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Collateral Damage

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</P> Perhaps your dad hits your mum.

Being a teen isn't always easy. Sometimes you have to face situations that require knowledge and skills you haven't learned yet. What's even more complicated, sometimes these situations are beyond your control.

Perhaps your dad hits your mum. Like many teens you may be so used to your home situation that you may not even realize that this constitutes abuse. You may think it's normal and okay for a man to humiliate, threaten, or hit a woman when he's angry or drunk. It's not.

So how can you tell if abuse is happening in your family?

Recognizing Abuse

There are three main types of family abuse.

  • Slapping, pinching, punching, shoving, disabling, and any other intentional infliction of pain are all types of physical abuse.
  • Name-calling, making threats, belittling, hurting pets, and destroying property are examples of emotional or psychological abuse.
  • Unwanted, forced sexual activity is sexual abuse. When children are involved, any sexual behaviour by an adult is abusive.

Witnessing abuse in the family can have many repercussions for teens. It can cause low self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, and stress disorders. It can affect your ability to stop yourself from doing something stupid. You may be at risk of being aggressive toward others, letting others abuse you, or developing real problems with alcohol and drugs. You may have difficulty sleeping and concentrating, and you may feel shame, confusion, helplessness, or powerlessness.

Getting Help

What can you do if you witness family abuse? The best thing to do is to talk to a trustworthy adult. It could be a teacher, a neighbour, a relative, a school counsellor, your doctor, or another adult with whom you feel safe. If talking to someone you know seems too difficult, you could make an anonymous, confidential call to your local crisis centre or chat on-line with a crisis centre youth counsellor at youthinbc.com. (You don't have to live in BC to use this site). It's not easy to disclose family abuse, but you need to talk about what you've seen and express your feelings about it.

The person you choose will help you talk it out and can help you connect with a one-to-one or group counsellor trained to help teens who've witnessed abuse. (Almost every community across Canada has someone funded to provide this kind of counselling). Professional help is essential to protect you from the harmful effects of witnessing abuse. It can help you reduce your sense of isolation, build resiliency, learn ways to deal with your experiences and your feelings, and improve your problem-solving skills. When you get help and support, you'll be taking the first step toward changing the situation.

While you're going through the healing process, you'll need to take extra care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, hang with friends, and schedule in some fun. Treat yourself to long, hot baths. Ask your doctor or other health professional about stress management techniques such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation.

Remember, family abuse is not something you can deal with alone. Get the professional help and support you need you have the rest of your life to be glad you did.

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