I received an email today from another therapist and adoptive mother asking me to clarify some things, and I thought it would be helpful to put some thoughts down for all of YOU at the same time.
Many of you are using the techniques of Nancy Thomas from her book entitled, When Love Is Not Enough. What I am about to write is not criticism of your choice to do so; however, I have some observations and experience about the methods I want to share.
When I write about how I deal with my kids, you may hear things that are Nancy Thomas-like. In my opinion some of the methods are helpful with very disorganized attachment challenged children. These are the most severely impacted children with the most disturbed attachment reactions–the ones that would be given a Reactive Attachment Disorder diagnosis. One of my children is clearly diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and continues to behave in adulthood the way she did in childhood–reactively. My other child is anxiously attached with PTSD, pervasive developmental delay, severe ADHD and learning disabilities. Together these two were tornados in our home.
At the time, the only attachment help I could find was based on Nancy Thomas’ work that involved holding children against their will, in effect, forcing them to submit to parental authority with physical restraint. I did that to them. I thought I had to. They were so incredibly self-destructive and reactive. I was desperate to gain control and Nancy Thomas’ approach gave me direction on how to do that. The only attachment therapist I could find back then followed the Thomas methods. So, I held my children against their will for hours on end, day after day, for several years when they were between 2-years-old and 5-years-old. I shut them down, powered over them, and used techniques that were somewhat humiliating and definitely emotionally confusing to them. I was not safe. They did not feel good about themselves or safe around me.
That somewhat stopped their intense, self-destructive behavior (until the teen years when it all resurfaced X10); however, that also caused them both to have posttraumatic stress from the trauma that forcefully holding them caused. They learned to fear me and when upset they would cower or rage at me. Since that time, 15 years ago, so much research, training, and information has surfaced about a better way, a loving way of creating attachment bonds that does not include authoritarian, physically abusive methods that create more trauma. I have read everything available on attachment and I have attended hundreds of hours of training over the years. I have made myself into an attachment therapist for others, so people can find help that is truly helpful and not abusive.
If I had it to do all over again, I would NOT hold my children except for safety. I would do therapeutic, attachment parenting. I would up the sensory stimulation. I would focus on their felt safety and our relationship. I would play more, control less. I would smile and give up the mommy stink-eye. I would coach instead of lecture. I would never use coercive, degrading interventions like forced sit-ups and hard labor. Most importantly, I would get help for myself to regulate and deal with my own childhood trauma. I wish I had known what I know now.
I truly believe that much of what my children dished out in their teen years was a direct result of what I did to them in their early years. I was ill-informed and poorly supported by therapists then. I have had to forgive myself. I have had to ask my children for their forgiveness, but the damage to our relationship was honed in their early years. I have been trying to undo those early interventions for the last 10 years.
I know YOU wonder sometimes…if Ce has so much difficulty with her own children, then why would what she says be helpful to me and my children? The answer is that I did not do trust-based relational parenting early enough, and what I did do caused more harm. Ultimately, that is the sole reason why I have decided to devote my career to helping attachment challenged children and their parents. I am trying to give to YOU what I couldn’t get when I needed it most.
Ce Eshelman, LMFT