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You must jump OUT of the Trauma Tornado

June 8, 2015

***This post was originally published on 03/18/2013.  For the next six days, I will be re-blogging a series of articles from 2013.***

If you live with a child who has experienced trauma, you know exactly what I mean by the Trauma Tornado. The trauma tornado starts with the traumatized child- with a child who is overwhelmed, scared, confused, and fearful of death. And the child quickly sucks in everyone in his path. The trauma tornado might have started before your child was born. The trauma tornado may have started WHEN your child was born, if her birth was traumatic or overwhelming. The trauma tornado may have started before your child came to live with you. It may have been set on its course when your child lost her mother in an infant adoption. Or when your child spent months in an orphanage in another country. Or when your child spent the first three years of her life with a mother or father who simply just could not take care of her- due to domestic violence, substance abuse, or any other myriad of reasons. Something set the trauma tornado on its path…and you were in the way!

It is impossible not to get sucked into the trauma tornado. When you live with a child whose entire inner world is chaos due to the impact of trauma, that child will create chaos on his outer world. You see, our inner and outer worlds like to match. Some parents and children spend years and years in this horrific cycle of the trauma tornado. My mentors at the Attachment & Trauma Center of Nebraska came up with a brilliant and succinct way to describe this cycle: scared child looks scary to the parents, who feel scared and act in a way that scares the child.

What on earth does that even mean? I said it was brilliant and succinct right?

When children act-out, there is fear driving the behavior. Lying child? “It’s not safe to tell the truth.” Stealing child? “I cannot trust others to meet my needs.” Physically Aggressive Child? “My life is in danger.” These behaviors are scary to parents who start to feel their own scared. “I’m raising a pathological liar.” “My child is a juvenile delinquent destined to a life of crime.” “My child is going to hurt me.”

Just like when scared children don’t act very nicely, scared parents don’t act very nicely, either.

Believe me, I’ve been there. And I don’t even have a child who has experienced severe trauma. But I have had the “I am raising an ax-murderer!” feeling and I can promise you, my behavior that followed was not pretty.

This is the trauma tornado. And like all negative cycles, it MUST be broken in order for healing and change to begin. Unfortunately, it’s simply impossible to ask the traumatized child to hop out of this tornado. As parents, we must jump out first.

What does jumping out look like? We have to identify our fears and replace them with true thoughts.

I wish I could tell you that you will only have to do this once and the cycle will magically be over! Unfortunately, the trauma tornado is strong and will need you to jump out over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and well…..you get it. You already know that this tornado is exhausting. Jumping out of it is no different.

~

 

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Don’t miss Trust Based Parenting…In Real Life!!!  A one-time only, six-hour workshop for parents in West Michigan (Jenison) on August 8, 2015.  Click here for more details and to register!

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2013 6:25 pm

    Nice metaphor with the “Trauma Tornado” – it does feel like a tornado. And like a tornado, sometimes you have to let it run its course. I totally agree that understanding the nervous system of a child of trauma is key.

  2. March 25, 2013 10:55 am

    Hi Robyn – thanks for this. I love the simple diagrams and how a child who is lying is not shamed, but understood. thanks!

  3. Victor permalink
    March 29, 2013 2:31 pm

    Our family spent 2 years searching for the bio parents of an adopted cousin, now 67 years old. Your metaphor was still dominant in his personality until he met his birth family at age 60. His mother had passed, but he met cousins that looked like him, and an aunt that could share information about her sister, his mother. Our family’s would be more stable, if stranger-infant-adoption was not the norm, but a last resort.

  4. April 3, 2013 12:29 pm

    Robyn,

    What a powerful tool to help everyone in the family cope with feelings of being out of control. I think that parents need the reminder that what we fear for our children isn’t the truth–it is just a fear. I also like the reminder that the responsibility for stepping outside the cycle rests with the parents. Thanks for sharing such a great tool.

    Warmly,
    Ann

  5. April 3, 2013 3:23 pm

    Sometimes there is a vortex in parenting in which we easily get caught. Adding a “take a breathe” to decipher our child’s behavior can allow for a calmer response. Thanks for the visuals.

  6. May 1, 2013 2:29 pm

    Excellent post. Thank you!

  7. Erin O'Donnell permalink
    August 23, 2013 1:28 pm

    WOW We just jumped out of the tornado after three and a half years of trying every philosophy/behavior management we could find!!! It has already helped so much in just a month. I am so happy to have found your wesite. Thank you for your fantastic info.

  8. Priscilla permalink
    September 29, 2013 4:03 pm

    You make this sound simple, and over time your strategy works, it does not. I have been working with leading researchers and doctors in the area of RAD for more than 13 years. I practice Love and Logic with my child. I do not yell, I provide calm redirection and love. In return I get more of the same behavior, only worse. I have been told I am beyond research and medical knowledge, in 20 years they weill know more. Please do not communicate that what you say works. Many of us have been trying these strategies for years with zero. I have been involved for years with numerous groups, programs, and top researchers, all to no avail. The only change that has occurred is escalation, intensity, and frequency of behaviors. I truly wish people would be honest and not pretend that there is a “cure” and it is the fault of parents, it is not. I hold many degrees and credentials and this is a disorder that is killing me. I do all the loving, caring, providing, in return I get a child who steals from me, physically assaults me, lies and tries to get me in trouble for the horrendous things he does. A child who has tried to kill one of my other sons on three different occasions. I get a son who steals my jewelry, who is inappropriate in every way..and the lsit goes on. What do I do, give him love, care for him, involve him in sports, church, surround him with loving family……..I have had to have surgery and go on medication for what he has done to me. This child has never shed one tear in his entire life. Instead he stares at me and says, “I hate you and want to hurt you, that is the only thing that puts a smile on my face and makes me happy.” When I ask why, he replies, “I don’t know. You’re the best mom ever and are alwasy kind, loving and good to me, but I love to hurt you and get you in trouble, it’s fun.” So when you say that is the way to handle these children and over time it works. you’re wrong. If you really know of a program that does not cost me thousands out of pocket, please let me know. I have searched the country over and so far have nothing but a lot of grief and sadness.

    • September 30, 2013 7:29 am

      Priscilla, I am sorry to hear your child has so many struggles. Certainly the ideas I write about do not cure all attachment problems. Unfortunately, there is not one ‘tactic’ ‘method’ or ‘cure’ for any one issue, diagnosis or disease. Focusing on regulation, connection, and what the parent brings to the relationship (which is not blaming, it is simply noticing, being aware, and knowing that really the only person one can ever change is oneself) is an important component of parenting a child with complex developmental trauma and loss. What I write about is not the only piece- it is just one piece. I have been blessed to help many families find healing, but of course there are always some situations that need something different than what I am able to provide. Unfortunately, we do not have good resources for families with severe situations unless they are able to invest 100s of 1000s of dollars. This is tragic. I’m sorry.

      • Ginny permalink
        September 30, 2013 12:59 pm

        I am searching for a subject to write a paper on abnormal psychology.
        Where does one find the statistics of abandonment as it applies to seriel killers, blue and white collar criminals, et.al?
        The only research on the subject i can find is in Freakenomics, a book written by a couple of economists. About 12-15 years after Roe v Wade, the crime rate plummeted across the country. I lent the book to a friend, so i can’t offer the pages.
        Consider if the original Mom had those 100s and 1000s of dollars to support her family, infant-strnager adoptions would be non-existant.
        The book “Unlearning Adoption: A Guide to Family Preservation and Protection” by Jessica DelBalzo, mentions how social workers, adoption agency’s, doctors and nurse, withheld information to these women during the Baby Scoope era, and beyond, informing them of their civil rights and how to apply for Aid To Dependent Children. From what DelBalzo writes, these women were capable of raising their kids, but conned out of thir kids by a system that wanted to sell baby’s and make money. That is Capitolism really gone amuck. And infant-stranger-adoption has not really worked.
        These birthparents formed Concerned United Birthparents, and the book “Beggers and Choosers” by Rickie Solinger reports the politics of this mess. These birthparents have become lawyers, teachers, have earned PhD’s and more.

  9. Beth permalink
    October 20, 2013 10:00 am

    I need to know what this looks like, jumping out of the tornado. Lets say my child throws a fit and refuses to go to bed. All the calm in the world wont resolve it. She is most happy to scream for hours about anything and everything. I reassure, give her what she wants and so forth and it goes on and on, every night for hours. What does jumping out of the tornado look like? For me it seems I am raising a monster and she only escalates her behavior. She just ups her behaviors. Doesn’t this seem to make her feel out of control? And don’t say set firm boundaries when she doesn’t care about any of that.

    • October 28, 2013 6:18 am

      Hi Beth- so sorry for the late reply here! I hear your frustration that jumping out of the tornado doesn’t necessarily STOP the tornado. If jumping out doesn’t stop the tornado, then you likely have a child who is too dysregulated. So much of the ‘work’ to keep our kids regulated is done long before the trigger presents itself. Jumping out simply means that you don’t let your own fear (about raising a monster, etc.) escalate the situation. It’s important to find the negative belief beneath the behavior (scared of bed, of dark, of separation? Or is it being in control? Then the negative belief is “It’s not safe for me to not be in control.” It could be anything!) and sooth the negative belief, both in and out of the rage. The truth is that we cannot control someone else’s behaviors. We can only control our reaction and then we can take steps to support the child’s regulation, trauma triggers, the environment etc. based on the child’s needs and negative beliefs. I hear you say your daughter doesn’t care about boundaries but I wonder if that means she doesn’t care about consequences? Many of our trauma kids don’t respond to consequences – for many different reasons- but trauma kids DO need really strong boundaries in order to increase the safety that they feel in their homes. It sounds like you are really overwhelmed and having a hard time with your daughter. I am so sorry for that.

  10. Donna F. Petersen permalink
    October 31, 2013 4:16 pm

    We have been in the trauma tornado for around 17 years. Our youngest (now almost 19) spent almost a year in residential and is now home, still trying to find her way, but is doing ok. Our oldest is 20, in jail, and hopefully headed for a local halfway house. I’m seeking suggestions for relationship boundaries (between us and them) AND for any stories of positive outcomes (a little hope……).

  11. Jill Stevens permalink
    February 4, 2014 4:40 pm

    Many more children of trauma than we realize are so seriously affected by the brain damage caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. It is incurable and does not respond to behavioral therapies. It is a physical disability and the extreme behaviors exhibited by children and adults with fasd are SYMPTOMS of this condition. If no strategies seem to work because the person simply cannot do many executive-type things, and he/she gets worse over time no matter what, alcohol and prenatal brain damage are likely at the root. I have not read your book yet, but I hope you have acknowledged this scourge and can reassure parents that they are not irresponsible when their child seems constantly out of control. I speak as an adoptive mom. We are awesome, loving, responsible parents. So far our good parenting, medication, counseling, relinquishing him to the state and more have all been fruitless over 23 years, through no fault of our own or our son. Yes, he has RAD, but part of his brain is just missing and there is no “rewiring” to be done.

    • February 8, 2014 11:23 pm

      Hi Jill, Thanks for taking the time to comment. You are absolutely right that sometimes a child’s brain is so damaged that we cannot fix it…at least not with what psychology, medicine, etc. etc. can offer in the year 2014. Stepping out of the ‘trauma tornado’ won’t necessarily stop the raging or heal your child. My hope for parents who are in the depths of parenting their traumatized child is that exercising the skill of ‘jumping out’ will help them combat the trauma of parenting trauma. You ARE an awesome, loving, and responsible mom. Thanks again for stopping by.

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