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Reactive Attachment Disorder or Maternal Narcissism?

by Laura on May 23rd, 2014

Rescuing Julia Twice

The title alone speaks volumes. I can’t help but be increasingly turned off by the insipid ramblings of White-privileged entitlement. Truly, it’s maddening.

“Rescuing” calls to mind the conservative-Christian-inspired American-executed “rescue narrative” of adoption, recently documented in Kathryn Joyce’s book, The Child Catchers—Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption. [Read Claudia D’Arcy’s important review here.]

Next, there’s “Julia.”

Early on, author Tina Traster mentions that some names have been changed to protect privacy. Which begs the questions: How about the incredibly scrutinized underage subject of the darn book? What about her name? What about her privacy? What about her right not to have her “bad behavior” and RAD “diagnosis” spread all over the Internet. Was it changed? Um? No.

Twice.” Really. Really? It’s gotta be twice? I rescued my kid from a swing-set-inspired-near-death this morning. Twice. And I hadn’t even had my coffee yet.


I had unaddressed post-adoption issues as a teen and young adult. (Luckily, I was the “perfect, compliant adoptee,” an adoption success story, so no one would have accused little-ol’-me of having RAD.) Hell, I was 24 when my subsequent mental breakdown landed me in an institution. I didn’t want any of my parents (first or adoptive) to tell ANYONE, not friends, not other family members … certainly not strangers, and definitely NOT in a book!

The story of my adoption, of my life, of my issues are MINE. I told the story when I was good-and-ready. In MY voice. MY adoptee voice.

Am I saying that adoptive parents can’t write a book about their experience with adoption? Of course not; I wouldn’t silence someone from telling THEIR story. Suggestion: respect your kids, leave the tragic, traumatic adoption details of a minor OUT. Or, better yet, wait until they’re old enough to write their own story.


Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)?

For any child who’s lost their family, heritage, ethnicity. Who didn’t have her mother’s smell, sounds, touch … that’s traumatic. Any “failure” to attach to a random person who—through signatures and money—now says, “Yeah! I’m your mom! Love ME!” is completely within the range of normal.

However, this “failure to bond,” and its attendant “maladaptive behaviors” is readily diagnosed as RAD. Read more on reactive attachment disorder.

This is gonna bunch not a few panties but …

Why would anyone willingly attach to such a selfish, self-centered, narcissistic person?

Adoptees all over the world are speaking out and talking about the traumatic, pre-verbal experience of separation from their mothers. Of course, it affects every person differently, but that separation was, and continues to be a real and impactful event on an adoptees life. It was, quite literally, a loss of everything the child knew and loved.

The problem within this adoptive family is in fact maternal narcissism. The behaviors connected to the supposed RAD diagnosis are simply normal reactions to traumatic events.

Force any child away from his parents, to now be “held” and “cuddled” by some stranger … and see how that kid reacts. (Actually, within non-adopted families, we call that “separation anxiety,” and we see it as a normal phase that the child will pass through. A reason to give the child more love and reassurance. Just sayin’.)


Maternal Narcissism

I asked a few contributors to the forthcoming anthology, Adoption Therapy, Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues. (Both are adoptees.)

Jodi Gibson Haywood—I have a real problem with any diagnosis of “attachment disorder” when applied to adoptees. I’ve said this in other groups … it is not “natural” for a non-biological child (adopted, fostered, etc.,) to attach to another adult in an identical manner as to a natural parent. It goes against the child’s code of loyalty and self-protective instincts. This is Mom, that is a stranger, and we instinctively know that it might be dangerous to follow a stranger. Indeed, what about the child? Small children don’t “know” they’re adopted, that some piece of paper is supposed to make a strange couple worthy of their deepest trust. Older children especially, with experience in orphanages, foster care, or other interim caregivers, cannot be expected to bond like that. IMHO the adopters are the ones with the disorder if they expect it.

Lucy Sheen—It’s seems to be able about “me”: I was not getting contact, she wouldn’t look me in the eye … etc. What about the child? She may have the verbal vocabulary, but it appears to me that she does not have the emotional parenting vocabulary that as an adoptive parent you need.

Now from an adoptive mom …

Lori Holden—I value Tina’s story because it directly addresses the supremely knotty issues of RAD and rehoming. Tina’s story shows how agencies on both sides of the Atlantic mishandled things (really, a no-win situation to begin with) and how she relentlessly connected the dots when things weren’t working out the way she was led to believe they would.

While I diverge with Tina regarding the degree to which parents “out” their children (it’s a fine line to tell OUR story while respecting their right to reveal THEIR stories—or not), I appreciated her grit in never accepting defeat when it came to connecting with her daughter.

*  *  *

For More on Maternal Narcissism …

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From → Adoption

  1. free to be me permalink

    Thanks for writing this and including these links. It's "interesting" the vast difference between the adoptees' and the adopter's opinion. There are so many examples of these differences.

    And yep, I got my first introduction to yet another adopter, Tina Traster's faux-pas over faux/real motherhood, "I'm not your real mother" in the "ever-reliable, unbiased" NYTimes.

    I wrote several comments, many of which were posted. However, ONE comment I tried posting a few times, she or the moderator clearly didn't like. Some people might not like it, or may be shocked, saddened, or blame me, but it is what it is. Since she/they wouldn't post it, I hope you will.

    Someone else had commented that essentially in healthy childhood development, there are rebellions/arguments, etc. Here it is:

    Thank you. I was one who never told my parents – "you're not my real parent". Decades later, talking with my a-mom, I reminded her that I was the well-behaved one who did well in school, didn't rebel, have drug/alcohol, police, mental problems, didn't woo/argue for money or gifts from her, or complain – she now wished I had.

    Fast forward, when I think about her now, I'm content that I have no desire to see her, know what she's up to, or share what's up with me. I spent too many irreplaceable years concerned with and accommodating her "limitations". When an empathetic ear would've really helped, instead I forgot my own woes, because she said things not out of concern for me, but that made me feel worse – more confused and angry at her! 'Twas never a good time for her to tend to me or to take an interest in my life. But if she wanted info from me, she'd feel entitled. If unsatisfactory, snippy she'd get (below the belt, snippy!).

    Now I hear she manipulated, controlled, threatened her relatives as they dealt with impending end-of-life issues and grieved parent's death. After the funeral, she invited me to see her – maybe an olive branch, or she was needy, or…?… I declined.

    As a child, I couldn't choose. Now, I choose to NOT have her in my life. I know now. My only suicidal thoughts were after a private weekend with her that she had orchestrated. Since then, she's blown many chances to respect my boundaries. Each time I've felt guilty, I've regretted it. Now I know.

    Your attitude reminds me of my a-mom. YOU need help. I worry for Julia."

  2. The good son permalink

    Ditto, was the good son, won all the awards, never swore, look perfect, dressed perfect, did everything they said to a "t" After 5 years of counseling as an adult, finding my genetics, I realized my mom's chain smoking, yelling, spanking had more to do with her than me or my sister(the druggy one)

    She never got help herself, and instead chose to talk up her niece and nephew's family every chance she got as a way to punish me for searching and as a way to say, "these are the kids I really wanted."

    She had a good heart, but was just very wounded herself as a child, and probably had mental illness(she was a very respected teacher in a very respected district.) Narcissism fits here.

  3. Lil lost mink permalink

    Amen. Why is it it takes til you grow up b4 you realize the damage that has been done to your inner self by someone that was suppose to take care of you, I don’t think there was ever love. In my childhood I blame my ass- mom for it if I can even use the word mom.

  4. Sol permalink

    As others have stated here and elsewhere, Traster's Motherlode blog comments were moderated with a heavy hand!

    I would simply like to repeat a comment that was rejected there:

    I wonder how Tina Traster would feel if someone decided to play God with her secrets, private moments or undigested experiences and publish them in a widely discussed book?

  5. kym permalink

    Some other good discussions/blogs about Trastering adoptlngs:



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