Friday, February 25, 2011

Attachment, Security, Self Esteem, and Hope

Most adoptive families are required to complete a good deal of training and reading during the home study portion of the adoption process.  One of the main topics discussed during training is that of attachment.  Psychologist John Bowlby defines attachment as the lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.  When discussing infant attachment, the general idea is this:  baby has a need (food, assurance, comfort, etc.) and then the mother or primary caregiver meets the need.  This cycle takes about two years to complete and results in a baby with a secure attachment.  A baby with secure attachment is able to separate from her parent, but knows to seek the parent for her needs and concerns.  When this cycle is disrupted, as often happens with adopted children, there can be lasting psychological effects.  

When we received our referral and monthly updates for Sassy, it was clear that her attachment cycle had been disrupted.  Not only was she dealing with the typical security issues of toddlers, but that of a child who had lost everything that was known and safe to her.  We know very little about her past, only that she was about one year old when, for reasons only God knows, her caregiver chose to abandon her.  Every time I play out that scenario in my mind, tears well up.  I cannot imagine what that feels like to a small child.  One day your world is at the very least predictably unpredictable and then next, poof, the person who has been with you all along is gone, never to return.  

Sassy's behavior patterns and mannerisms do suggest that she had formed a bond with someone.  While living in the transition home, she preferred one specific nanny.  Psychologically speaking, this is great news.  Psychologists believe that if a baby has formed a bond with someone, that bond can be transferred.  That does not suggest, however, that the transfer will in any way be seamless.  

What we have witnessed in the short three weeks since we have been home is nothing short of God's amazing grace and His provisions.  Sassy went from being stuck to my hip or hanging on my leg, to slowly taking two steps away, to giggling and letting her guard down, to playing with her siblings (first one at a time, then all at once!), to finally letting her father take her on a walk without me being present and returning home with a big smile on her face repeating, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy."  This is the same little girl who did not smile in a single photo in the six months that lapsed between our referral and her coming home.  The same girl who screamed bloody murder when anyone other than her nanny tried to hold her.  The same girl who was abandoned on the street and only through the power of the Holy Spirit was able to know almost instantly that we were her forever family.  Three.  Short.  Weeks.  So. Much. Progress!!

I have also witnessed how her insecurity initially caused her to freeze.  When scared, she would just scream and freeze up, unable to even take a step. (While our other children, when scared would scream, but run to me.)  It baffled me at first, but one day a light went on.  She never had the chance to explore on her own or build her self esteem.  After coaching her up the staircase one morning and then applauding once she reached the top, she looked at me that biggest smile, as if to say, "I did it!  I didn't know I could do it, but I did."  We have had many of those breakthrough moments.   The more she realizes she is able to accomplish, the more secure she is feeling in herself.  The more we reinforce that we are always going to be here to meet her needs, the more secure she is feeling in her family and home.  

God has proven so faithful.  Even in the most trying circumstances, He is walking with us, comforting us, and providing the wisdom and refreshment we need to handle each and every situation that presents itself.  While we are charting new waters, I am in awe of His complexity and perfectness.  He perfect love for His imperfect children.  His trust, reassurance, provisions.  We have come so far in three weeks,  I can only imagine what our home and life will look like one year down the road.  He is faithful.  

Psalm 89:1  "I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations."  

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