Posts Tagged ‘trauma’

Muscle Cramps, Triggers & Traumaversaries. Oh My!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019 @ 01:01 PM
Author: admin
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In the world of adoption, we hear a lot about grief, loss, trauma, and emotional triggers. As parents how do we deal with this complicated emotional stew? How do we support our kids, help move them through to the other side, back to a place of calm and security? How do we manage our own emotion during and after raw emotional exchanges?

This anecdote from my own life may be a useful metaphor and might offer a bit of insight. My loud yelping puzzled my mini schnauzer the other night. Leg cramps jerked me awake with excruciating, unrelenting intensity. It felt as if the muscle might tear completely away from the bone. The pain left me breathless and momentarily paralyzed.

I knew that standing offered the only way to release the cramp. A tangle of sheets held me in place. I struggled to activate my ability to move by intention instead of reaction. But the pain held me in its grip. Intellectually I knew how to end the cramp. Yet in that moment I was completely out of my logical, executive-functioning brain locked ticht in the GRIP of the primitive response of my reptilian brain.

We’ve all been in similar situations where we had pertinent knowledge and a viable option but instead chose a different, response because that resonated with our emotions at that moment. Perhaps we picked a fight with our spouse or piled consequence on top of consequence, on top of consequence to a defiant, unrepentant teenager. All of us can remember an example of such emotional upheaval. Truth is toddlers aren’t the only ones who fall prisoner to the meltdown.

Tune in to an example of your own personal melt down. (Doesn’t have to be recent, just memorable.) Not your proudest moment, right? Dive into the memory and recall how you felt, what you said and the emotional fallout that ensued. Clearly, it left a mark because you can still recall it. Imagine how this same event might be stored in the memories of the people with whom you shared the moment.

My point is this: in the throes of an emotional hijacking, self-control is not easily accessed. Children like ours who have experienced trauma can find themselves caught in one of these emotional maelstroms. Begun not by intent, but by something that rockets out of the periphery and then slams like a foul ball into their guts. Like the unexpected and unwelcome cramp that jerked me awake, our kids can be caught unaware, yanked from the present moment by triggers they never saw coming. Paralyzed. Haunted. Paniced. Perhaps it is a smell, a song, a gesture, a trauma-versary recognized only by their subconscious memory.

They don’t see it coming. We don’t see it coming. But like when a comet strikes the earth, the devastation spreads deep and wide. Nothing nearby survives unscathed.

Now that we have some insight about meltdowns, we can see that often it is not a matter of their unwillingness to comply and more a matter of their inability to comply at that moment. How do we help them in the moment?

We must bring our calm to the fore. Avoid responding with matching emotional intensity. (That simply adds fuel to an already overwrought situation.) Resist the temptation to debate or rationalize. Their thinking brain is off-line. We must keep ours engaged. Save the discussion until calm has been restored. Hold off on deciding consequences too. Take the time to decide what is appropriate, proportionate, and effective. Remember the goal of discipline is to teach not to punish. Delay the conversation, but do definitely have it.

To come full circle, I did manage to claw my way out of bed and onto my feet. The cramp released. I was deeply grateful. Ww all know how good it feels to walk through pain and get through it. As parents we have a chance to help our children master the process.

Attunement Ensures It Is Safe to Love

Wednesday, August 22, 2018 @ 02:08 PM
Author: admin

attunement-ensures-it-is-safe-to-loveReaders of this blog know that I care for my three-year-old grandson’s three days a week. This is both a privilege and a joy. Trained as a teacher and honed by adoptive parenthood, I am also fascinated at the difference between parenting children with trauma histories and parenting this little cherub who has known only consistency, stability and love from all the adults in his life. His sense of trust has never been broken and he, therefore, views life through a lens of secure trust. He believes the world is safe and welcoming. He knows that adults are safe, reliable, supportive, encouraging, and loving. Attunement has repeatedly provided him successful “serve and return” relationship reciprocity that nurtures secure attachment.

I observe a palpable difference between his life experience and that of my own children and others who had experienced trauma, had authentic reason to be vigilant and sceptical about the world. They knew from direct experience that it could be upended suddenly, that everyone and everything familiar can disappear in a flash. They wanted to inhabit a world that was steady, safe, reliable, consistent, secure, and managed by trustworthy adults.

Trauma histories have an impact on children’s worldview and influence their mental and physical health. This does not mean that children with trauma histories are doomed; They simply need parents and caretakers who understand the need for attunement, patience, presence, empathy, consistency, and therapeutic parenting. Remember, their life experience created a “blueprint that was imprinted by terror.” From the very understandable logic built on their personal history, learning to trust, DARING to trust is an act of incredible bravery.[1]

Adoptive families real factor AQA foundational principle of GIFT Family Services’ approach to parenting is Adoption-attunement. AQ incorporates a level of intentionality and understanding that significantly benefits adopted children and their families. It is a concept about which we have written frequently. Our choice of “Attunement”–with a capital “A”–reflects a deep awareness of the powerful way attunement operates in human beings. Famed neurobiologist, Dr. Dan Siegel asserts that “Attunement is not a luxury; it is a requirement of the individual to survive and thrive.” [2]

Dr. Steven Porges further clarifies that attunement builds a context of safety that frees people to “love without fear.” As Intentional parents we most certainly want our children to feel safe and secure enough to “love without fear”, [3] to feel safe enough to open themselves to the joy and vulnerability of connection.  My grandson demonstrates this ease in his habit of occasionally pausing in the middle of his play to spontaneously plop himself in my lap and announce, “I need a hug.”

Cue the moist eyes. Obviously, I melt and hug him with joy and deep love. Every time he does this I think, Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we felt confident and secure enough in all our relationships to let people know we need a moment of connection and affection? This only occurs in a context of profound trust because it exposes both one’s own raw need, it makes one vulnerable to rejection and to the other person’s taking advantage of their invitation to respond to our expressed need. Those who know us best, who know our trigger points and sore points, who know our fears and worries have the potential to use them against us. That is why the degree of trust for this level of intimacy is huge and rare.

attunement-ensures-it-is-safe-to-loveHow many times have you experienced the need for a hug or an empathic ear? How often did you feel secure enough to act on that need and request connection with another persona? What enabled you to muster the courage?

On the other hand, if you stifled the need, and stoically stuffed your emotional needs, what prevented you? How did this emotional shutdown feel?

How are we building this level of trust within our families? With our partners? How are we modeling the willingness to be vulnerable as well as the careful way we respond to such overtures to connection as the sacred trust they actually represent? Trust, connection and attunement are fragile and take time to build. They are also easily damaged, so we must marshal great vigilance and commitment to attunement–especially that specialized level of adoption-attunement which understands the complexity of factors that adoption imposes on families built by adoption.

An “Unreasonable” Christmas Wish: A Family

Wednesday, December 20, 2017 @ 01:12 PM
Author: admin

An "Unreasonable" Christmas Wish: A Family

In the United States over 100,000 children in foster care need permanent families. Their most earnest Christmas wish is to receive a family who wants to welcome them into their hearts and homes and love them for a lifetime. There is no good reason that a child should have to languish alone, without the support of a loving, safe, permanent family. It is a tragedy beyond measure. We can and should do better by these children.

Love, sadly is not enough to heal their wounds, remediate their trauma and rebuild their ability to trust. Along with a willingness to love, the potential parents they dream about must have adequate preparation that provides them with the skills, understanding and commitment which will ensure that they have the stamina and capability to be the parents these children so desperately need and deserve.

To bridge these children across the divide of their grief, trauma and neglect requires more than good intentions. Through no fault of their own, these children have suffered great loss. That is their reality. Their truth. Their prospective adoptive families will need to be able to handle their truth, validate their emotions and walk with them as they journey to healing and regain their ability to trust. And love.

The journey will not unfold as a fairy tale. Rather it will reveal itself as a hero’s journey for both child and parent. This will take emotional, spiritual and psychic strength beyond measure—enough to sustain parent and child through the rocky shoals of the healing process. Prospective adoptive parents must be able to kick fairy tale expectations to the curb and deal with reality. This is the kinder, healthier and harder approach.

Happy, healthy families can emerge from this crucible as long as people pair their best intentions with the best Adoption-attuned* knowledge and understanding of the needs of children who fell into foster care. The deterioration of a family is neither pretty nor kind. It leaves scars, memories, self-sabotaging coping skills which—given the circumstances—they may be reluctant to release. Success will be hard won. Like all of life’s most valuable things, it will absolutely be worth the effort.

An "Unreasonable" Christmas Wish: A Family-P4P-Partnerships-for-PermanenceSally Ankerfelt, one of GIFT Family Services coaches had the opportunity to interview two young women who were adopted after being placed in foster care. (Click here to listen to the podcast.) These young ladies have pioneered a movement to help the next generation of foster kids. They’ve organized others like themselves, along with interested professionals to create Partnerships for Permanence* which is “an organization for former foster youth and adoptees coming together to raise awareness and actively work to improve the child welfare system.”

While their own personal experiences may have been imperfect, they have taken this experience and channeled it into a desire to help others. By sharing their personal insights about what helped and what failed them, they can improve the experience for children currently in the foster care system.

Their mission demands courage, resilience and commitment. They could have chosen to be bitter and resentful; instead, they have become committed and hopeful that they can repurpose their suffering to ensure a better experience for foster youth.

Please take the time to listen to their interview. Listen. Learn. Act. Then ask yourself, how has their story inspired you to adjust how you handle things within your family?

*Partnerships for Permanence is an affiliate of GIFT Family Services. They can work with families using the services of our coaches.

http://wp.me/p4r2GC-1U3

 

 

An Eclipse Can Blind Us

Wednesday, August 23, 2017 @ 02:08 PM
Author: admin

challenges-of-parenting-can-blind-us-to-the-joysThe recent total eclipse captured our national attention and provided a refreshing point of unity for all Americans regardless of their political beliefs. It offered an experience of staggering beauty and reminded us of the fragility of this planet which we all share. For all of its mesmerizing beauty, an eclipse can blind us if we stare at the sun’s brilliance without adequate protection. Sometimes the challenges of parenting can similarly blind us and cause us to lose heart.

All parents know that in addition to the exquisite heart-touching, soul-altering joys of parenthood, it also includes challenges that can break the heart or cause us to question our capabilities as parents. The hard work of parenting also includes a healthy dose of drudgery: the heavy lifting of inculcating and enforcing family values and the important responsibility of teaching children how to learn from their mistakes.

Adoption imposes additional challenges to our parenting tasks. In addition to the same tasks which all children face, our kids also must discern how to blend a dual heritage from their birth and adoptive families. Make no mistake; their job is far from easy. It takes courage and persistence, support and encouragement. Most of all it takes time. Lots and lots of time.

This extended period of dependency can exceed our expectations; it also can exceed our patience. Sometimes parenting can feel utterly overwhelming and endless. We look at our friends (who are raising kids by birth and not through adoption.) We envy their kids’ seemingly effortless ability to fledge the family nest and make it on their own. We’re ready for the next stage of life.

Sometimes, we can fall into feelings of despair and wonder if our kids will ever pull themselves together. We fear that we are not up to the task. We mistrust our skills and inner strength. We tire of the conflict that simmers between us and children who are struggling to solidify their identity and enter adulthood. We crave a break from the stress and worry–for a moment, a day, a week… We pray for reassurance that things will work out well.

Shift vantage points. Imagine what it is like to be in our children’s shoes. They can’t step away around these obstacles. Their only pathway forward is to leap over these hurdles. They must forever manage the two planets of their lives: birth family and adoptive family. It’s a lifetime burden on their shoulders. As fatigued as we are by the shadows adoption casts into our family life, their stress pales by comparison.

As Intentional parents we must remind ourselves that our kids are tired of the conflict too. They too, crave the relief of resolution. We know behavior is the language of trauma and that their behavior speaks volumes. They’re probably afraid they’ll never figure themselves out. They sense our worries and fears and these emotions magnify their own self-doubts, feelings of inadequacy and fears of rejection.

Our exhaustion and impatience tells them we aren’t up to the challenge of standing with them until the crisis passes. That’s scary. It’s a primal fear like primitive man experienced when an eclipse wiped the life-giving sun from the sky and they wondered if it would ever return. Our kids need to know that we can handle them, their “stuff,” their anger and their fear.

Unless we can hold that space of acceptance, security and hope, we’ve allowed ourselves to become blinded by the glare of the conflict because it is so close, so hot, so intense. But like the eclipse in which the moon succeeds in totally obscuring the sun which is four hundred times larger, the result occurs because of the perspective and proximity. Eventually the planetary alignment shifts, the moon continues on its orbit and our reality returns to its “normal.” As people of this century, we have this knowledge and that bedrock of security neutralizes our fear of the darkness.

It’s scary until the light returns and begins to shimmer around the edges of the current problem. We must hold hope in our hearts with the sure knowledge that we can be the safety lenses that enable our kids and ourselves, to look right at these two things and learn how to establish a balance. In spite of any self-doubts or moments of weakness, we do have what it takes. Sometimes a shift in perspective can make all of the difference. Staring too directly at the fiery glow of the “problem” can blind us to the choices that will unfold in the near future or those that currently remain obscured by the too-close light. How will you use your “safety glasses to look at the challenges ahead? How can you serve as safety lenses for your children?

Coping with Transitions …

Thursday, August 3, 2017 @ 12:08 AM
Author: admin

Coping with transitions: the adoption connectionAnyone connected with adoption knows that transitions tend to unsettle adoptees. Some posit that it echoes the primal loss of their being separated from their birth families. Regardless of how they connect to this profound loss, transitions do operate as trigger points for many (most) adoptees. Transitions tend to trigger uncertainty which in turn connects to fear, insecurity and, a sense of amorphic threat or danger. As Intentional parents, we work to be mindful of this hot-button and we use strategies to help our kiddos cope. Let’s face it, nobody enjoys a meltdownnot even the kids. These emotional events leave everyone shaken by the intensity and depth of the feelings which undergird them.

They also tend to trigger visceral responses within us. A combination of irritation, frustration, overwhelm, helplessness, impotence, confusion and, even fear all vibratein a symphony of dissonance that leaves all feeling spent. What are some steps that help families to move forward? Attunement offers one excellent path.

Acknowledge: Keep it neutral! Resist the temptation to match their drama with our own responses. Stay factual. I can see you’ve got big feelings about this.

Witness: Move beyond the act of observing and choose to give witness. Just like in a courtroom, our words offer a perspectiveourswhich informs how others understand the situation. Our testimony gives kids the language to express, describe and, capture their experience. Once kids have words to express their feelings and needs, they can begin to step off the hamster wheel of what Daniel Goleman calls an “emotional hijacking.

Language helps them label their thoughts, feelings and, needs. Words offer us a way to express their inner turmoil. This provides us some sense of being able to manage the “overwhelm”. What happens when there are no words?

Think about it. When adopted as infants and toddlers, children have not yet mastered language. This means the trauma which adoptees experienced by being separated from their birth mothers is held as pre-verbal memory. This means it is not encoded in words. They experience the memory as a feeling without a script. Although “non-verbal,” the memory holds a deeply entrenched, consuming sense of danger, fear and, abandonment on a sensate, cellular level. Without words to recapture and revisit the memory, it is experienced as unbounded, ongoing and unending. And, because it lacks a perceived beginning or end, these undefined, unlimited feelings are easily triggered throughout life.

They need us to provide tools to cope. A broad “emotional vocabulary” empowers them to transform the misperception that stressors are infinite, unlimited and permanent. Language imposes some boundaries. It provides them a way to package it so they can examine, assess and manage it.

Affirm: Adult adoptees frequently report that some of their most painful memories center around feeling invalidated and invisible. This happens when their feelings and concerns are dismissed, trivialized or ignored. Many report that they received powerful messageseither overtly or subtlythat adoption conversation could include only positives; that they were expected to choose undivided loyalty to the adoptive family and never refer to, or seek information about their birth families; that they needed to sublimate their natural talents and inclinations and follow the traditional patterns of the adoptive family; that discussing adoption distressed their parents. They chose to sacrifice themselves and learned to ignore their need for support in order to protect their adoptive parents.

Intentional parents have the opportunity to choose a healthier and more honest approach.

Adoption-attuned*Coping with Transitions ...Set boundaries: One thing parents fear is that if they try to “connect before correct” kids will grab the upper hand and the family will devolve into chaos. In reality, if we try to yell, persuade or punish a child who is in the stranglehold of an emotional hijacking, we engage in a lose/lose situation.

So yes, connect. Connect so you can correct but delay the educating part of correcting until calm has been restored. Then correct. Reiterate the boundaries. Rehearse the better choices. 

For more on the concept of Emotional Intelligence and emotional hijackings read Daniel Goleman’s seminal work, Emotional Intelligence. At GIFT, we move beyond the common idea that intelligence equates with Intellectual capability as measured by a high IQ and consider the concept of multiple intelligences. In addition to Intellectual Intelligence (IQ), we embrace Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, (EQ,) and it led us to develop the idea of Adoption-attunement™–our theory of Adoption Intelligence (AQ.)

No Bohns About It