One of the most common things that I've come to realize in working with families in crisis, is that most of the time, the parent/mother is so focused on what she is going through that she sometimes forgets about who is going through it with her. Most of the time, that person is her own child. As an outsider, I can see what the parent doesn't see; especially with mothers and daughters. It's in the eyes. Most of the time when I look into the eyes of a young girl, I can see what she does not say. Most of the time when I ask a young girl how she is doing, she will answer "I'm OK", but I know that it is the furthest thing from the truth. For in her eyes, I can see the vicarious trauma that she does not express in words.
What she does not say, is that she was there when her mother was beat up by her father or boyfriend and there was nothing she could do to stop it. She does not say that she is there when her mother's untreated mental illness get's so out of control that she is mistreated or forgotten. She does not say how painful it is being there helplessly watching her mother die from a terminal disease. She does not say what it's like to witness her mother being enslaved by drugs or alcohol. She is there witnessing one or more of these things without understanding fully what or why this is happening. She is often told to be quiet and expected to go to school and live her life as if she is OK, but the truth is she is not OK. She is far from being OK; because this is her life too. Her mother's scars, will become her scars, if the mother does not become aware of the impact her battle is having on her daughter.
In order for a mother who is fighting to survive and heal through one of these challenges, she has to be extra strong, like that of a warrior to make it through. A warrior doesn't have time to cry or feel too much for fear of crumbling to pieces. However, although that mentality can be effective in some aspect of the survival process, it can also have a negative impact on parenting if not careful. A mother's job is to protect her child, and when a mother has been wounded, they will protect their child even more fiercely because they know of the dangers in the world. However, the mother can be so consumed by fear and the battle they're in, that they hold on too tight to their daughters and forget to communicate that their behavior is because of love and fear.
So what will happen sometimes is that the mother will yell at her teen who wants to go out with friends instead of saying, I love you, it's dangerous out there and I'm afraid for your safety. The mother will forget to talk to her daughter to see how she is feeling and dealing with all that she sees and exposed to. When that happens, the vicarious trauma that is not expressed by the teen, will express itself in other ways. The teen will look for someone she can feel safe enough to talk to and be heard. And they will resent their mother and will become defiant/rebellious, because the mother's tight grip/discipline driven by fear, is interpreted as oppression.They will then desire to distance themselves from the front row seat of their mother's daily battle.This is where the trouble begins as the teen will look in all the wrong places for what she needs from her mother. However in most cases, she will find more trouble than she is prepared for.