Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and Your Teens

DOES your teen,
  • always seem angry?
  • have anger that turns into rage?
  • show signs of depression, i.e., withdrawal, slipping grades?
  • show disrespect to you or disrespect people in authority?
  • self-protect by keeping people at a distance?
  • lie, manipulate and steal?
  • ever talk about his/her biological parents?
  • want to find his/her biological parents?


DO you,
  • feel comfortable about your teen's behavior?
  • recognize signs of RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder)?
  • believe you must be adopted to show signs of RAD?
  • understand what is meant by the Primal Wound?
  • think it makes a difference at what age a child is adopted?
  • understand bonding and how it can be disrupted?
  • understand the fear and pain of an adoptee?
  • understand adoptee' difficulty in trusting and showing love

It can be difficult to know if your adopted teen's anger is normal and within the range of typical teenage behavior. Most teenagers get angry, especially during the years when their bodies are changing and the hormones can bring quick and severe mood swings. All teenagers are searching the world trying to find out who they are and what they want to become. They all want to know how the world will affect them and how they will affect the world.

If not addressed as a child, an adopted teenager has a duality of conflicts to overcome. Whether adopted as a baby or as an older child, this teenager has had a separation from the birth mother and this is a strong link that is not forgotten. Nancy Verrier calls this the Primal Wound. In the womb, Psychologists now agree that the child is very aware of the mother, how she smells, how she laughs and feels, even how she sounds. The baby has been inside the womb for nine months. This baby even realizes if it was a wanted pregnancy or an unwanted pregnancy - this baby knows. It also has an awareness of the physical, mental and emotional connection with the mother. Bonding begins before physical birth and possibly shortly after conception. Many professionals used to laugh at this idea and thought it impossible for a little baby to know and remember being separated from its birth mother. Alas, the tide has changed and the professionals now believe that this child couldn't help but know the separation from the birth mom that carried it - and this is the primal wound that stays with that child forever.

By Nancy Verrier
There is a story that Nancy Verrier tells in her book, "The Primal Wound" about a little girl who was adopted as a baby. She had never been told she was adopted. One night this four-year old child had a nightmare and called for her mommy. Her adopted mother went in to comfort her and held her and told her everything would be okay because "Mommy was here." The little girl said, "No, I want my other mommy." This story is not unique and other similar stories have surfaced. How did this child know?

Many adopted children develop RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). This occurs when a child, teen or adult cannot attach and trust, as they should and experience trouble developing close intimate relationships. When the child is taken away from its birth mother, even if it is put in the home of a family giving the child love, this child is confused and knows this is not the same mother it had and its trusting abilities are lessened. If the child is put into a hospital, or foster care and then moved again and again, its trusting mechanisms do not know what it means to have a consistent caregiver to take care of its constant needs, i.e. hunger, pain, etc. This makes a child angry and scared and then the cycle has already begun.

After the child is adopted, hopefully in a loving home, a decision is made by the child as to what role to play within the family. Some have so many layers of anger and rage that negative behavior is exhibited constantly. Others may decide to be a complacent and pleasing personality because they want to make sure that these new parents are not disappointed or else abandonment will follow. Another choice is not to get close to anyone because this relationship probably won't last and getting close will be painful when it ends. Several adult adoptee's I've spoken to have confirmed this behavior. The more neglect, abuse and abandonment a child suffers, the more deep-seated will be this distrust for adults or anyone in authority.

It is common for adoption issues to remain hidden until adolescence. Sometimes a child seems well adjusted and happy during the early years and then everything comes out during the teen years. It is also very common for the child to stay in denial and hide deep feelings from everyone, even themselves, and in their teen years - which is an identity search time - these feelings rise to the surface. Usually, the child knows inside that something is not right but the complexity of their feelings give them fear and they hesitate talking about these fears since they believe they can trust no one.

You DO NOT have to be adopted to have RAD. Any child who suffered a separation from their original caregiver for a period of time could have symptoms. Separation from the mother due to illness or divorce can trigger separation anxiety, and divorce can also trigger guilt if the child feels part of the cause of the divorce.

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