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What It’s Like to Be a Former ‘Juvenile Delinquent’ With Childhood Trauma

Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I was in a girls’ group home for a year-and-a-half when I was 15 and a half until the age of 17.

I was placed there because my mom couldn’t deal with me after I’d been in foster homes, back and forth between my parents, some psychiatric hospitals and a children’s home. I wasn’t a juvenile delinquent before I went into the children’s home but once I was there a while, I became one.

When I went into the group home, I only thought I was tough.

The effects being in a group home had on me as an adult have been varied. Maybe it’s the combination of everything I’ve been through. Hard to say, but I can tell you some of the things I learned in that place hindered me as an adult and still do.

I learned to keep my defenses up and trust no one. I thought, after some years of recovery and therapy, that I had made some progress. Not true. You would think it would’ve made me tougher, and in some ways it did, but I also am highly sensitive as some would say and I have not put down my armor. I go through my days defensive, scared, mad and aggravated. I used to go into rages when I was married. However, I believe this was the effect of being abused as a child.

Being so angry all the time is exhausting but I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know who I would be if I stopped. I tend to be a doormat at times, so I have a fear that if I don’t put down my sword, I will get walked all over because that has happened many times before. When I have been around a juvenile delinquent now as an adult, my heart goes out to them. I see beyond their anger, defensiveness and hostility, through to the other side — to a scared person. Sometimes, it is hard to see the truth and most of society does not see the real them. Some people can never snap out of it. It is as if they have been through a war but still carry their weapons.

Being a grown juvenile delinquent, I tend to be bitter, paranoid, hesitant, afraid to take a chance on many things, regretful, cynical, ready to jump at anyone’s suggestions that I perceive as rude even if they are rude. You stand ready at attention at all times, looking for someone to cross you; you feel as if you are carrying the heaviest of burdens on your shoulder. You go through your day feeling as if you are on the outside looking in, you get irritated at those who have more than you or people who seemed to not have suffered in this life at all.

You harbor resentments toward those who really haven’t led a traumatic life, to those who have led sheltered lives, and you are jealous of rich people.

You feel cheated, torn, betrayed, deceived, untrustworthy, damaged and unwilling to admit defeat.

Is it any wonder some former juvenile delinquents wind up alcoholics, drug addicts and homeless?

I’ve put on “the face” society wants me to wear. On the outside, I don’t look like a former delinquent. I learned manners a long time ago, typing skills, office etiquette, casual office environment behaviors, “Ps and Qs” concerning classroom settings, and driving laws. I learned to smile as a waitress in my 20s, wait patiently in college registrar lines, be diplomatic with some co-workers, and demonstrate politeness when it comes to policemen.

But on the inside, I am still very much dark, sullen, confused, impetuous, impatient and fidgety.

They just don’t know the struggle inside and how much effort it takes to put on the mask and pretend to be the person everyone wants me to be.

It is only when someone ticks me off that the juvenile delinquent comes out in the form of “f— all those people” in my head, then I verbally fight back against what I see is persecution of who I am.

No, there is no self-love for so many former delinquents.

If you go online you’ll see many theories as to what makes us take on this society-shunning form as well as blanket statements concerning what a delinquent looks like. But the truth is there is no standard mock-up of what we look like or a boilerplate illustration of what causes us to be who we are.

True, some of us wind up in prison as adults, but some of us actually go on to college; I thank God I didn’t just become another statistic. That is a huge miracle, but one I usually don’t acknowledge regarding just how big that miracle really is.

According to psychiatryonline.org, a large percentage of former juvenile delinquents wind up getting into trouble in the family court system as adults because they lack parenting skills. I wanted to be a good mom, but the reality is that no matter how much I wished it, I couldn’t be. The site goes on to say that nearly half of all antisocial adolescent girls who were juvenile delinquents have multiple poor social skills as adults.

Maybe that’s why, at a New Year’s Eve dinner several years ago, I took off after someone made fun of my digital photos. Or, you could say my reaction was a result of being abused by my dad or mercilessly criticized by my stepdad. When you have multiple placements like I did, it is hard to say.

What is most heart-wrenching for me is that us former delinquents now living as adults, trying to pave our own way in the world, feel as if we are trapped in our own bodies, debilitated by our own emotions and reactions, unable to move yet wanting to do so. When we storm out of a party, we want just one person to run after us. We may push you away but we really want you to come to see what’s wrong. And when you don’t, it just exacerbates things.

Lastly, none of us would, in our right minds, choose to be this way. We don’t wake up every morning, look in the mirror and say to ourselves, “I’m going to alienate everyone I come in contact with today.”

Some days are better than others. Sometimes, I am able to go through a day a tiny bit carefree without that cautious voice inside telling me to beware, be careful and trust no one.

Getty Images photo via NADOFOTOS

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