Many people now are familiar with the concept of “Battered Wife Syndrome” or “Battered Woman Syndrome” as it refers to a woman being in a relationship (married or unmarried) with a man who over time is bullying her to the point that she develops psychological symptoms.
A Psychiatric Times Article by Lenore Walker dated July 8, 2009 (Volume 26, Issue 7) titled simply, “Battered Woman Syndrome”, explains that Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) is a sub-category of PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While BWS is centered around ongoing domestic abuse from the woman’s intimate partner/husband, I believe that a similar situation exists for many, many women — moms — whose abuse is coming primarily from their children. Particularly from their Reactive Attachment Disordered Children. Let’s explore.
I am most familiar with BWS from a legal defense aspect. While not every situation may meet the medical diagnosis criteria of the DSM or the level of a legal defense, it may be helpful to see how these criteria or symptoms – – aspects that have been identified as a result of domestic abuse leading to BWS, line up with that of a mother of a child who himself/herself has a dysfunctional psychological disorder, namely Reactive Attachment Disorder.
According to criminal-justice.iresearch.net.com, there are various lenses that differing authorities look through to make a determination of BWS:
A law enforcement officer or an attorney might use the legal definition of domestic violence that appears in the criminal statutes, which differ from country to country or even state to state. A shelter worker or domestic violence advocate might use the definition that appears in the domestic violence injunction statutes. A divorce lawyer might use the definition that appears in the family law statutes or in case law in that particular jurisdiction. A medical doctor might use the definition in her or his hospital protocols. (http://criminal-justice.iresearchnet.com/crime/domestic-violence/battered-woman-syndrome/)
Further, this same article goes on to mention the inconsistent ways others in the woman’s community may view the situation, as well as fear of being labeled as “crazy” to further illustrate the difficulty in understanding and treating the psychological effects on women who are being battered in their own homes, noting that BWS occurs in all walks of life.
As BWS occurs due to “family violence” so does the violence against the mother of the child with RAD. (RAD is also a psychological disorder generally based on early childhood trauma and itself, often referred to as a form of or having a component of PTSD.)
The family violence that occurs within the context of BWS or what I am going to call Battered Mom Syndrome (BMS), because of the relationships and involved, as well as it’s ongoing nature contributes to the complexities and difficulties in identifying BMS and getting appropriate help.
Four phases have been identified in family abuse according to Peoples-health.com (http://www.peoples-health.com/battered_womens_syndrome.htm):
- Denial – the phase in which a woman makes excuses for the abuse, not anticipating it happening again. *When a child is the abuser, the mother may continue to try to teach, train, parent better, serve, modify expectations in the home, excuse them due to their traumatic history or diagnoses or other limitations.
- Guilt – the phase in which a woman questions herself and feels guilty over not being able to be good enough for the abuser in some way. *When the abuser is a child the woman/mother will tend to feel guilty for not being a better mother, and that guilt may be reinforced by the child, the husband, outsiders, even “helpful” friends and parenting advice which is completely insufficient for the situation in her home.
- Enlightenment – the phase in which the woman wakes up to the fact that the abuse is not her fault, that it is not justified, but is instead related to the abuser’s psychological problems. However, she is still committed to preserving the relationship. *When the abuser is the woman’s own child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, the relationship with the mother/mother figure is the trigger for the child’s own disorder.
- Responsibility – the phase in which the battered woman realizes that the abuser must take responsibility for their own problem and behavior, that she cannot solve their problem. In a battered wife situation, this is when she might decide to leave. But when there are children involved it becomes more unclear as to which course of action will work best to keep them safe. *When the abuser IS a child or teen, keeping them and others safe may be very difficult.
Cycles of Abuse
There are also cycles of abuse that get repeated over and over again in BWS, which generally correspond to three phases: Tension building phase; Battering phase; Honeymoon phase.
Taking these in reverse order, the Honeymoon phase with a RAD child may be one in which their behavior seems more compliant and reserved, even “normal”.
The Battering phase, may be physical abuse or threats to the mother or another child or even themself, knowing that the mother will be distraught over their self-harm, whatever they can do to hurt her even if it is self-injury. As in a spousal abusive situation, a child or teen can be verbally and physically abusive in a variety of ways, including damage to the home or possessions that they know will cost the parent.
The Tension building phase may be one in which they are less compliant, more oppositional and verbally aggressive.
Effects on Mom
Similar to the effects of the Battered Woman/Wife Syndrome (BWS), there can be effects on the mother with BMS such as reduced self-esteem, PTSD, injuries and health problems resulting from the abuse, feelings of guilt and shame, all of which she may need help with even after the abuse has stopped.
Finally, getting into a stable living situation and stopping the abuse can be financially difficult. Treatment for the child identified as having RAD may be cost prohibitive and may sap any financial resources that might have been available for help for the mother. The state of the mental health resources for children, adolescents and adults in this country are woefully insufficient.
Many mothers, like myself, have adopted children with the commitment to love and protect that child, only to have the child turn on them out of their own psychological dysfunction. And after years of sacrificing for their children and families find that they, themselves, as well as their children are in danger.
Because of the inadequacies of our healthcare system time and again, some of these parents are finding that to protect themselves, their child and the rest of the family they must relinquish their parental rights to this RAD child in order to get them in a (hopefully) safe facility. But this does nothing to help that child recover from RAD or mend the relationship and further defeats the mother. In addition, the justice system is resistant to get involved with domestic violence of any kind until there is irreversible damage.
I hope to help you recognize if you, yourself or a family member or friend seems to be dealing with any of the issues of family abuse, yes even from their own child. And to prompt you to recognize that there is help available and you are not alone.
God, God’s Word, Prayer, and God’s people can help you identify the problems, get out of isolation and get the help you need. Taking steps to help yourself will help your family as well. You cannot help them when you have nothing but an empty bucket to draw from.
My Personal Tips: 911 is your ally; always keep your cell phone handy; maintain a relationship with a friend or two you can safely confide in and seek helpful counseling for yourself as well as treatment for your child; keep a journal and photos of all injuries and damage; keep all your records, get copies of medical records (you and your child), police records if any, and school documentation especially of behavior issues. Have a safety plan for yourself and other family members.
And know you can find rest in God —
Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened; and I will give you rest.”
Disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes and nothing herein is to be used as medical or legal advice. Please check with appropriate professionals as needed in your particular situation.
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