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A buffet of food, laid out on a beautiful table. Aromas of savory dishes, sweet treats, and spicy appetizers tease the nose. The mouth waters, the stomach rumbles. A starving person throws himself at the feast, grabbing with both hands, barely chewing, barely registering all that he is taking in, barely able to breathe around this life saving relief. Other diners step back, wide-eyed at the sight, but politely understand. He is the guest of honor and he was starving, he was on the brink of death before this bounty of goodness.
He begins to feel it, bloat and exhaustion. He belches inelegantly, grips the edge of the table, steadying himself, pushing on to the next bite, the next decadent dish. His mouth waters for more, but his stomach strains at the waist of his pants. His chest burns with an ache, but he does not stop, he force feeds more. One more bite, then slower, one more bite, even slower…Until. He. Can’t.
Inevitably, this overindulgence, this landslide of food down an ill-prepared esophagus into an out-of-practice stomach will have disastrous results. The food will come back up. Stomach cramps will ensue. In a worst-case scenario, a starving person could overeat very easily and even die.
When medical staff treat starving people, they begin slowly. An IV delivers nutrients until the person is strong enough for something simple, then warm broth brought to cracked lips a spoonful at a time. They add a bit to the broth, making it a soup. Then perhaps crackers. A bit at a time, so the body re-learns how to digest, how to process nutrients, what to do with the richness provided. There may be a setback, the body may reject this influx of goodness and it is back to square one, or maybe square two if the setback was minor.
Attachment disruptions for children and youth are starvations. Children and youth who have lost connection have been bereft of love, stability, consistency, and bonding. They crave it and well-meaning, caring adults will wrap around them with the best of intentions. Time together, family outings, favorite meals, special moments, picking out paint for a bedroom, gifts and gifts and gifts, and most terrifying of all, presence. For children and youth whose attachments have been damaged, they may gorge themselves on all that is offered. They seek out any way to connect, any way to mean something to someone, any way to be part of a family. They may crave more, seek attention, grab at any connection they can, frantic in their quest to fill that was once empty and starving. It may look strange, may feel odd, but they are trying to fill in the void, soothe the ache of absence. They will shovel it in, hoarding it all…Until. They. Can’t.
The rejection happens. Emotional cramping, a sense of oppression takes over. A volley erupts, pushing what was life-saving and enriching out of their orbit, away. It is involuntary, a lifesaving provision from the depths of the brain, a reflex, no different than a starved stomach rejecting the input of too much food. “Too much is dangerous, too much will hurt, attachments result in pain, get away, get away” the inner voice chants. The well-meaning but unknowing adult draws back, open mouthed. This was everything he needed, everything that was missing. What happened???
The prepared parent sets a smaller table. No extra guests, not excessive conversation, no party games. Quiet, soothing music in the background. No decadent cake. Simple broth. Quiet moments, moments of connection with breaks and time to catch the breath built in. Something small and special here, like the cube of bullion in the broth, something that nourishes without overwhelming. A little more at a time, knowing that the rejection will crop up, they will need to step back, regroup, and start again. Rebuilding broken attachments, defining healthy attachment is a matter of slow, deliberate steps coupled with offering space. Space to absorb nurturance, to process connection. And then, just as one would treat a starving person rediscovering how to eat, begin again. Slowly, steadily, reassuring broth to soothe and heal.
If you are a person who can offer a child or youth steady security with space to digest and process, please begin your foster care journey today.
Foster Parent Inquiry Form: https://family.binti.com/users/signup/jri-foster