Helping Children Locked in Rage or Hate
0 comment Monday, March 31, 2014 |
Helping Children Locked in Rage or Hate' by Margot Sunderland is a sometimes strange book combining as it does scientific theories and practical exercises with quotes from the classics and the bible, with the odd poem from the author thrown in (she should stop that, she's not a very good poet).
The basic premise is that traumatised children can get locked in either rage or hate and that certain behaviours are a result of this physiological state. The theory and science is explained and then a mixture of exercises are presented as a way of getting the child to communicate and verbalise their emotions.
I'll be honest. I tried a few exercises over the summer and they flopped. The author insists that children will act out rage or hate in their play. Mine don't. Mine play lovely games and make up some really inventive stuff. There's nothing nasty there at all. I've even tried to enter their world of play and bring in some scenarios relevant to their situation. They never seemed to get it. I've tried art therapy stuff a few times. Nothing angry or painful flows from them at all. It's been a bit of a puzzle, but it's true.
Other things in the book rang so true however that it was deafening. Particularly in relation to son. For instance:
"The child locked in rage needs to discharge an unbearable intensity"
"Rage is a massive disorganisation of the self"
"Some children regularly erupt like this, discharging the terrible tension in their body and mind"
"that there is usually little, if any, choice for the child who hits out in order to discharge unbearable levels of tension"
The child locked in this state is, apparently, functioning from the lower (primitive) part of their brain called the subcortex. They feel attacked very easily and so attack in self defense. This was the state my son was in a lot of the time. Attack! Attack! Attack!
According to Margot, the play of a child like this is supposed to be full of volcanoes, fires, floods, storms, bombs. My son used to stamp on his beloved soft toys when he was in this state and throw them at the wall screaming all sort of expletives. It was the saddest self-hating thing to see.
So what to do? Well, apparently, oxytocin and opoids are activated when things are lovely, stress chemicals when not. So you need to find a way to get the good chemicals going in place of the stress chemicals. Book recommends helping to regulate your child's functions with the following:
ATTUNE to the intensity of what the child is feelingVALIDATE HIS EXPERIENCE how he is experiencing the eventCONTAIN him and his feelingsSOOTHE HIM
All of that takes time to achieve with a distrustful adopted child. Years even. It's hard for them to let themselves get close enough to an adult to be tuned into, validated, contained and soothed.
This is why I'm really interested in the relatively new practice of actually giving children oxytocin in tablet form. When we get depressed we understand that a chemical boost of serotonin can be beneficial, why not artificially boost oxytocin in a child whose ability to produce it naturally has been impaired? Perhaps it could achieve in a short amount of time what years of therapeutic parenting may never achieve?
So much for the child locked in hate, now for the child locked in rage. Reading this part of the book made me realise that both of my children have a little of this about them. They do have a 'cold energy' about them sometimes, that drives them slowly and deeply into attempts of manipulation and defiance. It's much harder to deal with than the rage, because it is much more calculated and feels much more personal. Other people see a crying child and their heart breaks. I see a child rubbing their eyes red to make someone take pity on them and give them what they want. I have rarely seen my children genuinely cry with flowing tears, as crying has long since become a weapon to employ rather than release of emotion...
"Many children locked in hate stopped crying long ago. Others do cry, but it is defended crying, usually designed to manipulate and control"
"The enegery of hate is usually a slower, colder energy than the quick, hot rush of raging outbursts."
"well thought out, coldly calculated and then carried out to maximum hurtful effect."
"It is the very capacity to think, imagine, plan, etc, that means that the child locked in hate can hurt another so well, so precise, and sometimes with such cruelty"
All of the above applies to my kids at times. In fact, my son is now often more hateful than he is in rage. His emotions are much more contained with his regular screaming and tantrums seemingly now more by design and for affect. In a way this is progress, in another way That's not a healthy direction for him to take. We're actually now putting in consequences for his screaming because it has become a tool of control rather than an emotional release.
In summary, this book is worth the time of any adoptive parent and the exercises may work wonderfully with other children. However, my two are just far too literal it would seem (I did try).

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