Our friends recently adopted an eight year old boy into their family (I will call him Elijah). We had the privilege of meeting Elijah a few weeks ago for the first time. Upon meeting him, he looked like a very happy, typical 8 year old boy but from the conversations I had with his parents and from some interaction I learned that Elijah suffers greatly.
This little man was born as a twin prematurely and spent time in the hospital long after his twin went home. Once home, he was the youngest of 5. For reasons unknown (or speculated), he had developed Reactive Detachment Disorder (RAD) and once home was not comfortable with being held or touched. Since the mom was a single parent and had her hands full with the other children, Elijah probably spent most of his time in his crib, untouched. Once he was older, the behaviors generally displayed by kids with RAD began and the adults in the home resorted to more violent extremes of discipline or even as far as abuse. When Elijah begins to feel out of control, he lashes out with anger and at times violent outbursts in an attempt to regain control.
I was really impressed and overjoyed watching these first time parents love and guide Elijah during our visit. To go from never having children to having one with serious behavioral issues is remarkable and their love and care for him is a blessing to experience. I wanted to share this story because out of a conversation I had with my friend regarding this disorder, how they have to communicate with Elijah and how Elijah processes situations, I had an unbelievable revelation!
My friend was explaining that in their conversations, they need to start to make Elijah more aware of what’s going on in his heart and what is actually happening around him. I won’t do the conversation justice but the idea was that his heart as a baby was not nurtured and he at a very early age built walls around it and therefore kept his heart as that of an infant. His capability of experiencing love is that of an infant. For example, they have to have really intentional “cuddle” time to help his baby heart and they have to talk him through what they are doing and why so he can start to put understanding around what is taking place and begin to articulate what is happening. As my friend was describing the walls he’s put up around his heart I realized that I do the very same thing! I have always done that, I could totally relate to Elijah in that moment!
I went on to share with my friend how I had so closely guarded my heart when James and I married. I struggled intensely our first few years of marriage to trust being vulnerable with him. Of course, my husband doesn’t live in superficiality and pressed in even harder the more I tried to guard my heart. This resulted in chaos within my heart and complete fear of being hurt more by someone I was learning to trust. What ensued was a rage that was beyond describable. I literally felt like I was going insane. The anger and rage and confusion had me completely upside down and the enemy used those moments to pummel me with lies. Reflecting back to those moments, my heart completely ached for Elijah and I so understood exactly how he felt and what he was going through.
I found this description of RAD in adults and was quite intrigued.
Adults with attachment issues may be clinging, co-dependent, and needy, or they may exert a level of anger and hostility that prevents others from getting close, while others might live their lives superficially, unable to access their true emotions, in each case relying upon patterns that may have helped them survive as children, but leaving them isolated as adults.
Depending upon the genetic personality traits of the individual, and their early life experiences, an insecurely attached adult will fall into one of two categories:
Intense anger and loss, hostile, overly critical of others, sensitive to blame, ; lack of empathy, views others as untrustworthy or undependable, views self as unlovable, or too good for others, relationships feel either threatening to one's sense of control, not worth the effort, or both, compulsive self-reliance, passive withdrawal, low levels of perceived support, difficulty getting along with co-workers, often preferring to work alone, work may provide a good excuse to avoid personal relations, fear of closeness in relationships, avoidance of intimacy, unlikely to idealize the love relationship, tendency toward self-criticism.
Compulsive caregiving, feel overinvolved and underappreciated, no long-term relationships, idealizing of others, strong desire for partner to reciprocate in relationship, desire for extensive contact and declarations of affections, overinvests his/her emotions in a relationship, perceives relationships as imbalanced, preoccupation or dependence on relationship, views partner as desirable but unpredictable (sometimes available, sometimes not), perceives others as difficult to understand, relationship is primary method by which one can experience a sense of security, unlikely to view others as altruistic, sensitive to rejection, discomfort with anger, extreme emotions, jealous, possessive, views self as unlovable, suicide attempts, mood swings, tendency toward dependent depression.
I actually will swing between both the Avoidant and Anxious/Ambivalent depending on where I am in terms of relationships, fear, or safety. I generally will think of how I have guarded my heart in terms of my husband because that is a constant tension. I have however protected my heart in general from every relationship I have ever had. In the beginning of our marriage, I displayed many of these behaviors and through the consistent pursual and love of my husband and mostly Jesus Christ, I can say that I have received a lot of healing and redemption but I also have to acknowledge I have not fully arrived either.
The main difference between Elijah and I comes down to sin. Plus maturity and the ability to recognize a lie versus what I know to be unequivocally true. Elijah at this point does not have a complete understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He did on the cross on his behalf. Unfortunately, I did not have enough conversation with Elijah to know what his Gospel understanding was or who Jesus Christ was to him but I’m guessing even at 8 years old without the Holy Spirit, he would have a hard time understanding the depth and meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross.
I do understand what Jesus did on the cross and I have experienced unbelievable healing and redemption in my life and in my marriage. I still however at times struggle with an intense desire to gain back control when I feel like I have lost it. I still tend to withhold intimacy from my husband (especially physical) when I don’t “feel” love from him. I have completely defined what love should look like and when he doesn’t meet it, my body is completely resistant to him. He has spoken a lot recently how much he realizes that my lips (kissing) and my body are completely connected to my heart and when my heart doesn’t feel safe or loved, everything shuts down. We’ve had great conversation and a lot of realization recently how connected my heart and my body are.
I often feel justified in my sinful response to my husband; I have elevated my heart above oneness with my husband and with my Lord for sake of protection and control. I have entertained the enemy’s lies about who I am, who my husband is, and who my Savior is. Yes, a lot of wrong has been done against me and I have a lot of distortions but the truth is I know the “ultimate” truth and God has chosen me and given me a spirit to know the things of God so I am without excuse.
I am excited for what lies ahead for Elijah as I know his parents are fully giving him the gospel truth in the midst of the madness that was given to him as a child. Just like God gives us His gospel (Christ and Him crucified), in the midst of our madness. That is where the gospel makes the most sense when everything else doesn’t. Even though I don’t fully know what Elijah’s understanding of Jesus on the cross is, I do know that his parents are fully in need of this truth and dependent on it as parents and that is being poured out on Elijah with every interaction.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10
2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4For we know, brothers[b] loved by God, that he has chosen you,5because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.