Our therapist calls them boomerang kids. Teens who were doing pretty well as older kids; when, wham! They’re back in therapy with all the emotional upheaval, distorted thinking and outrageous behaviors of six years before. Well, not quite. There is a level of maturity and complexity that disguises these episodes of classic reactive attachment disorder or RAD. If it weren’t for my husband Terry’s perceptive comment “She’s always pushed her caregivers away.” I might have missed it altogether. This isn’t the fragileness of anxiety, the confusion of medication trials, or the perplexity of puberty. This is RAD – testing the limit, trying to control the situation and pushing someone away before she gets too close. This is fear of rejection, fear of loss, and the deep seated fear of physical and emotional harm.
Into these familiar waters we have just place B, a caring but untrained bus driver one-on-one for up to three hours a day. B’s overly sensitive but perfectly normal and reasonable reactions to Natalya’s emotionally charged demands were destined for a train wreck. Now what? Take stock. We know the problem, we’ve been here before. We know the challenge: create safety, consistency and solidarity. Educate – Educate – Educate.
Again, Terry has had the keenest insight. He reminds me that we have learned to accept and shelter our daughter, return love for anger, safety for fear and acceptance for self-hate. But, the world is under no obligation to do the same. Even the presumably safe world we have created around her of family, school, church and friends can only be expected to understand and give so much. How do we give her the tools she needs to survive her own emotions when they threaten to sabotage her life? How do we teach her to turn around an argument with a friend and not hurt someone as sensitive as herself because of a misunderstanding? How can she learn the difference between someone who really cares about her and someone who might indeed do her harm?
Most of us have or gain perspective throughout our life on how to do these things. But, most of us did not begin our lives without the ability to interpret facial expressions or emotions in others or in ourselves. Most of us begin with hearts that are whole, not broken. We know love first and so, we know when we find it again. How do we teach our daughter?
*My daughter, Natalya was adopted from Russia at when she was two and a half. She was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder when she was six. She is now sixteen. Our family has been in various types of attachment therapy ever since. Our journey through therapy and the current thought and trends behind attachment therapy as it is practiced today is the subject of my nearly completed book, Paths to Attachment: A Parent Perspective. Watch this blog for excerpts and updates.