#59 Trauma and resilience

April 24, 2013 at 7:23 am | Posted in adoption issues, adoption loss, Adoptive parenting do's, Raising the adopted child | Leave a comment
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One of the definitions of trauma is “any wrenching or distressing experience, especially one causing a disturbance in normal functioning”.  There are two schools of thought when it comes to this.  One school says to toughen up and don’t make excuses for behavior.  Another school of thought gives credence to past Little Girl Ready for Schoolexperiences and thinks they have an effect on a person’s current state.  A difference in sensitivity might be the answer.  In any occurrence, people will differ in their reactions – often these differences are dictated by their own previous experiences and their sensitivity to whatever they experienced.  I think we can all agree there is a difference between the male view and the female view, and within those views there are degrees.

Those of us who have been raised in a traditional manner have expectations for our children as we raise them in a traditional manner.  Our children will have their blows in life, but we all hear how resilient children are.  The fact is that some are less resilient than others because of their past experiences.  Those who have had some trauma in their lives might well react in a more serious manner since a very deep nerve might be touched – a nerve that the traditional child doesn’t even have.  Is it fair, then, to expect all children to just go on with their lives as if nothing is a big deal when, in fact, adopted children have already experienced loss, abandonment, and some far more than that?

Adoption is trauma.  Scientists are discovering that nine months in the womb can have a positive or negative effect on the developing child.  If the child is then adopted, the loss of the familiarity of the birth mother’s presence can be traumatic.  A newborn knows its mother’s voice, heartbeat, and more.  When removed abruptly from this familiarity (that the biological baby stays with), an adopted baby can feel great apprehension.  They are helpless and powerless to do anything about it, but they know the comfort they had is now gone.

There are effects from trauma – people can feel powerless and helpless, a great need to gain control over their lives, they can give up or shut down on life, and lose the ability to concentrate and adjust.  We don’t think of babies as full individuals, yet they do react to life situations around them.  Parents spend a lot of time comforting their babies, sometimes not even knowing the actual discomfort their baby feels.  They just know they are crying or fussing and need comfort.

In other words, something that happened to the baby is driving the baby’s behavior.  Our immediate response is to restore calm.  This doesn’t always mean that the initial problem disappears.  It just means that for now everyone feels better.

The point that adoptive parents need to keep in mind is that we really don’t know what happened to our children before they came into our lives.  The children are too young to verbalize and often too young to remember.  They just know they don’t feel comfortable.  If we can start from this point – the discomfort of the child – first we must calm the situation, then reinforce love and safety issues, and then in time try to find out the causes.  This takes a lot of patience and self-control on the parents’ part, but it’s the way to root out the cause and put the child back on a positive track.

Traditional ways of parenting often fall short for our adopted children.  We can’t expect them all to be as resilient as we might expect.  We should adjust to their needs and not assume we know how they are thinking or feeling.  They can’t tell us in words what is wrong, but their behavior tells us.  We need to pay attention.  We need to listen to their words and listen to their behavior.  They are always communicating with us.  Often we don’t like what they are saying either in words or behavior, but nonetheless, they are telling us something and we need to pay attention.  They are often asking for help even if they can’t understand why.

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