Anger is a Symptom

Posted by admin on November 19, 2013

The list of symptoms for Reactive Attachment Disorder ends with "parents present angry or hostile."  When I read this before our adopted kids came home, I felt a patronizing kind of pity for those parents.  Now I am one of them.

Our adopted kids don't make us angry like normal kids.  Our bio kids frustrate us and occasionally that frustration boils up to anger.  By contrast, these attachment disordered kids make us angry every day.  It's on a whole different scale.  Our kids do things all day long that are INTENDED to make us angry.  They're not making mistakes, they are intentionally breaking rules to piss us off and keep us at a distance.  Part of me wonders if they aren't even trying to get us to beat them.  By the end of the day, when they've been working at it all day long, we are left with a seething anger that doesn't shake off easily.  Oh, and I did I mention, that all the while we've been working at nurturing, soothing, and connecting, because that's the only way to get the behavior to change. 

Living with anger that never fully extinguishes has been the hardest part of raising adopted kids. 

This life requires that I have enough self-awareness to make sure my anger doesn't boil up to rage.  That means self-care and respite.  My husband and I discovered that respite isn't optional for us.  I'd read that parents need a weekend a month away from the kids.   It took seven months of crazy before we admitted we truly needed that kind of respite, but now we are committed to it.  Those glorious two days let the fire of anger burn all the way out to cold ash.  We come home with much longer fuses and much more capable of doing attachment work.

After almost a year, I have even discovered that our anger can actually be helpful.  Our kids are very sneaky.  Often they dance on boundaries but don't actually cross them.  They're not obviously defiant or oppositional, but we still get worn out.  Are they really being defiant or are they just full of energy?   The answer is our anger.  Low level defiance makes us angry, even when we don't notice it in the moment.  Just reflecting on our own feelings helps us identify what's going on with the kids and respond better tomorrow.

Our lives are backwards.  Attachment disorder began with our little children receiving coldness when they needed love.  And now we find that anger helps us parent them better.  Yep, it's crazy.


Mia (from Holy Crazy) used with permission

Comments Welcome

Posted by Martha on
Great post, I can identify so much with. My daughter is seven and shows so much defiance and sass. We are trying to nip it in the bud but it continues no matter what we try. I spanked her today for the first time. She screamed cried and hyperventilated for 20 minutes. I guess that wasn't the most effective method of discpline. I really don't want to spank but she pushes me way past my last nerve.

What is effective? I try taking away privledges, rewarding good behavior etc. but the nastiness continues.

My daughter isn't the 'typical' adopted child if there is such a child. She was fostered immediately at birth and was in her second foster home at four and a half months old when we got her. She didn't cry as she wasn't used to anyone attending to her when she did.

She has always exbitted 'Mommy shopping' and has been very spirited. She wants her way or nothing. She stomps her feet alot, screams back or folds her arms and says no. She is slightly hyper, talks excessively and gets very angry almost every day. She says things like "I don't know why I am acting this way, I am not myself today."

I just know we have to get a handle on her behavior so we are trying to be consistent and not make idle threats.

It's exhausting.
Posted by H on
I struggle with how to get past the anger right now. I want to I try to but I am not winning the battle. I am angry at how she behaves but yet I am more angry about how she behaves is impacting my other kids and what it has stolen from our family. We lost friends because they couldn't understand. We had our families turn their back on us as they didn't understand. My other kids struggle in school and are in trouble because they can't understand I am more angry about all of those things than what she personally does. I can attribute her behaviors to her experiences but my other kids are being robbed as they don't understand a sister who is unsafe around them. I struggle with losing the others to save the one who will do nothing to help herself. It's been over years and people are just starting to understand and be supportive. Now that they are supporting all of us and not championing her cause she is escalating. I don't know which is better the before with no support or support but worse behavior. I am mostly just sad that this is our life and we won't get these years back to make good memories for/with the kids.
Posted by Kelli on
Oh. My. Gosh. You have just described me. Wow. And I've been beating myself up, because my kid is not (yet) trying to kill other kids or the cat, and I think how can I be so mad all the time when his behavior is not in-your-face defiant? I have it lucky compared to some... and yet I am PISSED.OFF.ALL.THE.TIME. The poor kid can't sneeze without me getting pissed some days (when a sneeze really is just a sneeze). I have been secretly thinking there's something wrong with ME. I must have some serious mental illness. I just want rid of that one child, the weekend we had without him and just the other kids we had so much fun, no yelling, nothing but regular kid problems which don't actually make me mad, because they were always mistakes... and I feel guilty. Wow. It's not just me. Thank you.
Posted by Kelli on
That was me, more than a year ago, in response to this article. Learning what I've learned, not just through this article, but but realizing that our reactions are normal in the situations and learning coping mechanisms, etc. have helped tremendously. I am NOT angry all the time any longer. I do get angry, but it's not a constant state. I don't yell all the time. We still have a long way to go, but with a change of therapies with the child and a change of attitude with me I see some progress in the child over the last six months. Thank you for this article, and for putting me on the right path to understanding what was going on!
Posted by Erica on
I'm always angry. Exhaustingly angry because I hold it in for the most part,, but it trickles out in irritability and frustration. My adopted child is so incredibly sneaky. He lies daily, sometimes simply for attention and to have something to say. He has an inflated view of his knowledge and never stops talking. He isn't violent (thank goodness), but his passive aggressiveness coupled with his charm and charisma drive me crazy. He can charm and manipulate most people, although our family sees through it. However, it is hard to address publicly because all others see is the charm. He is a master at playing victim, and I have some guilt about that because he is a victim of abandonment and the system. If he gets in trouble at home for bad behavior, he will find someone public to hug and snuggle all while looking to make sure I notice. If I weren't experiencing it first-hand, I would think all of this sounded crazy. My bio kids can't stand how he follows them around and destroys their belongings. He spies on them and my daughter literally can't stand being in the same room with him. I can't talk to anyone about this because they only see a cute kid. His teacher does see some of the behaviors now that the honeymoon period is wearing off. Some very special and close friends have seen some of the issues, but I usually feel worse when I try to talk to anyone because I know they don't get it. Glad to know I'm not totally alone.
Posted by Ted on
Thanks for such a great post. Being jaded and angry so often like others in the comments. I wonder if those "outside" or little circles (for those lucky enough to even still have a 'circle'), even truly "GET" your post. Makes perfect sense to us, and its entirely helpful, since we all need to be reminded we are not alone out there. Since in addition to the anger, we all carry so much isolation as well. Now what would truly be great is society recognized the issue, and provided some support. Respite. What we would give for any respite. Its just doesnt seem to be an open. A couple hours here or there isnt enough.
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