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Reactive Attachment Disorder Parenting Aftermath: How to Heal After Living With the Disorder



Reactive attachment disorder is a developmental trauma disorder that wreaks havoc upon the families dealing with it. Violence, destruction, and chaos are common in these homes. But there is life after reactive attachment disorder (RAD).


Sometimes life after RAD comes when the child grows up and moves out. Other times it comes when the child is away in long-term treatment. And sometimes it comes with relinquishment. For a lucky few, the child finds appropriate help, wants to change, and can lead a healthier life.


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However your family reaches life after living with reactive attachment disorder, there’s healing to be done – your personal healing. We spoke with families who have reached the other side for their advice and words of wisdom.


6 ways to get back to life after living with RAD:


1. Embrace your grieving.


Carrie O’Toole, M.A., of Carrie O’Toole Ministries, has been through raising a child with reactive attachment disorder. She now coaches other families and leads retreats. “The biggest tip would be to grieve,” she says. “Grieve the family you thought you would have, the mom or dad you thought you’d be, how this has impacted your marriage, your other children, extended family, friends, etc. I would recommend people look to others who have been through something similar.”


However your family reaches life after living with reactive attachment disorder, there’s healing to be done – your personal healing.

The traditional Kubler-Ross stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, grief is not linear. We may feel all of these things in one day or week or jump from one to the next with happiness or relief in between. Be patient with the process and with yourself.


2. Find your community.


Other moms echo O’Toole’s advice to find an understanding community. “Surrounding yourself with people who are in every stage of the 'after' healing is very therapeutic,” says one mom, who wishes to remain anonymous. “You feel like you're helping those in the earlier stages, but also being mentored by the more experienced 'afters'.”


There are a number of RAD-related Facebook groups, including one for parents in the life after RAD stage. She says, “I don't know what I would do without this online community. There are no local groups that would have this depth of knowledge on RAD.”

Fellow online community member Kathryn adds: “The thing that was our ladder out of the dark, hellish pit we were in: groups like this one where other parents can confirm that it wasn’t in our head.”


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It’s also important to figure out who in your life and family are willing to learn about reactive attachment disorder and be there to support you, Kathryn says. For me, finding RAD Advocates and attending their annual Navigating RAD event – even after our son was no longer in our home – was very helpful. Meeting others who understood – and also learning about what caused our family breakdown – was invaluable.


3. Discover meaning.


Raising a child with reactive attachment disorder means we didn’t get to be the kind of parents we wanted to be. We were often judged by others as being too strict or not tender and loving enough. We wanted to be tender and loving, but that trigged our children, and their behavior warranted tighter structure and supervision.


By the time we reach “life after RAD,” we have likely been through other difficult decisions that draw judgment. For example, we may have had to place our children in treatment or uphold strong boundaries that others don’t understand. All this can lead us to feeling bad about ourselves.


For me, volunteering was an important part of patching up my self-esteem and finding meaning in all the loss. I volunteer with RAD Advocates to help other parents, and I created a free pet pantry to help families and animals in need in our community.


Psychology professor and grief researcher Robert A. Neimeyer says, “A central process in grieving is the attempt to reaffirm or reconstruct a world of meaning that has been challenged by loss.” This reminded me of how volunteering and giving back helped me find meaning.


Seek meaning from the pain, whatever that looks like for you.


4. Change your scenery.


Redecorating or even moving can also be therapeutic.


“Repurposing [our daughter’s old] room to something really happy has helped,” says fellow mother Nita. “I turned it into a nursery for when my baby granddaughter is staying with me. I used to dread walking into her room but now it brings me so much joy.” Another mom, who wishes to remain anonymous, agrees: “I have taken down most of her photos .... We have also repainted and are doing renovations to our home.”


By the time we reach “life after RAD,” we have likely been through other difficult decisions that draw judgment. For example, we may have had to place our children in treatment or uphold strong boundaries that others don’t understand. All this can lead us to feeling bad about ourselves.

Kathryn says: “Purging almost all of her stuff and putting the few undamaged important things in a tightly wrapped box out of the way to give it to her when she showed back up. This included almost all of the family photos with her in them.”


For me, I went a step further and moved to another state. Not everyone can do this, but for us a complete change in scenery – and removing the triggers and reminders of our old home and town – was helpful.


5. Talk it out.


For myself and other parents, personal therapy was beneficial. If not therapy, then a good friend who cares, listens, and doesn’t judge, can be very helpful. We need to be heard, seen, and understood as we process our feelings and our story.


“I went to some therapy a few times and have read many books and articles that I have found helpful,” one mom says. “I also have a few very empathetic friends who are non-judgmental and very loving and supportive. This has helped me a great deal.”


My therapist also emphasized the importance of self-talk. Much of our suffering comes from our negative thought patterns. Take a page from the stoics, and focus on what you can control: your thoughts and actions.


6. Let go and set boundaries.


“Letting go mentally and emotionally of any control or responsibility for [our daughter’s] further decisions in life, no matter how awful” was helpful to one mom.


For adult children who suffered from reactive attachment disorder and are still in your life, setting boundaries is extremely important.


The Winding Journey of Reactive Attachment Disorder Parenting Healing


Healing is a windy, curvy, bumpy road. One day you’ll feel great, and the next you’ll be curled up in a ball crying. You will go through all the stages of grief multiple times. Give yourself grace.


This isn’t something you’ll “get over.” Instead, the healing process is about discovery: understanding what you’ve been through and how it’s impacted you and your family, and then finding the community and meaning that will help you move forward. That’s why RAD Advocates was founded – to raise awareness and advocacy, create community, and spread understanding.


Even though you may feel alone at times, there are other families going through something similar. You are not crazy. You did your best as a parent, and by the time you reach life after reactive attachment disorder – however you got there – it’s time to focus on you. You deserve it.


Find your people. Get support. Become a RAD Advocates member.


About the Author:


Micaela Myers and her husband adopted a pair of siblings from foster care in 2015, when the children were 9 and 13. Since then, she has become an advocate for foster care reform and the support and education of adoptive parents. She was a member and is a supporter of RAD Advocates. Micaela earned her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and works as a professional writer and editor in Colorado.


Photo by Ante Gudelj on Unsplash

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