More on When the Therapeutic Efforts with the Family Fail

As all experienced therapists know, what we can do to help the reunited family reconnect depends not only on our efforts, the therapeutic tools available in our “tool kit” and our expertise and resolve in using them, but also in the current mental health status of the adults caring for the youngsters. In some cases, though rare in my experience, a caretaker with whom the child is trying to reestablish a bond is not available emotionally, perhaps because of a severe personality disorder, or perhaps because of their own history of trauma and attachment failures with their own parents, or maybe the current situation in the family is so stressful for this parent that it overwhelms their emotional energy reserve.  When this is the case, the experience is a very painful one for the son or daughter who feels constantly rejected and unloved, or unseen and neglected in ways that he or she struggles to comprehend.  The child then feels a tremendous need to distance herself/himself from the relationship, either through actively running away or expressing their anger and frustration by acting out and putting themselves at risk in ways that in some instances involve becoming disruptive at school, sexual acting out, substance abuse, or breaking the law, while maybe also exhibiting defiant and aggressive behaviors at home.  All this acting out unfortunately puts them in a role of them being the ones fueling a bad situation and they are indeed the “bad ones”. In their hurt and anger, the youngsters may not be welcoming of most adults approaching them and trying to guide their behavior and they may create more rejection towards them and a reputation of being beyond help. In a school system, the professionals attempting to help them may get tired of them and label them as manipulative, and they may be seen as becoming a threat to the adults trying to maintain a safe school. So they may end up being removed to other schools, or programs, feeling then further rejection and a sense of failure, sometimes before help can have a chance to start working.  Thus the road to healing from the failed reunification of the family is made even more difficult.  Whereas, what the young person may need the most at this point is for an adult to hear his/her side of the story in a true non-judgmental and compassionate way, so he or she can begin to share his/her pain and she can be made to realize that it is not that she is not worthy of love and care, but that the person that is supposed to care for her does not have that capability at the present time, for factors that have nothing to do with the child and may have been in motion long before she came along. So it is not her fault and neither is the fault of the adult, who may even be fighting deep feelings of failure as a parent, unknown to her, or even depression.  Therefore, she will have to get the kind of nurturing she needs at this time from other adults that are emotionally available to her and caring. Perhaps she needs to be reminded that she may already have that person, in a grandmother, aunt, older sibling, or other adult in her life history. She would benefit from understanding (or he, if that is the case) that not all parents can give at times what their children need, some have great injuries in their heart that have never healed and make it very difficult to successfully parent. Some may have never learned what to say or do as a caretaker while growing up, because the parenting they received was lacking in some important ways. But, the adolescent can still give and receive love, if she chooses to do so, from those who are able to give it to her.  Of course, she has a right to be angry and disappointed that she did not get one of those parents who can give patient and loving care, but continuing in the anger road is nothing but a waste of her life and internal peace and can become a “hole” in her heart. This is a child that could perhaps benefit from learning some self-soothing and self-loving exercises and perhaps be coached into finding new ways to feel she counts too, from the roads available to her in school, or her community.