“There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”
― G.K. Chesterton
Hurt people hurt people. It’s sad but oh so true! If you think about it, our gut reaction to being wronged or hurt is to lash out. As we mature, we learn how to control these impulses and channel our anger and negative emotions so that we rarely hurt others.
Can you imagine being a young child who is repeatedly abused emotionally, physically and maybe even sexually, and there’s no way to lash back or defend yourself? And if you do respond, you’re punished or you experience further abuse for showing your negative emotions.
All that piled up hurt and anger crowd out any positive feelings like joy and wonder. Eventually those pent up emotions have to escape and they usually come out as explosive outbursts or pouting depressive bouts.
Many foster children have experienced this repetitive kind of abuse. When they come into care, their brains are on high alert. Many appear to have ADHD because of their inability to focus, sit still or absorb any material. It’s often called “trauma brain.” Until the brain can reach smoother levels of emotion and felt safety, not much learning or real communication can take place. They live in survival mode even though they no longer need to.
As foster parents, we often know this, but being on the receiving end of a hurt child who is lashing out on a regular basis is harder than the trainings imply. It should be easier for us because we know how to control our limbic systems and not flip our lids, but it doesn’t always go down like that. A fellow foster mom and I were sharing war stories about how somehow or another these kids can sometimes bring out the worst in us. Any weakness we have, they expose, and boy can they figure out quickly which buttons to push and when.
But, our job is to love the unlovable even when we don’t feel like it or when we’ve been hurt by them. That’s the rub. That’s the higher calling.
Recently we had some drama with our teen girl (she’s thirteen – is there any more difficult age?). She wrote us an apology note, which seemed half-genuine apology and half-ransom demands for how we were allowed to respond to the letter.
But, my favorite part of her letter was her p.s.s. “Why do you keep hugging me when you’re angry with me? What’s up with that anyway?”
Well, to tell the truth, hugging her those couple of days was not easy, but I knew I needed to do it, so she wouldn’t feel our love was conditional. I had little (OK maybe sort of big) pep talks inside my head to make myself be kind and loving to her. And I asked God to help me love her well in spite of how I felt. She was so unlovable at that time I did not want to hug her.
And then that p.s.s. and I knew why I’d continued to hug her. She needed to know that she can be loved even when she was acting out and being disobedient, just like my Heavenly Father loves me when I disobey and stray.
When we sat down to talk through the letter, we were able to share why we hug her and why we love her. And I must say, this child has truly become more lovable in the past nine months. Many people have poured love into her, and it is changing her heart and even her outward appearance.
Never underestimate the power of a hug or genuine compliment (you may not feel like giving). You could be transforming a child’s view of themselves and their view of the world and God.