Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a condition found in children who did not form a healthy emotional attachment to their primary caregivers during specific developmental stages in growth.
If you’ve dipped your toes in the adoptive world, you probably sensed that it’s a bit of a controversy over who exactly should be given this diagnosis– but if you happen upon a family that has a child with RAD, there’s not much for controversy. The parents just smile a bit of a pained smile and say, “Yup, we’re dealing with that. It’s a doozy.” Or they burst into tears. Depends on the day.
Basically, RAD is the tendency in a child to recoil from anything that feels like emotional attachment because it does not feel safe. In an effort to protect themselves from harm (their natural instinct) they will lash out against the thing that feels foreign or threatening, also known as love.
However, because they were created for attachment and love, they also desperately need it for survival. So, instead of getting their needs met in healthy ways (from family relationships), they try to meet those needs elsewhere. Sometimes through inappropriate behavior with other children, sometimes with attempting to form rapid shallow attachment to random people (like the grocery store clerk, that lady at church, or the mailman), and sometimes through more harmful violent behaviors.
Call it RAD or Attachment Disorders or whatever else you want to call it, the truth is simple: any person who has not learned to form healthy, appropriate attachment cannot and will not thrive without healing. It’s that simple.
And in parenting through attachment issues I have learned a startling, clarifying truth:
We all have RAD.
The words that pour from my kids’ mouths, the actions they do, it all looks and sounds shockingly familiar to what I see and hear when people talk about their relationship with God. It looks and sounds just like my own relationship with God.
And as soon at that clicked in my mind, everything else did.
Of course. This is the problem of sin. It separated us from our Father– the single most important relationship in our lives. Because of sin, a healthy emotional attachment was never formed between us and God and now, even after we come back to relationship with God, we have to learn how to be family. It doesn’t just happen. It takes work. It takes deep, cleansing healing.
And healing sometimes feels like wounding.
You know that feeling you get when God doesn’t do what you expect? When He seems to be keeping the very best things from you and your whole heart rebels? When the thoughts that come are simply: Either God doesn’t actually care about me personally, or He’s not even there.
My kids get that.
The number one lie that find themselves up against is: This hurts and you’re here so it must be that your goal is to hurt me.
Don’t we do that to God all the time? I did. When I first fought through infertility my thoughts when something like, I thought God was here with me but this HURTS so it must be that He’s not here or IF HE IS THEN HIS GOAL IS TO LEAVE ME IN PAIN.
Spoiler alert: My goal is never for my child to be in pain. But I’m also okay with my children facing pain because I know the wounds that are under the surface need to be healed for them to thrive. Honestly, they’re already in pain. They just don’t always feel it. So do I mind if we have some head-butting confrontations that pull explosive emotional responses out? Nope. I don’t mind. Because I love.
God loves. He is love.
And He knows that for healthy emotional attachment to form, healing needs to take place, but first we need to acknowledge the source of the issue. So sometimes He wounds in order to heal.
A year ago I thought our family was doing pretty good. Our new son was starting to attach, we had worked through some rough stuff, and everything was leveling out. But then three months ago everything exploded.
Like, we didn’t sleep for about three weeks. I don’t even know how that is possible but somehow we lived through it.
And at one point, at a state of complete exhaustion I asked God for a revelation. Something. Anything.
And God said, “Tasha, RAD is actually a spirit of fear.”
So I looked at my little boy and said, “I love you, son.” And he looked right back at me, his eyes wide, petrified, and he said, “If this is love I HATE IT.”
Guess what he actually hated? He hated everything hurting. He was afraid of the feeling of hurt. He had tried to mask it for months, but day after day he was forced to choose between feeling or pretending. And in his mind, our love was insisting that he FEEL and he didn’t want to. So he hated that love.
True love breaks down barriers. True love divides truth from lies. True love forces us to face reality.
Fear makes us want to hide ourselves. Fear says protect yourself from everything. Always. Don’t FEEL. Just escape.
Guys. I want my children to not be afraid. That’s actually my goal. I want them to not be afraid.
Not afraid to do hard things. Not afraid to work. Not afraid to love and feel and embrace the life God has given them. Not afraid of missing out, or being forgotten, or lost. Not afraid of being hurt, or being loved, or even of being disliked. I don’t want them to live their lives in fear.
And I’m realizing that God feels the same way about me.
I hear Him and see Him talking to me as I talk to my children. I didn’t give you a spirit of fear, Tasha. But a spirit of power and love and of sound mind.
When I look at another month, another year, another lifetime without the babies I dreamed of having— it’s HARD. It still is. Even now. Ten years later. It’s just HARD.
But I don’t have to be afraid.
Some days my heart says the same things that my son said. I want to look at God and say, “If this is love, God, then I hate it.” I hate the agony of feeling. Can’t I just be numb instead?
But He doesn’t let me because He loves. His goal, His desire, is that I have a healthy relationship with Him. But I can’t while I’m being controlled by a spirit of fear. I can’t know love unless I feel.
This truth is so raw, so new, so real that I’m not even sure if I’m explaining it properly. But the basic synopsis in my life is this: I don’t have to be afraid of a lifetime of infertility. I don’t have to reject God’s love just because accepting it might mean that I feel the sorrow of loss more intensely.
The reality is that no matter what I believe about God and love, no matter how much I trust Him or don’t, I don’t have babies.
So this isn’t really about me getting what I want.
This is about me not being afraid.
And you? Your attachment issues with God aren’t really about the trial you’re facing either.
It’s all about you not being afraid. It’s all about you feeling love and knowing love.
You were created to be in relationship with the Father but normal emotional attachment was unable to form because of sin. And it’s going to be a process, friend, for that to heal. It starts with coming home. It starts with salvation. But that’s just the beginning.
A few weeks ago my son told me, “I thought once you adopted me everything would just be perfect. But it’s not. So maybe you’re not the right mom for me.”
I looked right at him and said, “I know I’m the right mom for you, because I chose to attach myself to you. Even if you’d trade me in for something that seemed better, even if you hate me, even if you fight me, even if you just wish that I’d go away. I know stuff that you don’t, son. I know how family works. I know what the truth in this situation is, so we’re going to go on my knowledge this time. I’ve got enough attachment for both of us while you heal from all this hurt.”
And as I said those words, it was like God’s heart just dumped out all over me.
Dearest reader who is feeling like God isn’t the right Father because of trials and sorrows and agony, He is saying the same thing to you. He has enough attachment for the both of you. He is pursuing your heart. Even if you’d trade Him in for something better. Even if you hate Him. Even if you fight Him. Even if you wish He’d just go away because His kind of love feels too hard. He knows stuff you don’t. He knows how family works. He knows the truth and He’s going on His knowledge, not yours. And He’s holding onto you, giving you the chance to heal from this hurt.
It’s true that eventually my son will get to decide if he believes me or not and he really will be able to walk away if he wants to, just like we all have the ability to just turn and walk completely away from God’s family. I won’t keep him here, in my home, for his whole life. But today, while he’s still little, I’m holding him and speaking truth into him. For today, my attachment to him is giving him the chance to know love. My pursuit of him, my promise of being family to him forever, my hope for him— it’s all here.
May we all learn to embrace the pursuit of our heavenly Father. May we learn to return the attachment He has freely given us, accepting our position as sons and daughters of God— children who don’t have to be afraid. Even when it hurts.