The Chaos Factor


One of the difficulties in raising kids with Attachment Disorder is that they crave chaos and instability.  It sounds bizarre and is irrational, but there is a certain logic to this drive.  When these children are very young they experience high levels of stress, frustration, and fear.  This causes their brain to be flooded with adrenalin.  They come to percieve this state as normal and safe.  It allows them to remain on “high alert” – ready for fight, flight, or freeze – as soon as their world becomes stressful and frightening – which they have come to believe always will, and likely sooner rather than later.

When there is more than one child in the family with AD, it creates an interesting group dynamic.  It may seem like one child in particular has more acting out behaviors and does the most to create chaos in the environment.  The other children likely have certain triggers, but have behaviors that tend to be expressed with less frequency and intensity.  That is, until the most disregulated child becomes calmer and more stable.  Then, the kids that you thought were pretty stable start melting down and you wonder what the heck happened!

In our family, Kenneth has been the kid that most actively communicated his fears and anger – not verbally or rationally, but through uncooperative, rude, aggressive, and sometimes bizarre behaviors.  When he was on a major tirade the girls would have a domino effect and the entire house would be in an uproar.  I hadn’t really noticed it until lately, but when he was engaging in his more typical, consistent, and persistent acts of attempting to be the one in control, the girls would actually be more mellow and want my attention and affection.  I at first interpreted this to mean that they were unsettled by his behavior and were looking for reassureance from me.  Apparently, not so much.  They were actually in their “comfort zone”.  They had their adrenalin rush and recognized the familiar levels of tension.  All was as it should be.

Because Kenneth was seemingly struggling more with his demons, the lion’s share of the work we were doing with the attachment therapist was directed toward him.  The girls were included, and had interventions as well, but not as intensely.  Over the past 2 years, a combination of maturity, attachment therapy, a more condusive learning environment, and my stubborn determination to love him has garnered pretty amazing results.  We have not had a physical altercation or aggressive verbal outburst for nearly 4 months.  Kenneth not only cooperates with doing his chores, he frequently offers help and engages in random acts of kindness.  He certainly is not a perfect kid and there are still some episodes of stomping up stairs,talking back under his breath and not following all of the rules.  And that is completely normal.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to sit back and appreciate this metamorphasis – because Patsy has deemed herself as Kenneth’s proxy.

I have had a much more difficult time dealing with Patsy in this role.  I’m still not entirely sure why – except maybe because I am resentful that we were so close to achieving a peaceful, stable household.  And maybe because she was typically a sweet, funny, affectionate little girl with a wise and knowing soul.  Of course she had her moments and could put Kenneth to shame when she was in full melt-down.  But it happened less frequently and she emerged from these tirades as a sad, scared, little girl. 

Now, however, she is nearly always in some kind of a funk or another.  She rarely smiles, constantly questions me and argues, and seems to intentionally target me and push my buttons – then screams at me for hating her.  It is as if she slaps me in the face, then blames me for being such a rotten mom, forcing her to punish me.  It is about the most difficult thing I have ever done, to not take this personally. 

In fact, as I write this, I can see that she is mirroring onto me what she feels about herself.  She may well be mad at me for Kenneth being so much calmer now.  She has to act out to keep her comfort zone in place.  She is compelled to keep the tension present and at a high level.  And she desperately wants Kenneth to take his role back, so she doesn’t have to be the one to keep the chaos going.  That is why she also targets him and pushes his buttons every chance she gets.

So, we are stepping up our focus on Patsy, while being sure to help keep Kenneth focused and on track and making sure Megan doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.  Patsy is seeing 2 therapists and we try to make sure she has at least one session a week.  Tom and I take turns doing “snuggle time” with her every night before she goes to bed.  We are intent on hugging all of them all throughout the day.  I also try to make sure I spend time laughing with each of them every day. 

I have been told VERY often in my life that I am stubborn, headstrong, obstinate and willful.  Many people in my life (especially work supvervisors!) have seen this as a terrible fault and a negative trait.  I see it as my saving grace – and possibly the best gift I can give my kids.  I refuse to ever give up on them and I will persist until they are all confident, happy, healthy individuals who know just how valuable and loved they are.

Copyrighted 10/26/09

2 Responses

  1. When pushing buttons, my daughter has a way of getting to me in a completely different way from my son’s loud (and sometimes brutal) logic. You mention Patsy connecting her emotional outrage to your loving her, and I see that is true of my daughter as well. It is as if women more obviously connect loving each other to loving ourselves.

    I seem to be able to love my son in his terrible hostility as a being seperate…but my daughter’s hostility reminds me of the irrational monster lurking in me…she is sometimes much more difficult to face.

  2. Wow Meg. I just read the last 2 blogs back to back. I am in tears for the kids, but yelling and cheering for both you and Tom. God certainly had a purpose when he put your family together!

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