Youth that spend lengthy periods of time in foster care experience different types of trauma as they transition from home to home. Some of those homes being supportive and some of those homes being worse than the conditions they were removed from. Very seldom are they given the opportunity to work through their trauma or talk about how the foster care experience has made them feel. Some of these youth have more trouble than others adjusting to their circumstances. For those youth they are labeled Oppositional Defiant, Bipolar and/or with Attachment Disorder, are medicated and unfairly labeled throughout their time in foster care, if not the rest of their lives.
These foster youth are not the only ones that suffer because of their labels. For those of us who have managed to escape foster care without being heavily medicated or who are deemed as the “Cream of the Crop”, there is a price. There is a game that we played where we kept our heads down, followed the rules, kept feelings suppressed, kept our thoughts to ourselves and never asked questions, all to avoid negative attention from the professionals or the families that are supposed to accept us. We did this in an attempt to be accepted by a family or given opportunities by professionals who had access to the resources we needed.
The “Cream of the Crop”, tip toed around authority, always trying to be our very best to be liked and to be accepted that we sacrificed our very emotional well-being in the process. We hid the pain and trauma we were experiencing to survive. Then as adults we are encouraged to move forward, “buck up”, get over it and to behave as one that has not experienced the turmoil we’ve experienced. We begin to experience flare ups of emotion that debilitate us at the most inopportune times, otherwise known as triggers. We’re in class, on a date or out with friends and we see something that reminds us of the trauma we experienced in and before foster care that we were never allowed to deal with when it happened. Unexpectedly, we become paralyzed with fear, anger, sadness, frustration and/or confusion.
We live life always giving to others and always working to be “people-pleasers” just as we were in foster care because we are afraid of rejection. We are afraid that people will fail to see the beauty in us or the value that we have. We are afraid that people will not stay long enough to see the wonderful people we are inside. We are afraid to say “No” even when it means saying “Yes” will negatively affect the families we’ve created or impede our self-care because, we think people will believe we are selfish and in need of some sort of psychiatric support. I have learned that I don’t have to please everyone. I am a wonderful person that deserves everything that is good and if others do not see it that way that is perfectly “OK”. Not everyone is going to see your beauty and if they do not want to stay long enough to learn who you are (flaws and all) then they do not deserve your time or attention. Not everyone is going to understand your resolve or your method to why you live your life in a certain way or make the choices that you make and it is not your job to make them understand. Leave them where they are and if they truly care about you and want to be around you, they will work on their triggers so they’re able to better understand and embrace you.
It is time you invest in your mental, physical and emotional needs; it is time to take care of YOU. It is okay when something triggers you. Learn what causes it and don’t shy away from exploring your feelings behind it. It will hurt and it will be uncomfortable but work through it. You are NOT an alien! You are NOT a basket-case. You are NOT “other” because you have finally decided to let your HUMAN SHOW.
I’m speaking to myself in this column as much as I’m speaking to other alumni and youth in foster care that may be reading this. Don’t try too hard to please other people at the expense of your sanity. What is important is that you find ways to take care of that little person inside of you that is hurting until they are healed. It doesn’t always have to be going to a therapist, although that is helpful for many people. It can be starting a garden, learning a new hobby, exercising regularly, writing, etc. Take some time to learn more about the things you’re interested in. Take some time to drown everyone else out and get to know YOU. Everything you need to be successful and to be accepted by the right people is already inside of you. No one can give it to you and no one can take it away.You are beautifully made- flaws and all. You don’t have to be perfect, but you are perfectly-made.