Thursday, November 17, 2011

More on Lying

While I wrote a bit about lying yesterday, I really felt this topic needed its own post.  Lying is so pervasive in our home.  Our kids lie to protect themselves and each other, no matter how illogical that “protection” may seem.  They lie about stupid stuff.  They lie about things that are clear and in front of our faces.  It drives us crazy.  Lying is probably MY biggest trauma trigger.  Lying pushes MY buttons.  My kids know this.  It gives them a way of controlling me.

I met another trauma mama at a local coffee shop this morning.  She’s about my age, but started her family younger than I did, so she’s already been through what we’re going through.  It’s nice not to feel so alone sometimes.  Her daughter was also adopted internationally.  She also has biological children.  She’s been through the lying and the not being able to believe a word that comes out of her child’s mouth.  She knows.  Again, it was just nice to be with someone who gets it.  She knows what it’s like to have a child lie about everything.

Conversely, one of my children is also a compulsive truth-teller.  Yup!  She’ll rat herself out if she feels it will relieve her stress faster than lying.  She’s very smart.  The trouble with this is, I really have to be even more careful with her because she’s a 50/50 toss.  I don’t want to treat the situation as though she’s lying when she’s really telling the truth.  While I’ve gotten better at figuring it out most of the time, I still mess that up sometimes, too.

Both kids “crazy lie.”  Something can be as obvious as the nose on your face, and yet, they will still lie.  My son can convince himself that his lies are the truth.  It doesn’t take much.  He took something not too long ago and lied about where he got it.  When he finally put the story together, he came up with a tale about how his grandparents gave him the object.  The thing is, my in-laws don’t give our kids gifts.  They’ve only ever seen the kids once.  They are not crazy about our adoption and it is quite clear that our adopted kids are not their “real” grandchildren.  Yet, my son, screaming at the top of his lungs, told me to call my in-laws and “prove” that he’d gotten the item from them.  Of course, I didn’t do that.

Lying is fear manifested.  Yes, I understand that ALL children lie.  I get sick and tired of hearing from parents of children raised from the womb, from teachers, from school counselors and principals who say, “All children lie.”  I know that.  I’m not new here.  It’s not the same for adopted kids!  There is an intense fear behind my children’s lies.  They are masters at it.  They are extremely convincing.  They convince other people all the time.  They used to convince me, too.  However, their motivation is more intense, more constant, and for much deeper seated reasons than it is for other kids.  When they feel unsafe, when they feel fear, they lie.

I was reading the blog of a young adult who was adopted out of foster care.  She wrote a story about how she became such a skilled liar.  Her experience, too, was rooted in fear.  Her abusers killed her dog in front of her, and they told her if she ever told anyone what was going on,  her little sister would suffer the same fate as the dog.  She said she lied to the police when they asked her if she was being hurt.  They believed her for a long time and the abuse went on.  She lied because she “knew” her sister would die if she didn’t.

Unfortunately, whether our kids can grasp that fear of dying cognitively or not, the fear of losing their life is quite often the motivation for their fear and their crazy lies.  Even if the trauma, abuse, neglect, and "really bad stuff" happened before they were old enough to put their memories into words, the emotional memory is stored in that center part of their brain (the amygdala).  When they are triggered, that emotional memory comes to the surface and they are literally scared to DEATH.

What we need to do as therapeutic parents is pause and get ourselves centered before reacting.  This is especially important if lying is one of your triggers, like it is mine.  We need to step back and ignore the lie – YES – ignore it – and see the frightened child.  What our child needs in that moment is reassurance from us that they are loved. 

My friend told me her daughter, while adopted as a very young baby, still needed this reassurance as a child.  She would cling to her mother and need constant “mommy checks” long past the time most children do (normally about 8 – 28 months old).  It’s a little awkward when a 16 year old boy, who stands many inches taller than you, needs the reassurance of a 2-year-old.  But that’s what he needs in that moment of fear. 

So, what do you do once you take that breath and you pause – even if that pause takes a few minutes or a few hours?  (It’s okay to say, “I need some time.  Let’s talk about this later. “  Then, WALK AWAY and come back when you’re calm.)  Again, remember this:  IGNORE THE LIE.  Reassure your child that you love him.  Tell him what may seem obvious to you.  “You’re here now.  You’re home with the family that loves you, and wants you, and takes care of you.  We are not going anywhere.  You are not going anywhere.  You’re safe.”  Pause again.  Take note of your child’s countenance.  If he’s softened, hug him, if he’ll let you.  If he’s still hard, tell him again.  Say, “I’m going to tell you again.  Look at me.”  (Get eye contact.)  Then tell him again.  Tell him a third time if he needs it.  Keep IGNORING THE LIE.  Let whatever love he’ll allow you to demonstrate to him happen.

Then, and only then, tell him you know there’s more going on than meets the eye.  When he is ready to talk with you more about it, he should let you know.  Tell him you can wait.  Then wait.  Don’t prod.  Don’t suggest.  Wait.  If he tries to forget about it or let it pass (my daughter is also a master at this), it’s okay to remind him you’re still waiting.  You haven’t forgotten.  We still need to figure out everything that’s going on so we can move forward.  But still, IGNORE THE LIE.  Your child’s sense of safety is most important here.  He’ll never come clean while he feels threatened, whether the perceived threat is real or not.  What you’re thinking and feeling won’t be the factor that gets him to the point of reconciliation – and ultimately, restitution and natural consequences for the behaviors associated with the lying.

And hang in there.  This is a constant battle, but it’s worth the fight.  Every inch gained in our kids’ attachment is a huge victory!  (Somebody remind me of that the next time I’m mucking through this.)


Paige said...
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Joanne said...

What do you do if the lie has an action behind it? For instance "No, Mama I already brushed my teeth?" When clearly they hadn't. How do you ignore the lie and still get them to brush their teeth? Do you ever identify the lie? This seems especially hard if you are ignoring it.

Trauma Mama T said...

Joanne - I think the age of the child is a factor. Mine are older now and so when they lie and I know they're lying, I handle it differently than I would have when they were younger.

I have always addressed the lie AFTER we've gotten through the situation. Often time, my kids don't know "why" they lied. But lies are always based upon fear. We don't lie unless we're afraid of something - consequences, loss of control, whatever. So, I address the lie -- again AFTER we're through the immediate situation, but I address the fear behind the lie first. (Well, at least when I'm not reacting myself. I'm not perfect.)

If the child is younger, why not take him to the bathroom and say, "Okay, teeth time!" And just go about the activity without giving them a chance to lie. If they say, they already did it, say, "I know you did it yesterday, but we need to do it again." If they say they already did it today, then say, "We're brushing teeth now." Matter of fact. No accusations in the tone of voice. Just ignore it.

Later, you might ask if they were afraid they'd be in trouble if they didn't say they'd already brushed their teeth. Say, "I might have been afraid if I knew my mom wanted me to brush my teeth and I hadn't done it -- or I didn't even want to do it."

At first, they'll probably dig in and deny some more. Try to ignore that, too and just keep talking them through the fear. Then tell them YOUR fear -- "I'm afraid you'll have a tooth ache and get bad holes in your teeth if we don't make sure they're taken care of properly. I'm afraid it will hurt you a lot because I know what happens to teeth that do not get taken care of."

As they get older, if they've been with you a while, you can address the lie more openly -- again, after you've gotten through the fear behind the lie. For The Princess, I address the lie and tell her I knew she was lying. If it's about something she's not handling well, we take that thing away - or that privilege away - if she shows a pattern of not handling it well. It's not a punishment. It's for her protection because she's not ready to handle the responsibility yet.

One last note: I'm sorry to have taken so long to address your question. I missed your comment and just found it in my "needs to be approved" box.