I Love You, I Love You Not: The Evolution of Connection

I don’t get sad. I don’t get happy. I just go through the day like a dream. It’s odd really, and I don’t like it. Honestly, I feel like my life is wasted.  

Says my young adult son with past trauma.

Talk about a loaded statement! But it conveys a deep message about the evolution of love in my family.

The give and take. The emerging relationship. The ups and downs.  The genuine connection versus outright rejection.

I love you. I love you not.

You see, the bond between me and each of my six children varies greatly. In spite of my efforts over 20 years.

First flower

Rather than experiencing the intimacy of the mother-newborn relationship, my daughter and five sons started life in hard places.

They experienced trauma. In the womb from exposure to alcohol. During the three years of life from severe neglect – some more frequently than others.

Once adopted, each received unconditional love, emotional support and a variety of opportunities to succeed. Each responded favorably beyond the honeymoon period. And each made incredible progress, especially in elementary school.

Hugs, however, did not come easily for my children. One caught on quickly.  Two eventually learned to freely express themselves. The awkwardness never fully went away for the other three – no matter how hard they tried.

Interestingly, two of the those three didn’t like being touched at all for an extended period of time. Body language like I had never seen.

Beginning in middle school, triggers to past trauma became commonplace. Those daily challenges on top of typical adolescence drama created a less-than-positive self-image.

Previous connections unraveled for a “certain” three. The other half did just the opposite. They desired more time with me.

Christmas 2003

That’s when two distinct groups emerged in my family. Three who loved me. And three who routinely questioned our relationship.

I call them the huggers and the non-huggers.

I’m doing well, just mentally and emotionally drained. I find it hard to care about much of anything – little energy or interest. It’s like everything is gray.

Says my young adult son with past trauma.

I love you. I love you not.

A part of the challenge was their inability to initiate a task, avoid ongoing distractions, manage any transition, maintain their place in the process and remain organized. Classic symptoms of executive dysfunction. But the situation was more than just ADHD.

The larger part, more importantly, continues to be their paralyzing anxiety – a lifelong effect of their early trauma.

  • They can easily remain stuck in the past – fearing further abandonment, regardless of my attention and affection.
  • They struggle to trust on anyone’s terms other than their own – discounting valuable opinions, even from caring adults like me.
  • They routinely question their worth – measuring themselves to unrealistic standards, rather than seeing their personal strengths.
  • They often assume the worst – believing nothing positive will ever come their way, thus keeping personal expectations low.
  • They tend to suffer alone – unwilling to confide in anyone and possibly be judged.

Not a healthy combination of emotions.

And not an easy fix. Most likely a mental health condition that can’t be entirely “fixed,” only managed.

For a lifetime.

Not surprisingly, trauma-informed therapists had mixed results. When my family needed collaboration, they created triangulation. My three children with the least attachment become less bonded to me.

Note the word “less.”

The same goes for teachers. When trauma-informed, they moved mountains – ones I couldn’t push by myself. The less empathetic, in-your-face approach backed all six into a corner.

They shut down. They gave up. They no longer cared.

Several significant patterns developed among my children.

The more attached group of three accepted their “trauma” for the most part and its lifelong effects. As a result each found a sense of peace.

The less attached group of three never fully reached that stage. Instead, each continues to run from the truth – living somewhat in a fantasy world. Time and time again, they feel compelled to “prove” themselves – without any guidance from anyone. One disaster after another in the making.

Ironically, they desperately wanted to please – yet quickly blamed others for their shortcomings. A dangerous cycle began.

Second Flower

Although success in something was imperative to their self-regulation, they appeared doomed to repeat past mistakes.

Each subsequent failure seemed like another nail in their coffin. 

Those three found solace in drugs.

Those three became homeless.

Those three encountered in legal trouble.

Those three needed intensive mental health services but received none. Their choice, not mine. Another reason for mental health courts in every jurisdiction, not the few seen today.

So what’s the point of living, you know? Like why keep going through pain and darkness for nothing? Wouldn’t it be better to just let go. Not that I’m suicidal; I would never take my life. But I feel like it’s pointless. Do you understand?

Says my young adult son with trauma.

I love you. I love you not.

In hindsight, the absence of early hugs at home was a huge predictor – foreshadowing their challenges as young adults, perhaps more than anything.  

Hopefully others can learn from my experience.

  • Every attempt to parent therapeutically makes a difference in the end, even when nothing seems right. 
  • Every effort reduces potential harm.
  • Every “small win” gives our children hope, whether they tell us or not.

And if you’re wondering, I keep initiating hugs today. For both my groups of three. DCP

__________

Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the pageEACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Athlete & Advocate

To watch Andrew’s amazing ESPN 14-minute documentary, click here. Andrew Peterson ESPN “Respect: Documentary

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