This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Trauma Bond - Adopting siblings

(Not my kids)
Excerpt from an excellent article about the Trauma Bond by an attachment expert (and trauma mama), Christine Moers - Raising Kids With Trauma Bonds
Well, it means that one child can have an emotionally strong day and really be rocking along quite nicely. Then their sibling starts to crash. The sounds, the familiarity, the flashbacks ... it can cause them both to tank. They play off each other. It can be a very, very toxic combination. And if they are BOTH already having a bad day - yowza.
I have watched it in my home, and it still saddens and fascinates me. The trauma bond between my adopted children Mar and Rocky was so intense that it hindered Rocky's healing for a very long time. Mar took the big sister role, even though he is three years older. He was terrified to stand on his own and move forward without her. She was all he had ever had, and he wasn't sure he wanted to shift the perceived power and control onto himself. He wasn't sure he could trust us. He didn't trust his sister, but she was all he knew.
Then, when he did start to make those emotional moves away from her - YIKES. She was not too happy. That was yet another time of extreme regression. It was u.g.l.y.

 Conditions which may indicate that siblings should be placed separately (Lord and Borthwick - 'Together or Apart' 2001)
  • intense rivalry and jealousy, with each child totally preoccupied with, and unable to tolerate the attention their sibling(s) may be getting;
  • exploitation, often based on gender, e.g. boys may have been seen and see themselves as inherently superior to their sisters, with a right to dominate and exploit them;
  • chronic scapegoating of one child;
  • maintaining unhelpful alliances in a sibling group and family of origin. Sibling patterns of behavior may be strongly entrenched and may prevent re-parenting or learning new cultural norms; 
  •  maintaining unhelpful hierarchical positions e.g. the child may be stuck in the role of victim or bully; 
  • highly sexualised behavior with each other;
  • acting as triggers to each others traumatic material potentially re-traumatizing each other. The triggers may well be unconscious, unintentional, and mundane.

Factors in the birth family which can negatively influence the relationship between siblings (Kosonon, 1994)
  • poor attachments to parents which can result in intense sibling confict;
  • neglect and parental absence resulting in strong compensatory sibling relationships, often where an older sibling provides some parenting of a young child. Such bonds can become abusive.

Children who have suffered very poor attachments need to develop a secure attachment to a safe adult or adults. That sometimes requires the separation of siblings, because if placed together, they may inhibit the formation of healthy adult attachments. - Burnell, Vaughan and Williams (2007)

"Children need to bond to a loving adult in order to ever be able to deal with issues of trust, authority or real intimacy. A bond with an unhealthy sibling often stands in the way of the parent-child bond. It can be used as a crutch – I don’t need you, I’ve got my brother in much the same way gang members rely on each other for a sense of belonging and security. It’s effective for the youth, but isn’t healthy or good for society." - Becky Malecki
 Our Most Important Lessons (The Potential Downside of Adopting Siblings by Becky Malecki):

  1. Rivalry between RAD children is not like normal sibling rivalry. It can take a dimension of intensity that mirrors their past abuse and involves a fierce degree of competitiveness that shadows all else. These are children who cannot be left alone while you’re in the bathroom for they might harm each other, injure a pet or destroy something of value.
  2.  Sibling groups carry a collective memory of their past trauma. Through their ongoing interactions with each other they help to keep the ugly past alive. They trigger memories for each other. 
  3. Unconsciously, their emotional issues, their mannerisms, even their very physical looks can be triggers of negative feelings of rejection.
  4. These children love to sabotage each other and the parents, as they believe there is never enough love.

We certainly saw this with Kitty and Bear. Continued contact with birth family, caused them to have feelings of conflicted loyalty and triggering and reopening emotional wounds - preventing them from healing. Bear not only felt these conflicts himself, but made sure Kitty (who desperately felt the need to keep him placated to feel safe) knew that she was expected to feel the same way. He also was unwilling to give up his role as Kitty's protector/ parent. A role that Birthmom had encouraged in her "Little Man." 

Placating the Powerful Child
If one child is younger, was designated the scapegoat by a caregiver, or perceived weaker, that child will often try to please and placate the more powerful child, especially if that more powerful child is an abuser too.

Why Would a Child Bond to an Abuser?
"If a person is unable to escape chronic, traumatic abuse, they will eventually begin to bond with their perpetrator(s). This has been well documented in the literature. It will occur because of the dehumanization of the victim, who may reach a state of feeling that they are “robotized” or nonfeeling, combined with a disruption in the capacity for intimacy caused by the trauma."

"Many victims of severe and unrelenting trauma, whether domestic violence, incest, or ritual abuse, will find that they feel anxious when alone, and fear abandonment and isolation. The over-dependent characteristics are NOT a personality fault, but a result of the chronic abuse. This is often rooted in the fact that as a child, the trauma survivor was not only a CAPTIVE to their abuse, but they depended upon their perpetrator for food, shelter, or other necessities. In addition, with ritual abuse, a small child will often be abandoned for periods of time, to increase their dependency upon the very people who are abusing them. "

“Trauma impels people both to withdraw from close relationships and to seeks them desperately. The profound disruption in basic trust, the common feelings of shame, guilt, and inferiority, and the need to avoid reminders of the trauma that might be found in social life, all foster withdrawal from close relationships. But the terror of the traumatic event intensifies the need for protective attachments. The traumatized person therefore frequently alternates between isolation and anxious clinging to others..." - excerpt from excellent book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence--from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror  (1997) by Judith Lewis Herman, MD

"... the perpetrator WILL rescue {the victim} and stop the abuse, or take the child out of the confines of their pain, but for a price: their unrelenting loyalty and obedience. "
"This will be reinforced by the perceived power of the perpetrator {over the victim}."  Trauma Bonding : The Pull to the Perpetrator By Svali

Selection of Evidence on Adopting Siblings and the Need Sometimes to Separate Brothers and Sisters in their Interests. - Slideshow

So What Do We Do About It?

Rocky and Mar could not say anything in a kind voice to one another. It was rare and usually superficial. Yet they craved being together. They were feeding off the trauma. We had to carefully determine who sat where at meals around the table. They could not be right next to one another or across from one another. They were not allowed to play together. It was just too much. We had to keep them separated so they could practice interacting with people in an emotionally healthy way. Then, when that was much more routine, we started to widen the boundaries so they could practice being together. Christine Moers - Raising Kids With Trauma Bonds

Living with RAD - (Siblings and that Trauma Bond) Here are some of the things we have tried. Keep in mind we change things up often because nothing works forever.

  1. They cannot be in the same room if an adult is not present. So if Taz walks in and Teddy is the only one there, he is to turn and walk out. Does it always happen? NO. They seek each other out intentionally when they want to fight with someone.  And why do they want to fight? Because sadness, fear, frustration, fatigue all turn into anger. It has happened for years. We work on it daily.
  2. They are not to speak negatively of the other person to me. "If you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all" is a phrase used often.
    Have them think of two things they like about the other person every time they say a negative. They really don't like that one and often it nips the negative comments because they don't want to say anything nice about the other.
  3. Keep activities that involve both kids short and really fun. A going for a "nature walk" and going out for a treat are two of the best activities we have done with our sons. When you are walking everyone is heading in the same direction (sort of) they can stop and explore around the lake. Sometimes we take the camera and look for things that would make neat photos.It burns off energy. If there are any problems I just say I have to be in the middle! When we go out for a treat, they are never sitting across from each other (kicking under table) or next to each other (elbows fly). These activities can be fun.
  4. Refuse to get caught up in the drama. Just say "This has nothing to do with me. I hope you two can work it out".  That takes a lot of the fun out of it for them as they really want mom to step in and escalate things. De-escalation is an art form but it is not that tough if you just stay calm, use a calm voice and remember if it is not important just refuse to get involved.

What WE Did:
*ABSOLUTELY no touching.  None.  Ever. The aggressive child (usually Bear) especially, literally had to be out of arm reach of the other kids at all times. They weren't allowed to sit next to each other on the couch or in the car.   

*Line of Sight Supervision. If I had to be in another room then that child came with me or was in his/her room alone. They were NEVER allowed to be alone in the same room. You didn't come out of your room unless Mom said so. You weren't to go in each other's rooms either (this was to prevent abuse, but also to prevent theft).

* Separate rooms. Originally the girls shared a room.  BIG mistake! We converted the playroom to a bedroom to separate them.  

*ABSOLUTELY no "parenting."  The adopted kids (especially Bear) felt they had a right to boss the other kids around (The biokids were good kids they just took it. Kitty was terrified of Bear, so she did whatever he said).  EVERY time we heard anything that sounded like parenting, we reminded everyone that WE were the parents and that was not their job.  We NEVER put the kids in a position where they got to tell the other kids what to do.  Not even relaying a message ("Mom said to come downstairs and do the dishes.") At most, they were allowed to say, "Mom is calling you." 

*You don't do what a sibling says - especially if you know it is wrong. The child telling them what to do got in trouble, but so did the one who blamed it on the other child telling them to do it. "He's not your boss. Who is allowed to tell you what to do? (correct answer is "Mom," "Dad," "Grandma, " or an approved adult)."

*"Walk Away" None of your business. When a child was dysregulated/ having a meltdown, the other children were expected to stay out of it! Talking or interacting with the child or the parent dealing with the child was strongly discouraged. Bear especially liked to trigger Kitty when I was trying to keep her from escalating. 

*FAIR does not mean Equal. We used the FAIR Club for discipline. This meant each child was treated differently. Sometimes the kids, especially Bear and Kitty, would try to bait or trigger the other child into getting into trouble (while staying out of it themselves if at all possible). The advantage of not having a set "punishment" or consequence, was I could mitigate/ even out the consequences. Watching an Inappropriate Movie

*Tattling was not OK - The child was told to ask themselves, "Am I telling mom this to help my sibling, or get him/her in trouble?" (Not that I didn't listen to them first. I needed to know what was going on!). 

*Prioritize the child's mental health - Bear was often asked by therapists to try to make "amends" and/ or "restitution" to his sister (like the 12 step program). It meant nothing to him, and was a HUGE trigger for her so we didn't allow it. 

*Supervise and limit biofamily conversations. Yep. I listened in (although usually just to my child's side of the conversation). My kids had 3 younger sisters that lived with Biomom. I wanted to maintain some attachment (although my kids weren't truly attached to any of their siblings), so I allowed it. The rules were: the siblings had to be visiting Biograndma (Biomom couldn't be present) and Biograndma was not supposed to discuss Biomom or the family's living arrangements (especially not Biomom's abusive relationships).

*It's OK to tell Mom/ Dad anything, even that you hate your sibling. As long as you don't say it to that sibling or anyone else (not even best friends who might share the information). In fact, we encouraged it, to make sure no abuse was occurring and to help the kids process their feelings. 

*Therapy! Family therapy with siblings involved was way too triggering for our kids (although we tried several times), but we did a LOT of discussion in therapy. It didn't really effect Bear (although he did get defensive because he thought he was in trouble a few times), but Kitty has rarely been able to discuss Bear or her feelings regarding him. Once or twice, she was able to admit that she hated him (she blamed him for getting them kicked out of their homes and worried he'd be able to do it again. 

Every time Bear was kicked out of a place - biofamily/ foster home...), within 6 months, Kitty had to move on too. Whenever he began to rage or act up, she immediately became terrified she'd have to leave everyone she'd begun to care about. 

Out of self-preservation, Kitty constantly tried to placate Bear and keep him calm and happy (which of course she had no real control over). Bear loved the attention and took full advantage of it. Bear was also one of Kitty's abusers and prone to violent rages, which also made him terrifying to be around. 

Kitty did an amazing amount of healing while Bear was in RTC for 6 months. I believe because she felt safe, he wasn't constantly triggering her, and we were able to focus on her needs instead of constantly firefighting Bear's. She also did some healing when we brought him BACK to our home, because it meant that he hadn't managed to get kicked out despite his rages, so she could trust us to allow her to stay too. 

We were told that our kids were strongly attached to each other and wanted to be kept together. Considering they both had Reactive Attachment Disorder, (RAD) the former was unlikely. Since our kids hate change and are attracted to the chaos they feel familiar with, the latter was likely, but definitely not in their best interest. 

I used to think siblings should be kept together at all costs. Now I know that isn't always the case. 

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