The loss of connection is the primal wound. Being removed from biological parents can leave a child with scars that last a lifetime. Since our children with Complex Trauma suffer from lost connections—in a kind of paradise lost—the way out of their hell is through newly established connections.
Parents may understand this, but that doesn't mean their children do. For our young people, connection is the scariest thing in their world. From their perspective, since it was “big people” that led to their pain, it is big people that pose the greatest threat to them. As one teenager expressed to me: “When my [adoptive] father says ‘no’ I am immediately reminded of my birth parents.”
By with-ness I'm trying to communicate a therapeutic parenting approach toward our children that isn't going to put them off, but rather lead to connection: a gentle way of coming alongside them. Our children’s fear may be so great that deep closeness—intimacy—is like being thrown into a box full of snakes, or spiders, or whatever it is that you are most afraid of. So, we can't expect closeness with them to happen by directly approaching them and expecting them to respond like other children who have not suffered this primal loss.
Examples of With-ness in Action
What if your young person with Complex Trauma/RAD:
What is also typical is the way parents often interpret these behaviors as “disrespectful”:
by interpreting their children’s behavior as “disrespectful,” parents are already on a course
that will separate them from their children, and make with-ness all but impossible.
“By interpreting their children’s behavior as ‘disrespectful,’
parents are already on a course
that will separate them from their children . . . ”
Let me explain: the point is not to stop interpreting behavior, but rather, to interpret behavior in a way that leads to connection. So, when, for instance, my child raises his/her voice, I interpret this as a symptom of the pain they are feeling. It may still be hard for me to hear, but I am helping myself not to react to their voices being at a louder volume than I’d like.
Ask, Don’t Tell
Working on my interpretation of my child’s behavior makes connection possible, and I might wonder, “Is it really hard for you when I say, ‘No’ ?” You may have noticed that this response was a question, not a statement. By asking (being curious about what’s underneath the behavior) instead of telling (labelling the behavior or the child), the door is open for communication, not disconnection.
Several things are accomplished by checking in with ourselves first: we don’t escalate the situation by raising our voice, having a frown of disapproval on our face, or jumping in to correct. Instead, in the words of Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of nonviolent communication (NVC), we practice the dictum:
“Connection before Correction.”
Without connection. . .
. . .nothing is possible in the effort to provide therapeutic parenting.
Please stay tuned for our next blog – With-ness, 2.0