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RAD: Twisted by Trauma

attachment reactive attachment disorder (rad) Oct 30, 2022
Heart protected by barbed wire

Trauma hurts. It ripples through lives creating a tidal wave of health problems well documented in the “ACE” studies. Horrendous things happening to little ones interferes with normal brain and personality development UNLESS there is someone the child trusts to be a safe haven during that time. Usually that is the child’s mother or father, but a grandparent or other caring person who is a constant in the baby or toddlers life, can also be the harbor that protects the child during the storm of fear and pain surrounding a trauma.

"The most important relationship in a child’s life is the attachment to his or her primary caregiver, optimally, the mother. This is due to the fact that this first relationship determines the biological and emotional ‘template’ for all future relationships. Healthy attachment to the mother built by repetitive bonding experiences during infancy provides the solid foundation for future healthy relationships.” Bruce Perry MD. PhD.

Some endure overwhelming pain and fear, yet grow to adulthood to become caregivers and protectors for others. Some are twisted by the trauma and become the abusers themselves. Resiliency is one of the key protective factors. Having a loving person for support is the other.


This is Called RAD, Reactive Attachment Disorder

When neither of these is available the child builds a pseudo sense of self, as a victim, who can only rely on themself for survival. This is called RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). Everyone becomes the enemy. They learn to manipulate and use and abuse people to get what they want. The true child may never been seen by anyone except the mother figure they unleash their deep-seeded rage on.

They often develop a pathological need for control due to this trust issue. Manipulation of others appears in a façade of “cuteness” or “neediness” that unknowing people are reeled in by like a fish on a hook. They assess others for their trustworthiness by this method. Most fail because the child with RAD is betting that most kind, caring adults will fall into the trap; assisting where no assistance is needed, explaining where the child already understands very well.

A perfect example of this occurred one day when I was trapped in a car with an untrained adult and a child with RAD. She was a kind caring Christian lady and he knew it. As the car left the driveway the 10 year old stated: I don’t understand “The Lamb of God”. This dear lady spent the next 45 minutes expounding eloquently on the whole issue. I could see his face in the rear view mirror as I drove. The smirk said it all! He had explained the whole thing to me a week before! She thought she had helped to touch him with the teaching of the Lord and His love. He thought she was a stupid sucker and said so later when I asked him. He assessed her and now knew he could not trust her because he had controlled her. The next day she loaned him her family Bible and asked him to be careful of this treasure. (She had not asked his mother and he already had a Bible!) He promptly defaced it by writing in it. Thus he hurt his heart yet again. The lady felt betrayed by his actions so he lost another potential mentor.


The Support System Shrinks

Neighbors, Educators, and extended family can all be blind-sided by the child twisted by trauma who now has RAD. Thus the support system for them and their family shrinks. Outsiders scoff at the parents’ inability to control this “charming child who is perfect for them”. Judgment and condemnation of the parents by others becomes a wound common among those parents doing all they can to help their child heal. No one sees what goes on behind closed doors as the child abuses the parent. Loving parents give their heart, their time and their financial resources to help a wounded child and they are often condemned for it! I often say I work with abused parents because it is the clear truth!


Children with RAD Seek Revenge

Many of the children with RAD seek revenge for what was done to them. The impactful actions of the mother during their early years will be taken out on their mother in the future. Whether it is the birth mother, stepmother, foster mother or adoptive mother, she will pay. Whether it was a premature birth and for medical reasons the mother could not hold and comfort or a situation of neglect, abuse, or abandonment, they will make mom suffer.

Revenge is rooted in rebellion. They will not follow mom’s guidance to be respectful, brush their teeth, make their bed, get dressed etc. Everything becomes a battle. An exhausted mom fights for their child suffering with RAD with the wrong toolbox until she finds out what the problem is. Unfortunately we have too many untrained mental health professionals that miss it. The parents get more worn down, and the child gets sicker year after year until the correct diagnosis and correct treatment are found. When is it too late? As long as the child is breathing there is hope!

This heart wrapped in barbed wire represents the protection a child with RAD wraps around their own heart to protect it from further heart break. The overwhelming pain of lost love, rejection, abandonment or abuse demands a strong defense. During the painful time it is needed and appropriate, but as they move into a safer time in their life the barbed wire is not necessary. Until they feel safe they cling to their protection. As time passes, and they grow, the wire would begin to cut into the heart. The protection thus becomes the destroyer. Until they feel safe they will fight love and cling to old defenses no matter how destructive they are to their own happiness and success.


Creating Attachment

According to Bruce Perry MD PhD: “Scientists believe the most important factor in creating attachment is positive physical contact (e.g., hugging, holding, and rocking). It should be no surprise that holding, gazing, smiling, kissing, singing, and laughing all cause specific neurochemical activities in the brain. These neurochemical activities lead to normal organization of brain systems that are responsible for attachment.” We need to hug, hold, and rock our children! They can sure make it hard sometimes. I call it hugging the porcupine. Mother porcupines find a way to wash and care for their babies without getting poked! We can too.


The Problem is Great

There are many millions of children who have some degree of impaired bonding and attachment during early childhood. The problems that result from this can range from mild interpersonal discomfort to profound social and emotional problems. In general, the severity of problems is related to how early in life, how prolonged and how severe the emotional neglect has been.” ( Bruce Perry MD. PhD)

Our little ones need less trauma and more support. Those that don’t get it need and deserve proper diagnosis and proper treatment. Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “ Where there is love there is life”. Let’s love each other MORE! Let’s love the parents on the front line trying to save their children. Lets love the children. They did not ask to be hurt. They did not try to be twisted by trauma. They need us to fight for them so they can be whole!

Keep your sunny side up,

Nancy Thomas

For more info try out our newest book: A Glimpse at Understanding RAD. This great little book for only $14 (includes shipping) makes it all clear! Get yours HERE !

Reference: Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. “Maltreated Children: Experience, Brain Development and the Next Generation”


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