We’re standing in the kitchen awkwardly learning to be with each other. I love this young lady but I really don’t know her well. Yet, here she is living with us for a day or two. Her reason for being with us doesn’t matter. What matters is she is here because she feels safe and is searching for hope, for change.
“Oh! Something just occurred to me!” My comment interrupted my own sentence and obviously startled this young lady. (For the sake of the story, I’ll call her Aspen.) Aspen quietly and timidly asks me what just occurred to me. “Your mom and dad never were married. And he’s never really been a part of your life, right?” She nods, “That’s right, why?”
I can see it in her, in all the painful stories she’s shared with me over the last two days. I call it ‘abandonment issues.’ The correct term is Reactive Attachment Disorder or RAD.
“You have abandonment issues”, I blurt out with excitement as if I’ve just found the grand prize, the treasure, the last puzzle piece! She just stares at me blankly and I realize I better explain.
I’m excited because I know it will answer so many questions for her and ultimately enable her to learn and release from a very painful core belief.
Aspen is one of many that I’ve met over the years. The number is increasing and that’s why I’m writing this blog. We have a hidden monster eating up our kids and monsters always lose power when we shine a light on them. Let the light shine!
Before I go further, it’s imperative that I clarify a very important point. Parents like Aspen’s mom and dad did the best they could when they had a difficult decision before them. This conversation is not about morality or parenting. It’s about recognizing an ever growing problem due to one or more parents choosing not to parent a birth child for any number of reasons none of which will be discussed here. I assume they did their best, period. Even the consideration of what might have been best for the child isn’t necessarily a factor to the outcome discussed here. Bottom line, there are consequences for children whose birth parents are not present and loving for their child. It’s those consequences that we’re exploring. Equally important to acknowledge are the many parents who have adopted children and with tremendous love have overcome this difficulty.
With that, let’s continue.
There is an innate expectation we are born with that our birth parents will love and care for us. It’s the bonding that takes place after birth and continues that builds our confidence to survive and thrive in this world. It’s our foundation to trust people, to form bonds with humans, to trust ourselves. Bonding matters.
It is in rare cases where orphans are left in cribs untouched maybe only given the basics that we can see the extremely detrimental effects of a lack of bonding. Children can actually die from such horrific neglect.
There are other less extreme yet damaging behaviors like severe abuse. Both parents might be present but certainly loving bonding is absent. Where children are removed over and over again from homes and possibly moved from foster home to foster home, where RAD develops – Reactive Attachment Disorder – a diagnosis which is extreme and devastating.
But we rarely look at the lesser more common effect of a lack of bonding by a cold or distant parent or where one parent is not present much or at all. This is especially true when a parental figure is replaced for the absent one. I believe parents think by marrying another person, the problem is solved. Often, it’s a natural desire to put all that nasty business behind you and move on. Consequently, parents rarely think their young child could be affected by the departure of one parent when another is in the home. Regardless of how perfectly loving a replacement might be, the child’s innate expectation of love and security from a birth parent exists and the absence impacts them to varying degrees.
What does the outcome look like? Let’s consider Aspen’s life. She pushes people away. She has a difficult time trusting anyone. In her case, it was her dad that never bonded. Consequently, she sometimes feels she can’t disappoint the father that raised her or grandfather or they may leave too. She blames herself for her father leaving. She causes drama to create attention. And even though she has a very accepting and loving extended family, she pushes them away, finds fault easily, and generally has a hard time believing they love or want her. She has a hard time believing anyone can love her. And she’s always waiting for people to leave her. She attaches to things rather than people. When she does have a boyfriend, she is overly attached (obsessive) and yet pushes him away by doing inappropriate things such as cheating on him. She doesn’t trust herself and yet she’s fiercely independent. The most devastating is the simple lack of connection. She’s lonely.
Like other painful core beliefs, her actions don’t seem to support her current life. Outsiders or anyone unaware of the issue can be baffled because to them she seems to ‘have it so good.’ They find it difficult to understand her lack of appreciation. They simply don’t see life through her experiences.
Aspen is delusional in a sense. It’s also similar to PTSD where she is living in the pain of the past that is not supported by the reality of the present moment. She believes it and thus creates situations over and over again to prove herself right. It’s her reality.
With so many single-parent families and abandoned children, it’s no wonder gang affiliation has skyrocketed. Yet, gangs are pseudo families that certainly don’t provide the healthy connection needed.
Gangs are an extreme, an obvious side effect of abandonment. But what about all the subtle side effects like drug use, self-harm, and the extreme solution to total lack of hope – suicide?
Obviously, not all suicides are spurred by abandonment. Not all drug use, gang affiliation, or problems, in general, are either. Yet, some are. Why don’t we see this? Why don’t therapists approach this? I’ve known many kids who are suffering in who are in counseling and the abandonment topic never is brought up. To me it’s insanity.
I was abandoned by my father. I see it in me and that’s why I can see it in others. The minute I bring it up, there is this shock and awe moment. Then, just like Aspen, as I shared my insight and experience, the lights go on and she is amazed and relieved to understand what’s been causing so much pain in her sweet precious life. She starts putting the puzzle together.
Is Aspen free of the effects of abandonment now after our brief exploration, hardly. But, she will take that moment of awareness and build on it. And that’s hope.