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!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Emotional Energy

In family therapy we've been talking about Bear's interaction with women, me in particular. The last couple of weeks we've talked about how he's supposed to be sharing his feelings with Hubby and I in scheduled "one on one" time (scheduled, because he claims we never have time to talk to him). "My" time was supposed to be Friday afternoons when Hubby worked from home and could watch the littles while I went to pick up Bear from work.

Sometimes of course, the logistics of this don't work. Especially with my car breaking down consistently. Some days I managed to be alone in the car with Bear in the mornings on the way to work. I decided to sit quietly and see if he would initiate conversations (since his biggest complaint was that I was unavailable). Usually we end up sitting in silence for about 1/2 the trip. Then I would ask an innocuous question (how did you sleep?) or he would start complaining about something (usually about how I was forcing him to work a job he hates, preventing him from getting a job at a local boot store, and therefore ruining his Summer...).

Hubby has been encouraging me to not let him get away with this behavior, so I've been informing Bear when he hurts my feelings or I feel attacked by his tone of voice and statements. Then poor Hubby has to listen to me vent because I'm so triggered by Bear's behavior.

This morning's argument: Started out with the random comment that he wasn't planning on taking PE this school year. I reminded him that it was recommended to help him with focus. He fussed at me then said he was planning on going back on the ROTC team this coming school year. When I asked him why, especially after he dropped out a year and a half ago when he found out he wasn't eligible for the military, he went on the defensive. Any question, comment, and finally my silence... and he was jumping down my throat.

Conversations with Bear are never about anything but what he's interested in, school, work or something "therapeutic" (his history). I could probably list on one hand the time he and I just chatted or joked around (and honestly I can't think of one). He's been trained by others to ask, "How was your day?" but it's obvious he doesn't want to hear the answer.

In the joint family therapy we started recently I've noticed that both Kitty and Bear tune out if the conversation isn't about them right then. Conversation isn't really the right word. It's more like interviews. The kids rarely speak to each other at all (every now and then they might contradict something the other said, but only if they're paying attention).


Something has to change. I have enough on my plate that I don't have a lot of emotional energy. I need to decide where best to "spend" my energy. Some people I expend energy on give back, like Hubby and Ponito. Some don't give back as much, but I know that my energy is making a difference so I consider it "worth it."

I'm trying to decide if it's worth it to keep focusing so much of my energy on something that drains me so thoroughly, especially while I'm dealing with Kitty's meltdowns too. So I tried to look at this logically.

My biggest concern is am I trying to hold him accountable for something that he's not capable of changing? When we talk about our discussions, he doesn't remember them. I don't know if this is a defense mechanism, if he slips into fight, flight or freeze mode and the adrenaline rush of the life or death feeling wipes his memory, or if his memory issues really prevent him from remembering (object permanence). As Hubby put it, "It's like trying to teach a pig to dance. It frustrates you, and annoys the pig."

Here's some of the options I'm considering:

  1. Status quo- I ruled out sticking with status quo pretty quickly. I think that's the definition of crazy. Doing something over and over and expecting the results to be different. There's a small possibility that it's getting through to him and he just needs a lot of repetition, but frankly after over 4 years of this, with only this much to show for it... it's not enough.

  2. Removing myself from the equation. Not being alone with him anymore. Not allowing him to sit in the front seat of the car if we're alone. Shutting down conversations if they even start to drift in a negative direction.

  3. Confrontation - Taping one of our "conversations" and playing it in therapy so we can talk about what's going on. This is Hubby's favorite option. I think Bear will just shut down and feel criticized. He told me today, the only thing he's "perfect" at is running and fighting. He emotionally shuts down or "freezes" with men, and "fights" with me and other female caregiver types.

  4. Forcing a change by making it no longer comfortable for him to continue (consequences, removal of privileges...). With the focus being "fake it until you make it."

  • Losing privileges until earn trust (have to find concrete ways to do this)

  • FAIR Club - writing assignments and behavior assignments (ex. have to have 10 appropriate conversations, possible with written conversations starters).

  • Scripting - teach him the right words, "Here's where you say ____________."

  • Repetition for tone - have him repeat something until he can say it in a pleasant tone of voice.

  • Have to give 5 positives for every negative comment.

  • Require apologies and other repairs to relationships.

Hubby already sort of started this. He told Bear that Bear's cell phone was in "time out" until Bear had a polite conversation with me about random topic (my experience traveling in Europe when I graduated high school). Bear put it off until bedtime, when Hubby checked in to see if he'd done it. When Bear approached me 30 minutes after bedtime asking to talk to me, I told him this was not the time for conversations. He wandered off, muttering about not being willing to wait.

I'm really tempted to record tomorrow morning's conversation when I tell him he's going to have to sit in the back seat on the way to work because I'm not willing to talk to him in the mornings anymore.


Delicia said...

Hi I've been following a while and thought I would share what we do with our RAD/ADHD daughter. If she has a snarky comment, we ask her to "try again" or "how can you say that in a nice way?" She has to keep doing it until we're satisfied with her answer. OR if we tell her she has X number of tries followed by a consequence. I remind her that I don't talk to her disrespectfully so she has to match my tone and volume to show the same respect. We don't have a lot of "conversation" so to speak, but if I probe enough her and I can talk. I also use Energy Drain from Love & Logic. Also, "I love you too much to argue with you and Nice try." Sometimes it works to just tune out and "oh, too bad, bummer" to her complaining. Praying you and Bear can work on things!

Anonymous said...

Um ... remember that you are trying to remember their developmental ages? While my 10-year-old occasionally remembers to ask me if I had a good time somewhere, he tunes out if I answer with more than one sentence.

As for tapeing Bear, it might help, but i would be sure to be very concrete in what you want him to notice. if, for example, he "tends" to interrupt but he denies that behavior, I would have him listen for interruptions (but be careful! He will call you on yours!)

You can try saying things like "I'm sorry you feel that way" and "I'm sorry I upset you" (because, after all, you ARE sorry that he is upset. You are trying to talk w/o upset-ness.) And then there is the strategy of diffusing "Yes, it must really suck to have your summer ruined. I know it isn't quite the same, but my father wouldn't let me work where I wanted to when I was in high school and I know I hated that."

If logic hurts his brain because he can't understand it, don't try to have logic. Don't have serious discussions about things that are not needing immediate action. Instead, if this is his time to share his feelings, let him talk about his plans, no matter how off-the-wall or impossible they are. Let him feel excited about them -- that is his *sharing* his feelings with you. If you turn around and squish his hopes, of course he is going to be defensive and reluctant to share again. No matter how logical your point of view is. He doesn't *get* logic. Constantly remind yourself of the goal of the conversation ...

As for encouraging conversation, at least for Kitty, perhaps you can find a game -- move the pieces around a board, pick a card, guess what the other person would say, or some other conversation-starter type thing. Funner, perhaps, than just running through scenarios.