In discovering how the world works, we’ve all encountered the proverbial bare-hand-on-hot-stove experience. Pain makes an effective and persuasive learning channel and establishes a boundary that we all respect. Avoidance of pain is a primal motivator for healthy individuals.
Kids who have been abused in their families often surround themselves with impregnable walls that ensure that people will no longer be able to take advantage of them. Because parents or other trusted adults were the perpetrators, adoptive or foster parents become immediately suspect in the child’s eyes. Unfortunately, this walled-person approach also closes off positive and comforting interactions.
The child deepens their attachment to self-reliance, separateness and his essential belief of un-loveability. This often manifests in behavior that intentionally pushes parents or authority figures away and is designed to annoy, frighten, or distance them from the child. This becomes a catch-22 where safety is accomplished through the pain of isolation, loneliness, and despair.
Parental reaction can intensify the child’s need for his wall which further reinforces his negative beliefs. He will do anything to keep his wall intact, even if this means sabotaging or injuring himself. Kids may provoke responses that keep their beliefs intact. This is their primary directive and overrides the desire for connection. Fear trumps hope until it is unlearned through repeated experiences of safety and unconditional love.
Next week we will explore how parents’ personal beliefs and traumas resurrect their own past walls that can be triggered by the unsettling behaviors their traumatized children demonstrate. We invite you to consider the following questions. As parents what are ways that we are triggered? What are the walls that we put up?
P.S. Did you notice the heart hidden in the barbed wire?