When Beauty Becomes the Beast

November 20, 2009

Childrens’ behaviors can be, at best, difficult to understand.
Negative behaviors can be even more difficult to understand,
especially when we have little insight into the causative
factors. Adopted children will often exhibit behaviors such as
lying, stealing and defiance; and parents may have little
awareness as to why they are behaving this way. Faced with such
challenging behaviors, parents often feel helpless. The beautiful
child brought into the home for love and security, can quickly
turn into the Beast.

In writing this article I hope to provide the reader with a view
of the inner workings of the adopted child’s brain/body system,
its response to being separated from biological parents, and its
learned reactions to early trauma exposure. If you are an
adoptive parent, my hope is that after reading this article, you
will be better equipped to look at your child in a different
light, a light of increased awareness and understanding. You will
have a better understanding of the causative factors behind your
child’s behavior, allowing you to be more available to help your
child heal from the early exposure to separation and trauma.

In this article I will make many references to the brain/body
system rather than to solely the brain or the body. My belief is
that the brain and body are inseparable, and work in harmony with
one another. For instance, when you feel panic, your brain sends
a signal through your body, your pulse accelerates and your body
temperature fluctuates. It is with this fundamental knowledge of
brain and body behavior that I have been able to pioneer an
approach to family treatment that has proven to be highly
successful and mutually rewarding to both parent and child. I
hope my interpretations will assist you in your task of parenting
your child more effectively.

Stress is a common occurrence in daily life. It is an unavoidable
natural aspect of our existence. In a healthy situation stress
activates the brain/body system to protect, assist, work, live
and love. Stress can be the driving force behind our basic need
to achieve a healthy state of well-being. When stress becomes
prolonged, overwhelming, or chronically unpredictable; it
transforms itself into trauma. If stress becomes pervasive,
uninterrupted, or out of control; damage can occur to the
brain/body system. Consequently, the brain may become unable to
shield itself against this bombardment of stress. Once the brain
senses that an environmental threat, such as abuse, is
unpredictable or overwhelming, the brain will make the necessary
adaptations to defend itself. Those adaptations usually manifest
themselves in the form of extreme sensitivity, aggression and
disconnecting.

When an adopted child has experienced trauma in her early
formative years, she is left with a very scared monster lurking
inside her brain/body system that I call the “Beast.” Though
ghastly and threatening in appearance, this Beast is simply a
terrified creature that is constantly on guard, trying to defend
the “Beauty” hidden beneath the Beast. The Beast is with her
always, waiting for the time when the child feels threatened or
afraid. It is at this moment that the Beast roars to life.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the Beast erupts from within and Beauty
is nowhere to be found.

Adopted children who have experienced early, recurrent trauma
are, by their very nature, sensitive children. They are often
more sensitive than biological children, but until recently, not
much thought has gone into why this occurs. For these children,
the initial break from their biological parents is an area that
has received scant attention from the scientific community in the
past. Recent research has shown that this initial break is, in
fact, traumatic to the infant’s brain/body system. Regardless of
the environment in which the child is placed, the physiological
break from the biological parent is an overwhelmingly stressful
event. Such an event could be compared to the terror a small
child may feel when he finds himself suddenly lost in the middle
of the shopping mall. An immediate sense of panic pervades, the
parent is lost amongst all of the other shoppers and the child
feels scared, alone, and helpless! Even the comfort of a stranger
is only reassuring to the extent that the child may momentarily
stop crying. However, in this type of situation, the parents are
eventually found, and the child is restored into the calm
containment of his parents’ arms. For the adopted infant who has
been removed from his biological parents, his cry is the signal
of his immense pain and fear. Therefore, when the cry of that
infant quiets we naturally assume that he is comforted.
Unfortunately, that is rarely the case for this child. As we
examine the impact of early stress on the brain /body system,
consider the implications of such an experience.

The extraordinary sensitivity demonstrated by an adopted child
stems from her early exposure to stress, which has usually
resulted in trauma. As the brain/body system continues to be
bombarded by traumatic events such as loss of a biological
parent, neglect, abuse, lack of physical contact or in utero drug
exposure; it adapts itself to this stressful environment. The
brain/body system will work diligently to protect itself from any
future harm. We must remember that the threat/stress sensor
inside the brain is fear-based. This means the immediate primary
emotion of the human species is, in general, that of fear. As the
exposure to threat and stress continues, the brain/body system
responds in a manner similar to persistent terror. Over a period
of time, the stress-producing events may diminish or even cease,
but by this time it is probably too late. The brain/body system
has adapted and is prepared to react. If the exposure to trauma
has occurred during the period between conception and thirty-six
months, the brain pathways form around the negative adaptation,
locking into place a highly sensitive brain state, in order to be
on guard against future threat. Hence, the Beauty becomes the
Beast anytime she feels threatened or scared. The fear response
can begin in a millisecond and can be triggered through any of
the sensory pathways (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, or
temperature).

With this new understanding of the brain/body system and its
effects on your child’s behavior, you should be able to see your
child from a new perspective that is rarely offered. A screaming,
kicking, biting child should no longer be viewed as an angry, out
of control child; but rather, a child who is scared by some
trigger within his immediate environment and is solely dependent
on the stress reactions his brain/body system has learned from
exposure to early trauma. Research demonstrates that in times of
high stress, our cognitive thinking becomes greatly distorted,
leaving us susceptible to high states of emotional arousal with
little clear thought. Therefore, in addition to having a child
who is highly dependent on his learned stress-response, you also
have a child who is incapable of demonstrating the ability to
have clear and effective cognitive thinking in the midst of
feeling threatened.

In closing, I would like to add that when parenting an adopted
child it is imperative to consider traumatic experience or
exposure and its subsequent effect on your child. A view focused
solely on child behavior will lead to feelings of parental
rejection, blame and helplessness; undoubtedly causing the same
feelings within the child. I encourage you to work constantly to
view your child from the perspective that her brain/body system
is creating a ever present sense of threat or even terror within
her. From this perspective, I am certain that you will come to a
deeper understanding of your child’s behavior and you will be
equipped to take the steps necessary in making her feel less
threatened. In doing so you will assuredly create an environment
of increased security and acceptance, resulting in a calmer state
of the brain/body system, which will in turn diminish negative
behavior.

A Sticky Situation

November 19, 2009

Gabriel is 8 years old.  He was removed from his biological
parents at the age of three after being found outside his home
naked, in the snow.  He was sent to a temporary foster home with
his sister until his aunt could get approved for foster care,
then he went to live with his aunt, who, after 4 months decided
she couldn’t handle he or his sister and they were sent to
another temporary foster home.  He then went to live (after 60
days) with a foster family who loved him but were unwilling to
adopt.  He lived there for over two years believing his foster
family would always be his family.

At that point he was told about the word “adoption” and began his
transition to his adoptive family (with his sister.)  Notice this
is his sixth home since birth.  Since being adopted, Gabriel has
displayed severe behaviors such as throwing things at his family,
tantrums, lying, stealing, and anxiety that causes bowel
problems. He can be very aggressive and defiant and talks back to
his parents a lot.

On this particular evening, Gabriel’s mom is making dinner and
has dirtied a small sink full of dishes in the process.  Gabriel
is wandering around the kitchen saying he is bored.  Mom suggests
he wash the dishes for her.  This is a job Gabriel often does and
is capable of doing, 90% of the time.  At the mention of doing
dishes, Gabriel falls on the floor and cries that he won’t do the
dishes EVER!!!  He then jumps up, grabs the full bottle of honey
that is on the counter, and says, I want some honey!  He then
proceeds to tip the bottle and pours honey out on his hand and
the counter.

If you were Gabriel’s mom, what should you do?

 

The Stress Model–A Foundation for Understanding

November 19, 2009

If you are like most parents, by now your child has received not
one, but two or ten different diagnosis. The indicator is
actually quite simple: The longer your child is involved in
psychiatric care, the more diagnosis he is going to acquire. On
average, by the time families finally find the Post Institute
their child has received five to seven different psychiatric
diagnoses and may already be on between three and five different
psychotropic medications.

It is common for parents to have a sense of relief with each
diagnosis because a diagnosis represents answers. A diagnosis is
a label that represents a categorization of behaviors. It has
been found that such behaviors are common among a certain
category of children or adults, so a diagnosis is the standard by
which the medical field determines it’s next course of action.

The bad news is, a psychiatric diagnosis is merely that, just a
diagnosis. It is not an indication of prognosis, gives no clear
cut treatment protocol, and as psychiatrist and Author Dorothy
Otnow Lewis states, “A psychiatric diagnosis is usually a best
guess. When you are given a multiple of diagnosis referred to as
differential diagnoses, it’s like saying, “I’m not for sure but
this is my best guess!”

Common labels that we see with our families include:

Reactive Attachment Disorder
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Bi-Polar Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Conduct Disorder
Depression Aspergers Disorder
Pervasive Developmental Disorder
And the list goes on and on.

In 1997 Taylor, et. al. cited in Alan Schore’s text Affect
Regulation and the Development of the Self
,  “It is believed
that 98% of all psychiatric disorders are due to affect
dysregulation.” In other words, one of the single greatest
causes for psychiatric disorders is being stressed out. As a
result of my research I developed a theory that I use to
determine the strategies I employ when working with families.
It’s called the Stress Model.

The Stress Model says, “All behavior arises from a state of
stress, and in between the behavior and the stress is the
presence of two primary emotions: Love or Fear. It is through
the expression, processing, and understanding of these emotions
that we can calm the stress and diminish the behavior.”

That being said, hang on to your psychiatric labels for your
child if that makes you feel better, but strive diligently to see
their chronic states of stress and fear,showing up in every
moment, driving the behaviors that are deemed abnormal.
Additionally, work to see your own stress and fear,
especially in the midst of your childrens’  behavioral challenges.
The bottom line is that when any of us experience large levels of
stress, we could all be capable of producing a psychiatric
diagnosis!

On Discipline

November 16, 2009

The definition of discipline is to teach. To teach effectively one must determine what is to be taught and then be adept and proven at providing such a lesson. I have found that we are quick to punish, condemn, or shame, but are challenged when it comes to providing true discipline.

I have found that discipline requires far more flexibility, patience, and understanding than consequences, restrictions, and isolation. In fact, true discipline holds within it very little of the latter. Often, behaviors arise because of misunderstanding or fear, and if a parent understands this, he can approach his child in a way that will truly train him.

This isn’t to say our children should have no boundaries, only that children require time and input from parents to truly understand what is expected of them and what the right choice is.  We assume too much when we believe our children always know the right choice but are just not making it.

The next time your child misbehaves, I challenge you to take a moment to breathe, let your brain catch up to what just happened, and think through your next move.  See if you can approach your child differently, from a position of understanding.  Is she tired?  Has she had too much sugar?

If you are raising a child with a trauma history ask yourself if there may be a reaction going on to something related to her trauma.  Instead of putting her in time out or taking away a favorite toy, act out the right choice together (dare I say you should laugh while doing it?) and put that good choice into her motor memory.  That is powerful stuff!  It is also training, which is much more effective than punishing.

 

 

Introduction

November 13, 2009

Hi, I’m Bryan Post, founder of the Post Institute for Family Regulatory Therapy.   I have been working with children and families for years, helping them to find a way to have peace in their hearts and homes.  Some people have even dubbed me the “last therapist” because after they learn the strategies I offer and put them into place, they no longer need to go to therapy. 

I hope you have found me on purpose because you are looking for a new approach to parenting your fostered or adopted kids.  Or, maybe you are thinking of adopting and want to educate yourself on what to expect.  Perhaps you are a therapist, wondering if there is a better way to do what you do–something different than the old paradigm that doesn’t take into consideration any of the research done on the brain in the last 10 years. 

I guess it doesn’t matter why you are here–it only matters that you have found a place that can start you on the journey toward answers.  Healing can be a reality–I have the testimonies to prove it.  So, buckle your seat belt and get ready to ride!


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