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5 Signs of Emotional Trauma in a Teen

shadowed profile of a depressed young woman displaying one of the 5 sings of emotional trauma in a teen

Some teens are able to process negative experiences without feeling traumatized, while others are not. Many factors contribute to emotional trauma, sometimes making it difficult to recognize the signs until they become severe. If a teen you care about could benefit from a trauma therapy program, call Imagine Nampa today at 888.503.4604 to learn more.

What Is Emotional Trauma?

Trauma can be caused by a single event, such as a sexual assault, or a series of events, like being abused or witnessing the ongoing abuse of a family member. Any experience the brain interprets as a threat to personal safety can cause emotional trauma.

However, not every teen who experiences a threatening event develops trauma. Risk factors that increase the possibility of a teen developing emotional trauma include:

  • Lack of coping skills
  • Family history of mental illness, such as depression or PTSD
  • History of abuse or bullying
  • Lack of support
  • Preexisting conditions

Trauma is stress, and stress can have a cumulative effect. A child who has experienced many traumatic events, even if they are unrelated, is at greater risk for developing emotional trauma.

Signs of Emotional Trauma in Adolescence

Trauma can be diagnosed as acute, chronic, or complex. Acute trauma refers to emotional trauma that occurs after a single event, such as being in a near-fatal accident. Chronic trauma may develop in adolescents who consistently witnessed or personally experienced violence. Complex trauma may develop in teens who have been exposed to several traumatic events. The signs of emotional trauma from childhood are similar regardless of the specific diagnosis.

1. Anxiety and Fear

Anxiety may be the most recognizable warning sign of emotional trauma in adolescence. A teen may become hypervigilant about any situation they perceive as dangerous or be anxious overall.
Anxiety may lead to avoidance—avoiding people or places connected to the triggering event—or agitation that causes unpredictable moods.

2. Substance Use Disorder

Teens struggling with emotional trauma are at higher risk for developing a substance use disorder. They may experiment with drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate the psychological effects they are experiencing.

3. Intrusive Thoughts

Upsetting nightmares and distressing memories of the triggering events are red flags of lingering emotional trauma. A teen may be fearful of going to sleep because of nightmares or have difficulty focusing because of unwanted thoughts and memories.

4. Oppositional Behaviors

Adolescents with PTSD may exhibit behaviors associated with defiance and oppositional disorders. They may have angry outbursts, practice self-harm, appear restless or noncompliant, or act out sexually.

Intrusive memories and a high level of anxiety can cause behavior that looks like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder but is actually a reaction to emotional trauma.

5. Depression and Suicidal Ideation

Living with emotional trauma can make teens feel helpless about the future and increases the risk of suicide. If you know a young person who is having suicidal thoughts, get help immediately. Contact a mental health professional or call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

Healing from Emotional Trauma in Adolescence

Take action if you recognize the signs of emotional trauma from childhood in a teen. Treatment is available and effective. A combination of therapies that may include medication, cognitive processing therapy, exposure therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and more have been found effective for the treatment of acute, chronic, and complex trauma.

Find Help at Imagine Nampa

At Imagine Nampa, we specialize in helping adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 recover from emotional trauma and its symptoms. We understand that the teen years can be difficult, and adolescent mental health concerns can be complex. Call Imagine Nampa today at 888.503.4604 or contact us online to learn more about our trauma therapy program.