Feel As Bad As Me…The Meaning Of Fury In Adopted Children

July 5th, 2011

By Billy Kaplan, LCSW – HCC President & Clinical Director

Being on the receiving end of a child’s rage can be extremely painful for so many reasons. Certainly not the least of which is that kids with attachment and trauma related problems are so masterful at finding, and exploiting, our Achilles’ Heals to make us feel just horrible. They have a crazy-great ability to uncover the vulnerabilities we may not even know we had!

“Why, why, why are you doing this?” we want to know, “when all we want to do is love and care for you?


Since I believe that all behavior has meaning, the question is: what is the meaning of their attacks in response to our love and care giving?

One reason, I believe, is that our love and care goes against a core belief that developed in our adopted children prenatally through the age of three. In response to neglect or abuse, they came to believe that they are bad, unlovable people who don’t deserve our tender, loving care. This part of them, the “Hurt Part,” believes they are not worthy of something so wonderful.

In other words, when we say and show them how much we love them, that we believe they are lovable, we are telling the “Hurt Part” that it is a great, big, old liar, but our kids hear us as calling them a big, old liar. I don’t think it’s difficult for any of us to imagine the pain of being called a liar. So it makes sense that their natural response is a desire to inflict pain back against the person calling them (or that part of them) out.

Also, the Hurt Part of them that tricks them into believing they are bad and unlovable (whom I’m recently fond of calling “The Trickster”) has also been a “friend” of theirs, a companion that may have been around for a long time. This “friend” truly saved them and helped them survive when their needs were not being met. Yet those same survival skills are now harming their ability to move forward, heal and connect. Haven’t we all had the experience of trying to get rid of a long-term relationship/friendship, even when we know it’s bad for us? It is SO hard to let go.

So… what can we do in response to a high-powered attack from our kids? Well, breathing helps, of course, to help us avoid reacting so that we can take a moment to remember: they are hurt children, not bad children. They are doing the best they can to express themselves, even though that best is crappy for us.

There is one other valuable insight I would dare ask you to consider: our kids are hurting us as their own special way of connecting with us. Really. I know it sounds crazy, yet think about it: if they fundamentally feel bad about themselves, and we essentially feel good about ourselves, then there is a gap between us – we’re not in the same place. From their perspective, if they can make us feel bad, as bad as they feel in their very core, then they can feel a connection to us because we have landed in the same place. It’s scary to change, but much less frightening to have us join them where they already are.

On a practical level in SPACE, we can be Accepting and Empathic toward their pain:

“Gosh, you sure seem furious with me right now. It seems so hard for you to hear me tell or show you how much I love you, and how much I care. It sure seems like part of you doesn’t want to believe that. That part of you wants to believe ‘No way! Nobody can love me! You must be lying!’ That makes me so sad, sweetheart, because I really do care. But you don’t want to hear that right now, and though it’s sad for me, it’s okay. I look forward to the day you can not only believe it, but feel it, too. So how about you yell at me some more about how stupid I am for trying to make you believe I care? Can you say, ‘Mom, you are SUCH an IDIOT for caring about me! I don’t believe you! You are the biggest liar in the world!!’”

And… breathe.