No matter how often my daughter used the emotions chart, RAD emotion limitations only allowed her to point at one of two illustrations; angry or afraid.
Imagine a World with Only Fear and Anger
The Russian Social Worker told us not to adopt her but what were we supposed to do? We were just finishing up the adoption of her younger sisters when we learned of her existence. What would we tell our daughters when they eventually learned that a sister was left behind? Anyone who had worked with the teen told us that she couldn’t be helped. They warned us about behavioral problems. They told us about anger. They suspected attachment disorders but no one told us about the RAD emotion limitations that accompanied Reactive Attachment Disorder.
She was a few months shy of her sixteenth birthday when my oldest daughter walked through the doorway and into our home for the first time. Then honeymoon period had ended only a few days into her leaving the orphanage to stay with us at the hotel; long before we left for home. It was evident that we were in for a long and painful journey, just as the Russians had warned us would happen. Over our first month together it was evident that my oldest daughter didn’t go through the emotions that psychologically healthy people did. Even so, I didn’t realize that there were RAD emotion limitations that played a part in what we were seeing.
RAD emotion limitations only allowed her to point at one of two illustrations; angry or afraid.
As our first children arrived home from Russia we hung an emotions poster on the fridge to help them express what they were feeling until they developed the English vocabulary to tell us. The emotions poster showed cartoon faces with various expressions that the children could point out to help us understand. We resurrected the chart for use with our oldest daughter. That was when we first began to realize there were RAD emotion limitations amplifying other challenges that came with Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Even with the many various emotions that were displayed on the chart, our oldest daughter would only point to two of them; anger and afraid. When she didn’t get her way, no matter the seriousness or triviality of the issue, she was angry. In the morning she was afraid because she didn’t know if something bad would happen at school, even when she had no reason for fear. When it was bedtime she was afraid of dreams and voices. She was afraid when someone rang the doorbell. She was afraid when a family member was away. She was afraid when they came back because she didn’t know if they would hurt her, though no one in the family had ever hurt her before. No matter how many times we took her to the chart on the fridge, the RAD emotion limitations only allowed her to point at one of two illustrations; angry or afraid.
I think that the RAD emotion limitations were at least partially used as a shield to protect herself from vulnerability.
The emotions poster soon became one of our greatest tools. We watched for times when our daughter experienced something that would cause anyone else to be sad. Then we would head to the fridge. Soon, she realized that sadness could be its own emotion without turning into rage. Frustration was the next emotion that she was able to separate out. The depth of her RAD emotion limitations had doubled as far as what she recognized.
Positive emotions were the hard ones. Of course there were times when she was happy, but she refused to acknowledge it. First, I believe that with her history of experiencing abuse, betrayal and pain, she really was always afraid, even if she experienced other emotions simultaneously. But I also I think that the RAD emotion limitations were at least partially used as a shield to protect herself from vulnerability. If our daughter admitted that she was happy, someone could do something that would take that away from her. If she was excited, it was dangerous to get her hopes up because you can only take so much disappointment.
We kept working to expand beyond RAD emotion limitations to give our daughter the tools that she needed to have the best life she was capable of living. Progress came slowly. The angry and afraid faces always got more than their share of attention. Fight and flight were her security. Immediate gratification was her idol to which anything of any value was worth sacrificing. No wonder she was afraid of the future. Those core understandings made evolution beyond the most basic of RAD emotion limitations an arduous journey. We had more new beginnings and do-overs than anyone could understand if they haven’t experienced closeness to someone who suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder.
She learned. She progressed. It wasn’t easy. Learning to recognize and embrace emotions beyond fear and anger were not the illusive Holy Grail sought by all who look for the one solution that fixes RAD. But it was a brick in the wall. Broadening her emotional repository was three steps forward in the “three-steps-forward two-steps-back” life we live with our child who suffers from severe Reactive Attachment Disorder. But as anyone who works with people who have RAD will tell you, those sporadic advancements are everything.
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