What would you do if you were in a desperate place as a mother with a child who has Attachment Disorder?
What if you had no support?
What if other people didn’t see what you were experiencing from your child and therefore didn’t believe what was happening?
What if, as the parent, you are being traumatized, and your very home becomes a trauma zone?
I am going to share with you a letter I received from a parent this last week, discuss the effects of living in a trauma home, what parents need in order to survive in this type of situation, and finally I will share my response to this stepmother’s letter.
This letter was sent to me from a stepmother who is grappling with the difficulties of raising her 7 year old stepson who has Attachment Disorder.
She raises good questions about the difference in experience between a couple who has adopted a child with attachment issues, and the blending of families, including step-parenting children who have trauma histories.
I felt it was important to share this letter with you, because we often talk about trauma and the effects of it on the body and psychology, but this is why we talk about it. It’s not theory we are interested in, but only as theory applies to the day in and day out of our families and in our communities.
Here is the letter I received:
“I am writing you out of pure desperation. I have been sitting here literally watching my entire world crumble around me at the hands of my 7 year old stepson. I have watched all of your videos and every video for that matter pertaining to reactive attachment disorder or that I could find as well as blogs and anything I can get my hands on to try to help myself wrap my head around all this, and make myself believe I am not crazy.
I find with adoptions parents can easily stick together because they had that bond before the child came into their lives. When the child with rad is a bio child it changes things drastically. In my situation bio dad has full custody. Ss7 was just under 2 years old when Dad kept him and he hasn’t seen his mother since. For the first two years he was severely neglected, and abused, covered in scabies, had an untreated pneumonia for so long he was finally brought to the hospital and was so frail and fragile and just sickly. His bio mom just got out of prison, she is 30 years old with 8 children by 8 different men, my step son Robert is her only child that hasn’t been adopted through the state after foster care since his dad has taken him. She is now pregnant again. All of her children have attachment issues. My ss knows nothing about her, he doesn’t remember her, the other children or her family.
The guilt is killing my fiancé. I feel like he feels like he has to chose between me and his son, which obviously is not the case. But I suffer abuse every minute of every day and I am doing 95% of the parenting due to fiancées work schedule. When I tell him about things he shuts down and it cause issues and fights with us and he tells me not to take it personally and it’s not his sons fault. Im stuck at how do I not take someone dripping pee pants over my face at 5 am laughing, destroying everything I own, physically abusing me and my bio kids and my dog, stealing, hoarding, lying, sabotaging every planned putting and making it to the point we are prisoners in our own home, catching my house on fire personally? And that’s just a few things. This is literally not 2 minutes of peace any day. I’m sorry for the novel but you actually seem like you know what you are talking about and we desperately need help. I have had to give up my career to stay home because no one will watch him, we have become a low income family almost over night. I don’t want to lose my relationship but it’s almost at that point if I cannot get more support from my fiancé.
I would love to talk with you, I would even love to get more awareness on raising a rad as a step parent and bio parent, as well as more awareness for just the dads, to make them believe us.
Again I’m sorry for the long long message I just really don’t know what else to do. I spent hours on the phone trying to find someone yesterday and almost went to check myself in because I had finally reached what I thought was my breaking point.
If nothing else I want to thank you for spreading awareness. No one knows about this stuff. They need to.”
This stepmom is not alone in her desperation! Many parents are facing these same questions and challenges, with little to no help. I know, because, even I was in that place as an early adoptive mother.
Thankfully, I did not have to worry about convincing a husband that my son engaged in extremely chaotic behaviors, but I did complain about the lack of support being a single parent.
I am very curious to hear your thoughts, experiences, and if you can relate to what I have shared. Comment below if you’re comfortable doing that or message me on my Facebook page.
Parents Can Also Become Traumatized
Mothers and fathers can become very traumatized in the process of living with a child with Attachment Disorder. There are a number of factors that play into the stress threshold, when it will become traumatic, and how severe the trauma will be.
In many situations, the home will become a trauma zone, much like the stepmom describes in her letter above.
Everybody in the family is being traumatized, going into panic, freeze, and shut-down mode.
Communication shuts down, defenses go up, and so while coexisting, they each feel isolated, misunderstood, and even abandoned within their own family.
Factors Contributing to Traumatization of Parents
Our past has greatly shaped who we are, what we perceive as threats, and where we go to for safety. It has developed our core beliefs about who we are and established our capacity for self-regulation, co-regulation with other people, and our specific survival response system when threatened.
Most of these beliefs and defense mechanisms are so much a part of who we are and who we have always been, that unless we have been in extensive therapy or self-help programs, our awareness of our belief systems, our triggers, and our defense mechanisms are on automatic.
Many of our previous blogs have discussed how these beliefs and defense mechanisms have been wired into our nervous system, except now, instead of talking about our children, we are talking about ourselves.
All of this together and at once will contribute to what is stressful for us and how much of that stress our nervous system can take before breaking.
Things like support systems through friendships, marriage, or other communities can play a huge role in buffering stress for individuals. After all, our biology is wired to exist within a community.
When we are or feel isolated or rejected from a community or social support like our spouse, this is a very hard situation and actually puts our nervous system into a survival state.
If we have any insecure attachment tendencies from our own childhood, this will be even more primed, and our nervous system will pick up signs of rejection very early from other relationships.
Similar to all forms of attachment trauma, this will cause a default pathway for the freeze response to occur when we feel this loss of connection and support.
The Freeze State in Adults
As adults, the freeze state often looks like a state of panic, confusion, and paralysis of decision. Our system can sometimes go into an exhausted state after chronic panic and paralysis of decision, which results in a “I don’t care anymore” state.
Until our systems reach exhaustion from the chaos and panic, our systems will maintain a state of frenzy, as it fights going all the way into a freeze state, and will therefore, be unable think clearly or make a calm rational decision.
The result in the parent will be both a trauma body and a trauma brain!
Part of the trauma response, as we have learned, is a trauma brain – the frontal cortex of the brain shuts off – logical thinking turns off. Many parents describe this as a place of desperation. They are so caught up in the middle of the chaos and the middle of the trauma they are experiencing, that they are unable to think rationally. No one is able to think clearly when they are in the middle of a trauma.
I am emphasizing this to remind parents that you must have some compassion for yourselves and don’t judge yourselves or others harshly when you are living in a daily trauma zone.
From what I understand of the trauma response, as long as a person is in the middle of the trauma, they cannot think long-term. The child and the traumatized parent are both reacting to their situations and are just trying to survive through the day.
Clarity and serenity are needed to make decisions that are reasonable, thought out, and considered the best for everybody involved.
To make calm and clear decisions then, a parent has to find a way to access a place of clarity and serenity.
Part of the difficulty of the trauma brain is that in the moment, it believes it is thinking clearly! It is an insult and threat for someone to suggest that they are not thinking clearly!
The only way that I have seen this successfully done, is for the parent to be taken out of the trauma zone for a while. This would allow the parent to realize they are no longer under threat, and would allow their frontal cortex to turn back on.
For some families, the child will have to go to a very safe place under the care of others, while the parents recover and figure out a plan for self-care
For other families, in-home care has been an option that has allowed the parents to let someone else take the front line of the battle for a bit.
What I really want to express in this post, is how it’s impossible to find a place of clarity and serenity while one is in the middle of the trauma and survival response. Expecting that is not only unrealistic, it is not consistent with the brain and body’s biology of stress.
I hope that this is something you can relate to so that you know that you are not alone in this journey. I would especially love to hear your comments and personal experiences on living in a trauma zone in your home. How did you overcome this? How did you ever get to a place of clarity and serenity?
My Response To Trauma Mom
Here is my response to our Stepmom who reached out for connection (I send all of our Moms a big hug today! This is very, very hard!):
My heart is giving you a big hug. This is so tough when it splits you and your husband and he shuts down. You are definitely not alone, as there are many other families who are raising stepchildren with Attachment Disorder.
It is so true, that you get to the point where you feel you have lost it and want to go check yourself in. Some moms have cried as they talk about not wanting to wake up when they go to sleep at night. It’s not the mom you wanted to be, but your stepson in this case is not letting you be that mom.
Unfortunately, you are also not alone in your financial situation! Because us moms tend to be the nurturers, we sacrifice and put everything in to taking care of things. Along with that comes more insecurities and then resentment naturally builds as we see things not improving despite us sacrificing everything. That’s when the desperation tends to really come over us as we lose hope, because we have nothing left to give. We can’t see how we can go on, especially when our very lives are often threatened. We can’t even fully rest in our sleep as we need to be on alert for noises and threats. This is stress and trauma to us and our bodies as we are permanently in a state of survival.
I hear you, and you are in a tough spot.
What do you feel you need most right now? Sometimes we feel we know what we need to do, we just need a listening ear and the support of someone to actually be able to do it. Other times, we don’t know what to do and we are looking for advice.
I am wishing you strength for today, and look forward to hearing back from you ~