Thursday, July 28, 2011

Misdirected Rage

In response to Respite, Erika wrote:

She seems really, really angry at you two. I wonder if there's a way for her to express that in a safe way - so that she is expressing her anger but not harming person or property. That always helps my little one. And I'm not a bit surprised that the child abuse report triggered this. Can you imagine? I mean, there she is thinking that you two majorly suck - and then a professional comes in and agrees with her to the point of hotlining you for abuse. I don't know how you move through to a place of mutual trust and respect with your daughter. This is so intense. I'm really sorry. 

The sad reality here is that our child isn't really angry with us. Oh sure, she's got a certain amount of  teenage, angst-ridden, "my parents suck" going on because of the typical teen reasons.  She thinks she shouldn't have to help out with chores, that she should be allowed to do anything and everything that she wants, and that somehow we owe her an expensive car for her 16th birthday.  So sure, she's ticked off at us because she doesn't want to help out around the house, we supervise her more than she would like, and we've declined to buy her a $50,000 SUV* on her birthday.

Pretty much all teenagers go through a phase where they think their parents are stupid, worthless, and selfish, and Danielle is no exception.

That is not the real problem.  The true basis for her rage has nothing to do with us.  Over time, it's become clear that her anger is caused by something else, something that we didn't do.

She's pissed off at a number of people, including her abusers, social workers, therapists, and birth family.  She is furious, rightfully so, at folks who have hurt her, betrayed her, violated her trust, or abandoned her.  Since the people with whom she's really angry aren't available, she takes that rage out on us.

That's all very understandable.  Misdirected rage is a common problem with foster and adopted kids.  What makes this problem so serious is that our child routinely fails to express her misdirected rage in safe ways.  If she were just angry, it wouldn't be as much of a problem.  It's that her rage is expressed by verbal aggression, threats, and acts of violence.

It's just not safe.  It's not safe for her, it's not safe for our pets, and it's not safe for us.

It's especially frustrating that she regularly fails to employ her coping skills, because she's had so many interventions already to address this particular problem.  The last professional who worked with us was here specifically to work with our child to teach her coping skills.  Even more frustrating is the fact that this person was the seventh mental health professional to work with our child and all of the professionals have spent time on coping skills to one degree or another.

It isn't that Danielle doesn't have a box full of tools, or that she doesn't know how to use them.  The problem is that, for whatever reason, she does not use them.

Danielle is angry...all...the...time.  She is angry when the sun comes up, and when it sets.  Even when things are calm, her rage is seething just below the surface, and the smallest thing can cause it to explode.  We've seen violent fits of temper triggered by small things, even when we weren't in the room to cause any of it.

So we completely recognize that it's not us that she's really angry with.  Sure, she's pissed off because we enforce rules, boundaries and limitations in our home, but all teenagers are angry about that.  Normal teenagers stomp about the house, grumble under their breath, and occasionally slam a door or two when they don't get their way.

This is different.  This is a level of fury that wants revenge.  This is a level of anger that wants to hurt people and to break things.

And it's not about being asked to take out the garbage or to do the dishes.  It's not about a friend who didn't show up for a planned outing, or an electronic device failing because it had been dropped one too many times on the concrete.

This is about a child who has dangerous, boiling levels of rage, bubbling just below the surface, all the time.  This is about a teen who is so angry that when even the smallest thing happens, the cauldron spills, pouring out red-hot lava that incinerates anyone or anything in its path.

It's absolutely clear the kid needs help.  Unfortunately, Danielle often isn't self-aware enough to  understand the true nature of her anger, so she spends her therapy sessions complaining about all the  things she perceives that we've done wrong.  She complains that we give her an over-abundance of chores, and that we never let her do anything.  Her gripes are filled with the typical teenage phrases like, "you always," and "you never," and to date she's never had an astute-enough therapist who has realized that her explosions over dishes or being asked to take a shower aren't about chores or bathing at all.

The question of how we can possibly work through this is a question to which I have no answer.  Until our child figures out that violence, threats and verbal aggression aren't acceptable ways of resolving conflict, we have a problem.  Until she realizes that it's not us with whom she's really angry we have a problem.

So how do we get to a point of mutual trust and respect?

I have no idea.  

I don't think it's possible right now, at least not without getting Danielle better help than what she's received so far.

Though perhaps The Adoption Counselor is right in saying that therapy really doesn't work for traumatized kids.  Perhaps the best we can do is to bide our time until our child becomes an adult, where she'll have to figure these things out on her own, with a more developed and mature mind.

* I realize that pretty much all teens have unrealistic expectations when it comes to cars.  When I was the same age, I wanted my parents to buy me a Ford Mustang.  I got a Subaru instead.

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