When a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder explodes, it’s very much like standing behind a jet when the engines start: you have to brace yourself, because the blast hits so hard and fast it seems impossible to maintain a conversation with any clarity, let alone stand tall. The tone, rage and verbal assault actually have a physical impact. James Lehman advises to disconnect at the first sign of escalation. But with a child with ODD, it’s all the more difficult, because you have to disconnect emotionally, cognitively and physically by leaving the area in seconds.
When a parent of a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder calls in, I have a lot of empathy for them, because I’ve raised a son with ODD myself. I know what it means to be behind those jet engines, receiving a full blast of anger, hatred and verbal abuse.
Things have changed somewhat now that my son is twenty one. When we have a conversation nowadays, he can be incredibly insightful, clear-headed and often amusing. We have a deep connection that allows us to discuss any controversial, personal or painful subject. He is extremely bright, creative and fun, and I love spending time with him when he’s in a good mood. But when he gets anxious, thinks something is unfair, or feels victimized, his vocal tone changes. This is the first indicator I have that we’re on tenuous ground, invoking the adrenalin-pumping “fight-or flight” sensation in me.
He does not punch holes in the walls or throw the remote anymore, but the verbal assault feels just as forceful. When he’s mad or upset, he will turn things around, blaming me for anything that makes him uncomfortable. The focus ranges from what a terrible mom I am to accusations of something awful I did 3 years ago. He is also an expert at shifting responsibility. With my son, facts need to be in writing to avoid endless circular arguments. When he is operating from within his victim stance, facts are edited and his thinking becomes distorted and faulty. The other morning he came rushing into my room, blaming me angrily because he overslept. He then asked loudly if he could borrow my car to get to work because he was low on gas. I suggested he get some, to which he responded angrily that he didn’t have enough money. I then said he should try planning ahead next time and make sure his bank account was updated. After he left, I tried to regain some calm. Intense negativity in any form doesn’t just evaporate.
Even though my ODD son has matured, these moments (while not as constant as they used to be) still occur, but now instead of continuing the power struggle, he leaves. Since my son became twenty, he has learned to show restraint when he starts to escalate, and will even take a break to collect himself. More and more often, he will think things through and later acknowledge his part and apologize for acting inappropriately. It has been, and continues to be, a process for both of us.
I’m sure there will still be times when I will need to crawl under the covers. But, in the meantime, my son and I continue to work on our relationship, as painful as it is at times. As with all the parents that contact us for 1-on-1 Coaching, our goal (and greatest source of concern) is that our children are happy and productive. Above all, we adore our kids. As one of my pediatricians stated, “They grow up, despite us.” Words to embrace!