NUMBER 561 • 3 AUGUST • SEPARATION AND LOSS
Many severely maltreated children display a degree of pseudo-independence that leads them into conflict with the adult world. They are labeled as being resistive, oppositional. stubborn, difficult, and the like. If their traits were seen In a positive light some might be said to be "spunky," "feisty." "have a mind of their own," or be "a survivor." They show a strong ability not only to form their own views, but to persist in them no matter how unrealistic their perspective seems to adults. They might be called autonomous and self-reliant in a precocious fashion. Compared to normal children, they persist in trying to handle tasks beyond their capability rather than asking for help.
Although adults describe these traits as "willful" when mild or "oppositional" when severe, from the perspective of these children, this stance is entirely reasonable in light of their previous life experience. The toughness and independence these children exhibit has real survival value. It helps them to cope with the many unpredictable changes. disappointments, and fears that are a daily experience for them. Before coming into care, these children have had little opportunity to develop a sense of consistency or predictability in even the most simple activities or human relationships. They often cannot develop a sense that adults respond reliably: no one in their life has responded consistently. This difficulty shows up when the children are in care.
Because of a change in age mix of the children, hospital staff members attempted to rearrange the grouping in a rather hasty fashion. The children protested strongly. A 13-year-old girl, who had witnessed her mother kill her chronically violent father, yelled in great frustration, "I have been in seven different places In the last six months. I don’t want any more moves." The staff wisely rescinded the change and made the girl a part of a group that would discuss any possible future rearrangements.Typically, therapeutically oriented adults who deal with these children start out with a relatively benevolent perspective. However, the children see all adults as uncaring and unresponsive, no matter what evidence exists to the contrary. They fail to appreciate or value the adults positive intentions. This rejection is likely to produce a disappointed if not also an angry response from the adults, who may have expected the waifs to appreciate some human kindness. The clinicians may feel that the children are Ingrates who have spit upon their good intentions and may act in a rejecting or uncaring way, as a defensive response. Unfortunately for these children, this response confirms their previous view that the adult world is nasty and out to get them.
These children typically adopt a counterdependent stance and minimize the pain associated with psychological injury. They resemble small warriors— tough, denying pain, quick to fight, and always on guard against a cruel, cold world. Like the samurai, when injured they show their anger but not their hurt. On closer examination, their anxiety is apparent in nightmares, difficulty making simple decisions, nervous mannerisms, clinging to security objects. and low tolerance far ambiguous situations.Under somewhat different circumstances, the same anger that is often expressed outwardly can be directed Inwardly. In moments of frustration and self-hatred, these children can mutilate themselves or destroy their favored toys and other valued possessions. After all, tough guys don’t need teddy bears, and anger must be discharged against something.
ALVIN ROSENFELD & SAUL WASSERMAN
Rosenfeld, A. & Wasserman, S. (1990). Healing the Heart, A therapeutic Approach to disturbed Children in Group Care. pp 17-19. Washington DC: Child Welfare League of America. p.90-91