”
The avoidant will not let someone in to help. She does not share feelings or ask for help from others. For example, Marcie was molested by her father when she was younger. She never told anyone and always acted happy on the outside even though she was miserable on the inside.

Setting SAFE Boundaries

How do you protect yourself from an abusive or controlling relationship? How do you make sure your friends and family meet your emotional needs and respect your wishes? Setting healthy boundaries can help. It’s not always easy to set boundaries, especially with people you care about. But consider trying the following steps. They can make it easier for you to communicate your needs, express your concerns and protect yourself in your relationships with others.

Learn more about Setting SAFE Boundaries

Examples of SAFE Boundaries

You can’t assume that other people understand your needs and wants unless you tell them. Clearly state what you want or need, or what you don’t want or don’t need in your life. And remember: it’s OK to say “no” if a situation or person makes you uncomfortable. You don’t have to give a reason, but if the other person doesn’t respond or respect your wishes, go on to the next step.

When you’re in a situation where you need to set a boundary with someone, you can often solve the problem through clear, open communication. Clearly ask the other person to meet the need you have or respect your wishes. Remember, no one can read your mind; how will someone know her behavior makes you uncomfortable unless you say something?

Sometimes open communication like this can lead to a healthy dialogue. The person you’re addressing will understand you better and will hopefully share her intentions, thoughts and feelings in return.

Sharing your feelings can help you feel better, and “getting it off your chest” allows you to process your thoughts. Whether you write a letter or tell someone in person, saying, “I feel…” when you’re uncomfortable is a very important part of a healthy relationship.

Make sure, however, that you share your feelings using “I” statements:

“I feel sad.”

“I am uncomfortable in this situation.”

This tactic makes sure the person you’re talking to doesn’t feel blamed, attacked or judged by your statement.

Sometimes a person doesn’t respect your wishes or does not understand you when you communicate your wants and needs. If this puts you in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation, you must set and enforce boundaries with that person.

Although you have a right to get your needs met, you don’t have a right to control someone else. Instead of telling the other person what to do, tell him what you’ll do if your needs aren’t met. This gives the other person a choice of meeting your needs or accepting the consequence. The consequence should be reasonable and, more important, it should be something you can and will enforce if you need to.

The consequence is the final boundary. It defines what you will not tolerate from others. Although it might be uncomfortable following through with a consequence, it’s important that you’re willing to do it when another person refuses to respect your wants, needs or wishes.

In situations where you’re afraid the other person may cause you physical harm, it’s important to share your concerns with an adult who can help enforce the boundary. The adult could be a family member, a trusted family friend or a law enforcement officer. It’s especially important to tell an adult if the person you’re setting boundaries with has threatened to harm you or your family or is physically, verbally or sexually abusive.