Talking about the Hard Truths, Part 2
This is Part 2 in the series “Talking about the Hard Truths of Adoption.” For Part 1, Click Here.
WHY do we talk about the hard stuff?!?!
WHY should we tell our children negative information from their early life? Especially if they can’t remember it? Most of us work hard to FORGET bad stuff. Should we really dredge up all those bad memories for our children?
What’s shareable is bearable
Daniel Siegel, MD, is a pioneer in the field of interpersonal neurobiology. His groundbreaking work has revolutionized what we believe about the science of human relationships. Siegel has coined the phrase “What’s shareable is bearable” – the idea that once we put experiences into verbal form, we are much better equipped to manage the thoughts and feelings associated with those experiences. Siegel suggests that the co-construction of narratives between a parent and child helps that child make sense of his internal (thoughts and feelings) and external world. Trauma experts have demonstrated that we hold trauma in our bodies. This means that even trauma that occurs before we have explicit (verbal) memories remains stored in our body. Your child may not be able to verbally recall the trauma he experienced as an infant, but his body remembers that trauma. When we give our children a verbal narrative of the experience, we help the child make sense of those thoughts and feelings.
Cohesive Life Narrative
A hallmark of both trauma resolution and secure attachment is having a “cohesive life narrative.” Having a cohesive life narrative means that we understand our life story and how we got from point A (birth) to point Z (now). This includes parts of the life story that are hard to share. Developing a cohesive life narrative also means labeling certain experiences with the appropriate emotion. Sad things are sad. Some experiences make us feel scared or angry. A cohesive life narrative is shared without being overcome by big or overwhelming emotions. Telling our story over and over again helps those feelings become more manageable.
Sharing your child’s story with them- especially the hard parts! – with empathy, love, and attunement helps promote attachment. Perverbal trauma can leave a child with “mixed up feelings” that they can’t explain. Putting words to those feelings helps your child “feel felt” which leads to attunement and attachment. Mixed up feelings leave a child feeling unsafe and insecure, and can be a roadblock for developing a secure attachment.
Confront Erroneous Beliefs
Talking with and LISTENING to your child talk about their life story will help you confront erroneous beliefs that your child may have. These “mixed up thoughts” may be inaccurate beliefs about the facts, or they may be inaccurate beliefs about themselves (such as, “It was my fault” or “I was not a loveable baby”). By asking open ended questions, “What do you think that baby felt?” or “If that baby could have talked, what would he have said?” will help you identify the thoughts and feelings your child has about those experiences.
Where do we even begin?
I hear you!! As a parent, it can be terrifying to consider how and when to begin telling our child their life story. In the next article in this series, I’ll talk about what type of information is appropriate to share with a child based on their developmental age.
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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling.