Girls are more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD because they are more likely to be victims of sexual assault and they are more likely than boys to report symptoms. Options for trauma treatment for teen boys are limited because of stigma surrounding traumatic experiences and assumptions of male resilience. Teens boys struggling with trauma are more likely to be misunderstood, as they may not realize the effect past experiences have had on their anger. Boys are more likely to be seen as perpetrators of violence than as victims of violence based on the way they’ve been taught to cope with stressors.
What does Trauma Look Like in Teen Boys
While boys may claim to be desensitized to details of traumatic events in their past, their bodies hold onto the memories. Girls may be more likely to perceive negative past experiences as traumatic or abusive, however, they are often exposed to similar environmental triggers. Examples of typical traumatic events or experiences can include physical or sexual violence, neglect, abandonment, emotional abuse, bullying, car accidents, natural disasters, significant loss or witnessing the injury of someone else.
While girls may be more likely to be sexually assaulted, boys are more likely to be involved in, the victim of, or witness of physical aggression and violence. Boys internalize the narrative that they should “man up” and “fight back” when their boundaries are crossed or their “feelings are hurt,” which contributes to misunderstanding male trauma. Not everyone who has experienced these events is affected by post-traumatic stress and not everyone affected by post-traumatic stress experiences it the same way.
Some symptoms of Traumatic Stress may include:
- Overwhelming feelings of terror
- Strong emotions such as depression, anger, anxiety, or hopelessness
- Guilt or Shame associated with the event
- Fixation on the traumatic event; obsessive thoughts and repetitive conversations
- Panic attacks or Flashbacks where they feel like they are reliving the experience
- Emotional withdrawal
- Difficulty Sleeping
Despite sharing similar risk factors, research suggests that there are gender differences in rates of diagnosis and symptoms of post-traumatic stress. A recent study suggests that brain chemistry, as well as how they’ve been socialized, may have a role in explaining some of these differences. Comparing MRI scans among traumatized and non-traumatized teenagers, researchers found that boys who had been exposed to trauma had a larger anterior circular sulcus compared to the control group and in girls, it was smaller than the control group. The anterior circular sulcus is responsible in integrating one’s feelings and actions and suggests that girls may struggle more with regulating their emotions, while boys may struggle more with decision-making. Differences in symptoms suggest the need for gender-specific treatment.
- Externalization versus internalization. Boys often externalize their trauma by acting out or getting involved in substance abuse. They struggle with processing what has happened to them and may shut off emotionally, although repressing these emotions may cause them to come up in relationships with others. Their anger and fear is displayed through impulsivity and aggressive. Girls tend to internalize trauma and display this through struggles like depression, self harm, and eating disorders, that reflect shame in relationships with themselves.
- Different ways to fill the void caused by trauma. Boys and girls deal with the pain which comes from trauma in different ways. By externalizing problems, they may also turn to external distractions to avoid the void caused by trauma. They are more likely to display develop process addictions to substances, technology, video games, or porn. Girls often deal with their trauma through self-destructive process addictions, such as toxic relationships, misuse of social media, eating disorders, self harm, and suicidality.
- Verbal vs. physical. Girls tend to connect with others and learn new information verbally. They benefit more from traditional forms of therapy such as talk therapy. Boys connect with others on a physical and visual level. Because of this, a more hands-on, experiential approach to therapy is more beneficial to them.
Getting Help for Boys Struggling with Trauma
- Normalize processing traumatic experiences with other people by providing safe spaces to talk about emotions with other boys.
- Encourage healthy ways to externalize feelings of stress through physical activity, outdoor sports, and games.
- Suggest alternatives. We understand that boys struggle more than girls with traditional types of therapy and try to get creative with our interventions. If students feel uncomfortable talking about their past experiences, they are encouraged to communicate through a variety of creative outlets, including music and art. Students are always given choices and encouraged to collaborate with their treatment team to find what works for them and regain a sense of control over their lives.
How Can Equinox Help
Equinox is a residential treatment center for boys ages 14-18. This program specializes in the treatment of trauma, loss, and attachment issues. Equinox uses a relationship based and principle based level of intervention. The treatment model is based on relationships and principles as well. Students will experience both positive and negative outcomes and learn how to cope in a healthy and effective way. Our goal is to challenge narratives and stigma around male mental health and trauma. Fostering resiliency is an important focus at Equinox. This treatment center addresses each student as a whole and helps them heal from the inside out.
Call 877-279-8925 today!