Abuse, Trauma, and Risk


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 148 · Duration: 00:19:24

Abuse, Trauma, and Risk

What do you do, when your teenage daughter abuses everyone in the family and puts herself at serious risk?

Today we’re hearing from Nicole of Alberta, Canada

Before I get into Nicole’s question, I’d like to invite everyone to take a slow deep breath, and slowly exhale your breath. Good, nice job.

Nicole’s situation is quite dire and often, we can find ourselves in a heightened state, particularly if we’ve been in similar situations or even if we haven’t been, just empathizing with someone’s serious personal situation can put us in a stressed state. So, keep breathing, and let yourself listen and learn and remind yourself that you are doing just fine.

Abuse, Trauma, and RiskNow, for Nicole's question. Nicole writes:

I’m a single parent mother of 4 and my 15-year-old teenage daughter abuses me and her siblings horrifically. All the time...as in every minute that we are around her. Every meal, every car trip. Every time we are together. No one believes how bad or constant it is... or they say it’s normal. I work from home so I'm there everyday before and after school. We have family movie night, go on lots of adventures. I chose to stay single to have my time for my kids, to do chores together etc...but no matter what, we either need to exclude my 15-year-old or deal with her tormenting us. Making fun of us in the car, swearing and screaming at all of us. She lies about me to everyone I know until I just don't make friends anymore. She's called child protection on me and labels me an abuser. I can't leave her alone ever because she steals from me or calls men over to come have sex with her....that includes taking her out.

She verbally abuses her younger sister. ALL day long. Everyday. Sometime she cries that she can't be happy because she hates us all so much. She goes to a counselor who won't talk to me about anything going on and sees me through my daughter’s eyes. I've called the police to help me with her tantrums around the house, which have included thousands of dollars in property damage. I've even taken her to the hospital. There is no help.

When a husband does these things, they are abusers and there's help. But when it’s your child, people laugh. They downplay it. They don't understand. There is no help. I talk to her. I cry to her. I buy things. I make personal time for her more time than her other siblings combined.

My other 3 children and I are desperate to be happy. We are sad and tired and worn down having her purposely ruin all happiness everyday without fail for over 5 years. (So that means she’s been struggling since she was 10).

So my question is, Obviously what can I do...but more importantly, when does a person need to be held accountable? When is it no longer okay to blame your bad behavior on an abusive dad? (Gone 4 years now...completely gone). Should I just kick her out? "Fine, my house is so horrible off you go"? How can I help my younger children not to follow the same path? How can I recover? Is it really normal to scream at and threaten and lie to your mom all the time? Am I being unreasonable hoping things will get better?

Abuse In The Home

Nicole, your situation is one of abuse, trauma, and risk. The children’s father, and presumably your ex-husband, left 4 years ago and is out of the picture. You say that he was abusive and since he’s out of the picture, I’d say abandoning and abusive. In many situations where someone divorces an abusive partner, the abusive partner stays involved with their children, sometimes with professional supervision, personal therapy, co-parenting therapy, or reunification therapy with their children. Your children’s father simply left and perhaps that’s better than staying abusively involved, but he abandoned the kids and the kids have that to deal with as well as the abuse.

You were married or with an abusive partner, and now you’re being abused by your abusive daughter. There is a theme here in your life. And Nicole, it seems you have been abused or at least not effectively listened to by the various systems: law enforcement, hospital / psychiatric system, family services, even a therapist, who you’re probably paying, listens to your profoundly dysfunctional daughter over you.

You try to have a happy positive family by setting up terrific situations with movie nights, outings to great places, even try to make doing chores a fun family time, but with your 15-year-old daughter, none of this is working and your children and you are at the mercy of her behavior. You talk with her, spend time with her, buy her things, and you keep getting no place, no change at all.

Nicole, it is no accident, that in your adult life, in spite of your positive intentions and significant efforts, you continually find yourself in abusive situations. Clearly, if you weren’t specifically abused as a child and teenager, which you most likely were, you certainly were not empowered or supported in getting your needs met. As a result, you went into your adult life making choices of who to be with; an abusive abandoning husband, and interacting with others, including your children, perhaps even friends and family, professionals, that isn’t clear that you have standards, boundaries, and expectations that others need to honor and respect.

A Family At Risk

Right now, Nicole, everyone in the family is at risk. Your 15-year-old daughter is at risk on multiple fronts; sexual abuse and all that goes with that including trauma, STD’s, pregnancy, assault, even kidnapping or murder. You didn’t mention substance abuse, but I’d be surprised if that wasn’t an issue and a serious risk for her. Of course, her simply not healing, growing, and developing creates risk. She’s developing a negative identity. She’s carrying trauma from her father, perhaps sexual trauma from him or someone else, and she is certainly not under control or managed even though she deeply longs for it and continues to test to see if there are any limits out there.

Your other children are at risk of feeling emotionally and physically unsafe and needing to build emotional defenses against the chronic trauma taking place in their lives. Most likely, they feel compelled to be extra cooperative and responsible to protect you and each other from their sister. And that adds to the 15-year-old’s sense of alienation.

Most of all, you’re at risk. You are in a chronic state of burnout and the stress takes a toll on your physical health, destroying your immune system, and affecting your neural functioning, including things like judgment and memory, not to mention an emotional state of helplessness, hopelessness, and depression.

A chronic state of burnout and stress takes a toll on your physical health. It destroys your immune system and affects your neural functioning, like judgment and memory. It leaves you in an emotional state of helplessness, hopelessness, and depression.Click To Tweet

Changes Need To Be Made

So, to answer your questions, yes, you are being unreasonable hoping that things will get better. Things are more likely to get worse and some horrible thing is likely to happen if things don’t change. Your daughter’s behavior is not normal, reasonable, or healthy, and needs immediate intervention. Nicole, I don’t see how you can recover while the situation stays the same.

So let’s go to your first question, “what can I do?” There are a number of things you can and should do. And a quick scan of sites in Alberta for support lists, dialing or texting 2-1-1 for a 24/7 helpline.

Here are my suggestions: You can take a copy of this blog post and make an appointment to talk with a social worker at Family Services or Child Protective Services. Share it with them. Explain that there are serious risks to all the children and you need immediate support.

You can make a list of all the specific damage that your daughter has done to the house, and perhaps the stolen items, and bring it to the police department. Once again, make an appointment to talk with a juvenile officer and bring a copy of this blog and your list of damages. The police should be specifically interested in any adult men who may be having sex with a 15-year-old and they should have resources they can refer you to and engage your daughter in. I’m not sure how the juvenile courts work in Canada in general or in your province or city, but in California, they could bring misdemeanor charges to your daughter and she could be placed on informal probation that would include a requirement that she does not miss school, must maintain a curfew, not use drugs, not commit acts of violence, must attend counseling, etc.

You can find out from the juvenile officer or the juvenile probation department or Family Services the names of good therapists who work with out-of-control teenagers and family therapists who can help you and your daughter first and ultimately all your other children as well.

I’m not sure about the mental health system in Canada, or more specifically Alberta, but if I were going to give you the best option, it would be to have your daughter go to a residential treatment program away from the family, away from the men she is having sex with, away from her phone, and get her some really strong positive experiences that can be a starting point for dealing with the trauma in her life and building the social-emotional skills she needs, including taking responsibility and being accountable.

You asked if you should kick your daughter out and tell her that if she doesn’t like it at home, she can move out. That is a bad idea because it is the wrong way to say “shape up or ship out,” although, under the circumstances, I appreciate the sentiment.

Here’s a better way to say it. I’ll call your daughter Mary:
Mary, I fully understand that you’re mad at me for not protecting you from your father, for letting him abandon you, and for not letting you be an only child. And I get it that you’re mad at your sister and brothers for being born and taking my attention away from you. But I’ve got to hand it to you, you are doing a great job of getting all of my attention in spite of there being four of you. Unfortunately, the attention is so negative that you’re not happy, I’m not happy, no one in the family is happy. So if you prefer, we can go to Protective Services and ask them for a foster home for you, that you hate us too much to live with us. The other option is that you can bring your abundant strength and intelligence to your family in a positive way. If you did that, not only would you and I have a much happier time together, but you would be admired and adored by your younger siblings. If you choose a foster home, I’ll be sad and cry a lot, but I’ll accept that I failed you.

Nicole, in order to make this happen, we are going to need a more empowered version of you to step up and take action. None of these actions will necessarily go easily or exactly as you’d like it to. You are going to have to stay engaged, talk, listen, ask questions, take action, try some things, and stay engaged with the professionals and agencies who are there to help. Don’t allow yourself to be brushed aside, or forgotten. Stay with it until you get some useful support and stay engaged with the support service so that you get the full benefit. Don’t back off and say they didn’t help. Stay engaged and in charge of getting the help you and your family need and deserve.

Why am I emphasizing staying engaged? Because you are very used to not getting your needs met. It’s a pattern that began in childhood and was reinforced throughout your life and standing up for yourself and your very legitimate needs don’t come easily to you. Now you need to learn to operate in this new way, almost a new dimension. It will feel weird and uncomfortable. But you need to learn to adapt to it so that it becomes your new way of being in the world. That’s how you will be able to help your daughter, as well as your other children, and how you will be able to recover from all this.

So parents, therapists, and folks working with kids and parents, destructive behavior in families so often causes and is caused by trauma, it’s a generational thing. Ending a generational cycle of trauma and abuse requires parents to move out of their default positions and build self-esteem, confidence, and leadership skills within their families. We have to realize that this means entering unfamiliar territory so it will take empathy, understanding, and persistence. But as folks do this work, and rewire their nervous systems, peace and happiness can finally be theirs to experience and share.

Ending a generational cycle of trauma and abuse requires parents to move out of their default positions and build self-esteem, confidence, and leadership skills within their families.Click To Tweet

Thanks for tuning in today and special thanks to you Nicole for sharing your very challenging situation with us. I and all the listeners are rooting for you. During this time of profound disruption, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Your local mental health resources are very much there, mostly using video platforms, and that works just fine, phones work too, and sometimes you can be seen in person as well. If you’d like to meet with me, go to my website neildbrown.com and give me a call or email.

If you're looking for a resource to help keep you productive at home while also helping you become a better parent, I've prepared a free gift just for you. It’s called Parenting Through Your Child's Second 12 Years. I know you’re thinking, "What the heck, 12 more years of parenting?" Adolescence neurologically, socially and emotionally, and often financially goes to around age 24. Yes, parenting your 20-year-olds is different than the teens. Download my gift and read and learn about the different stages of adolescence and critical strategies parents can use to avoid control battles and best support their adolescents’ quest for happy successful independence.

If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website neildbrown.com and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.

Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

Have a question for Neil?

Submit it now for discussion on a future episode of The Healthy Family Connections Podcast:

Don't want to miss an episode?

Be sure to subscribe to The Healthy Family Connections Podcast on iTunes for up to date information and advice from Neil D Brown -- all for free!


Want to tell your friends about The Healthy Family Connections Podcast?

Click here to tweet your followers about The Healthy Family Connections Podcast. They will thank you!Click To Tweet

Want to start a conversation with Neil?

Drop a note in the comment section below.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Posted in The Healthy Family Connections Podcast and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .


  1. I answered this comment/question on my podcast posed June 29, 2020, entitled, We Didn’t Role Model Abusive Behavior. Thanks for the question. I hope my response helps. Best wishes, Neil

  2. What can we do when our 17yo son speaks rudely and aggressively to his girlfriend (she’s 16) and shouts & swears at her & badgers & berates her. He is not always like this with her, when he’s in a good mood he is funny & kind & pleasant to her. But when he is in a bad mood, or she has done something which he perceives as annoying and upsetting (usually something small, or nothing at all), he is horrible. He couches it that she is to blame because she was ‘rude’ or ‘hurtful’ to him, which we don’t see any evidence of, he just seems to get into a foul mood and take it out on her. He’s often like that with us too, but his nastiness to her is more upsetting to us. He mainly does it on the phone when he’s in his room. We have tried to interrupt him several times, but he screams at us to go away. My husband and I think that we have usually modelled a good relationship so we don’t know where it is coming from. What should we do?

Comments are closed.