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Negative Behavior: A Strategy for Tranferring Pain onto Parents

July 30, 2014

Kid having a tantrum

A recent article written by the Adoption Council of Ontario focused on the concept of inducement which they define as “a psychological concept which describes the use of non-verbal communication to induce one’s own emotional state in another. Inducement is a communication strategy that all people use unconsciously. When you find yourself feeling a little happier just because someone walked by with a smile and a bounce in their step, or when seeing someone else putting on a brave face against hardship makes you feel stronger yourself, you have been induced. Children who have experienced abuse, neglect, and abandonment, however, become experts in the use of inducement to project negative emotions.

Many adoptive parents, when this behaviour starts to manifest, are pushed right up to their breaking point. They feel that no-one is capable of understanding the terrible feelings that are welling up inside them. They find themselves irrationally angry, scared, shameful, and alone. It is not uncommon for parents in this situation to feel like they are going crazy. “

Those of us parenting kids with trauma or childhood “ACEs”  (Adverse Childhood Experiences,) recognize inducement at work even without the “official” terminology because we’ve lived it. And it isn’t pretty; in fact it can be downright traumatizing. We are well aware of how it operates to wedge between us and a serene, attached family.

What benefit accrues to us and our kids once we learn about the concept? Understanding inducement provides both empathy and a path to negotiate the parent/child relationship better. The unpleasant behavior can be recognized as a non-productive and unconscious strategy which the child uses and not as a malicious choice intentionally wielded to hurt us. It is driven by their need to divest themselves of the pain, fear and risk that intimacy registers subconsciously because of their history. In their mixed-up world, their strategy makes sense—pass the pain on. The rejection and distance their behavior elicits as a parental response creates the escape.

Parental empathy doesn’t make the interactions any easier to navigate nor does it strengthen attachment. It does create an opening in which parents can recognize: this isn’t personal; it isn’t about me. (Although it can feel VERY personal.) It is all about their trauma. By standing in that space, parents don a virtual flak jacket that insulates themselves and frees them to validate the child emotionally. Once calm has been restored, parents can work with the child to resolve the issues that triggered the situation.

The nature of trauma means they are better skilled at inducing the negative, the hopeless, the overwhelmed in us than we are capable of inducing the positive, the competent and the connected in them. The process is a slow march to healing. Continue to focus on affirmative intention. Consistently search out adoption-attuned tools.

How will you love them unconditionally when they are in their stuff? How will you resist their inducements to accept their projected negativity, stay grounded on your own capabilities and stay emotionally connected and supportive. How will you stay connected when you feel defeated or disappointed?

As Robyn Gobels, LCSW discusses so eloquently, “Trauma Doesn’t Tell Time.” In our next blog we will explore what it means to parent kids with Tough Starts as they enter adulthood still needing parental support and understanding and still manifesting challenging behaviors and less-than-pleasant behavior strategies.

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