In the process of learning what triggers our children, we learn what triggers us. This hasn’t been a natural process for me. I didn’t find it easy to be open to it, but the triggers that secondary trauma can unavoidably give us as parents of children who have experienced trauma are a good starter to identifying those that we have held from our own childhoods.
Being ignored is my major trigger. Especially via the phone. I can feel all reason evapourate when I get no reply calling one of my sons. Frustration becomes rage. I’ve started using breathing to try and manage this but it’s not easy. How much harder is it for my sons to manage their own rage, if I struggle to do it, with my insights and awareness?
Control is the other. I find it hard to cope with not having everyone safely in the places they are planned to be, such as school.
These particular two triggers have led to me screaming at the top of my voice in the street at S that I was “shutting you down, fella” like Joan Crawford on a budget. Poor S was trying to make sense of my actions. I was visiting a number of his hang-outs to warn the occupants off harbouring him, and he was trying to make it easier for me by pointing me at the addresses I’d been given, but my rage had blocked all reason and his offer of help, and I strode my own path and made things much harder.
I had a really helpful chat with T about S’s fifth week of truancy, the excuses he is making, and his difficulty communicating with anyone. His truanting is a reaction to his trauma-related anxiety and has reached the stage where he doesn’t know what it is (the sick feeling he describes) and is flailing around trying to explain it, resulting in excuses.
T reassured me that we are doing the right thing by stepping back, ensuring his safety and giving him the space to work things through while at the same time continuing to assure him of our love and continuing to keep a dialogue going about attending school and needing a solution to the problem. I.e., “we love you and we will always be here for you but it’s important that you are in school and we all need to think of a way that you can be in school.”
On top of the trauma-related anxiety, S will now also be feeling guilt and shame for his behaviour and its impact on us so we need to avoid putting any more pressure on him (rewards, punishments).
The truancy is now moving from what could be a rebellious phase into something known as ‘school refusal’ which T has experience of. The school has a significant role in this, and T will work with them on their proposed next steps. They will have a policy and it will likely involve a referral to the Education Welfare Service. We will work jointly across all agencies and the school, and explore with S ways in which he can be in school, including compromises, without putting further pressure on anyone.
In parallel it is time to get an appropriate therapist to work with S on a long term basis. This will be someone who understands adoption and attachment. T will get some names and prepare a funding request for the Vale. If we want to arrange something privately in the meantime, that’s up to us, but it has to be someone appropriate and we have to understand this has been a long time building and will take a long time to fix, not a couple of sessions.
It’s a job.
It will bring external influences into your home and life.
It is largely thankless.
It will be destructive.
It will take you to your lowest.
You will be known, looked at and judged.
You will know the police.
It will impact your day job.
Your children will be disliked.
You will be continually lied to.
Your things will be stolen.
They will break your heart.