adoption, adoption disruption, Attachment, Attachment Disorders, family, parenting

The War Against RAD: An Open Letter to Rosie O’Donnell

Behind closed doors: Rosie O'Donnell's adopted daughter says her mom is a ' phony' in public who would put on a happy face, but then ignore her kids at home

Dear Rosie,

I am sorry for your loss. You have lost the most precious thing to any mother. You have lost a child. My hope for you is that Chelsea will eventually realize what her actions have done. In the meantime, be strong, Mama. From one adoptive mother to another, I feel for you. In the midst of everything I am sure that your biggest concern is for your child. Isn’t that always the way? We put them first. We are mothers.

I am sure I’m not the only Trauma Mama out there with a strong suspicion that your daughter may suffer from an attachment disorder of some sort. Of course it’s not my business, nor is it the public’s business. However, when it’s out in the media, I just hope people consider all sides. We never talk about RAD in public, do we? Mental illness is considered to be private, a family secret to be concealed. I wonder why? Adoption is wonderful, but adoption is also hard.

It’s curious to me that at 17, she had a 25-year-old boyfriend with a history of drug involvement. I can see where any parent would try to circumvent this kind of unhealthy relationship. I can also see where a mother might distance the family from a birth parent making public accusations. I believe that in this case the mother even admitted to being on heroin at the time of pregnancy and the birth of Chelsea. I am sorry for your daughter that the start of her life was so traumatic.

I have seen Reactive Attachment Disorder up close and it does terrible things to a child. An attachment challenged child will push away the very people they love the most. They will view love, affection, and nurturing as the enemy. Reactive Attachment Disorder is the driving force that causes our children to seek relationship after relationship with friends, family, and romantic partners, only to sabotage them purposefully. Reactive Attachment Disorder whispers in the ear of our children that they will never be safe, never be loved. It tells them to make claims to the rest of the world that they are happy and well-adjusted. Then it traps them in permanent loneliness, causing them to lash out against all who try to love them. it is a war we fight against the disorder.

There has been a lot of media around the “different side” of you that Chelsea saw at home. She has “exposed” the fact that you liked arts and crafts and that you presented a happier face to the world. Don’t all of us present a happy face to the general public? Especially in times of strife or turmoil at home? I know I do. I love all of my children and I wouldn’t change a thing. That is the truth and it is what I tell others who ask me about adoption. The truth that I don’t tell, that I hide from the public, is that sometimes it is really, really hard. I may blog about it, but I can’t share within my immediate circle. At home, we battle against RAD.

Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. Our children leave us either physically or emotionally. Then we are left wondering if they will be alright. I have to believe they will be. The hardest part is letting go and seeing where they land. Chelsea went to her birth mother and then back to her boyfriend. She is probably in the windstorm of Reactive Attachment DIsorder. I’m sure she will be tossed around from place to place, never finding enough to fill the void inside. Eventually, I believe she will come home. To you and to your family. I believe this because I want to believe I will see my boys again. I must believe that they can heal.  I wish only safety and healing for you and your family. Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. I hope it loses this time.


Another RAD Soldier


41 thoughts on “The War Against RAD: An Open Letter to Rosie O’Donnell

  1. Lorraine says:

    Amen. There are a lot of us out there in this battle. Those who don’t live it don’t understand it. We hide our pain. I am so glad the internet allows us to find each other and find that we are not alone. I cannot imagine trying to do this in the public eye.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rachie317 says:

    How would a child adopted at birth develop R.A.D.? I think it’s far more likely that this is in response to a narcissistic mother, which Rosie has shown herself to be numerous times over, then it has to do with the child having any kind of attachment issues. Narcissistic parents typically wants the child to only care about them and the things they care about. So I can imagine that she was extremely resentful of any attempt by Chelsea to differentiate her sense of self from Rosie. And if Chelsea decided that she wanted to have contact with her biological parents, that would certainly cause a narcissistic wound in a parent like Rosie. Most adoptees have questions about their biological family and I’d say the majority probably even look for contact at some point. What Chelsea has done is not necessarily the result of an attachment disorder, but more likely the result of parent who viewed that longing for connection as a threat to their fragile self image. I’m an adoptive parent and I know attachment issues are real. But projecting attachment issues into this young woman is unfair. Not all adoptees, even those who act out, have attachment issues. And even adoptive parents can cause the kind of deep seated resentment that causes a child to run away from home the first chance they get.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Debbie says:

    Im a 50yrold adopted at birth who has suffered from RAD my whole life .I was adopted into an abusive family .I wouldnt say that the reason I have no love for my adoptive mother is because of Rad .her biological daughter also has major issues with our up bringing. Sometime adopted parents just suck at parenting. I have also read both stories and the first thing I thought was fancy having rosie for a wonder the poor girl is troubled.Where was this girls male influence bad enough having one mother let alone the extras she got due to rosies partners. Female adoptees have a lot of trouble bonding to women the daughter would have had women surrounding her.

    Liked by 3 people

      • Debbie says:

        In some cases yes,I couldn’t stand the touch of a woman in my childhood at all, have just learnt to tolerate the social,side of having to cuddle or touch motherly figures.,growing up and having two would just be awful bad enough the aunty’s they always wanted to touch you. The funny thing is I don’t mind my biological mum touching me ..if it wasn’t for my adopted dad I would have starved as I even refused to take the bottle if a woman held me. I’ve discussed this with lots of adoptees and a lot have said that the touch of motherly figures makes them go arrrrhhhh.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Debbie I commend you on sharing your story. I may have a better understanding of what you mean. think hearing from survivors is so helpful to APs. What your describing sounds like the “nurturing enemy” theory where the mother, and her nurturing, is seen as a threat. Please know that this isn’t a problem with YOU this is a problem with this disorder and what it does to people. I’m sorry that this happened to you. It was never your fault. Good for you for winning against RAD in your own life.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Wendy Tanaka says:

      My heart goes out to you. May you find peace from the fear and shame that is RAD. Attachment Institute of New England in Worcester and Becker-Weidman are great. But Robert Spttswood is awesome and Daniel Hughes is off the hook great.I wish you love and joy.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: The War Against RAD: An Open Letter to Rosie O’Donnell | Radical Acceptance

  5. Mary says:

    I see a lot of blaming the natural mother. Just another adoptee and first family being vilified by the adopter when they want to return to their first family. Adoptees are over-represented in drug treatment and boarding schools. Rosie should have collected cats instead of babies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading. I do believe that they tried to open up the adoption, but backed away after the birth mother went after some money. I believe the disorder is to blame in some cases, not the child or the parents. I don’t think anyone in this tough circumstance should be vilified.


  6. Reblogged this on talkin'realhere and commented:
    Wow. Truth. I’m not a fan of the celebrity Rosie, but my heart breaks for the adoptive Mom Rosie, and the challenges she faces. I can’t believe how the media has ripped her apart for the stupidest little things said by her daughter, and a woman who is STILL a drug addict after 18 years, who willingly put drugs into her system while pregnant… but yet she’s a credible witness here? Puh-leez. As another adoptive mom of a child born with meth, cocaine, alcohol, and all kinds of other recreational and prescription drugs in his system at birth, I watch him struggle daily with the simplest of tasks, because of the damage done in utero. Cause and effect – he doesn’t understand. He will make the same mistake again and again, never learning from it. Yet he knows algebra above his grade level. And someday soon he may do the exact same thing as Rosie’s daughter. I dread the day, and yet I expect it, too, on some level.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wendy Tanaka says:

    Hang in there! I took 18 months off to get treatment for this condition for our child and our family to deal with this. It was time well spent. What a journey! I met parents who had been through the mill with RAD and its co-morbid conditions. Some had lost jobs, marriages, and even been sent to jail until “everything was sorted out.” I viewed the time away from my job as having another job–getting to the bottom of what was affecting us. I had never heard of these things before concerns cropped up, but I learned, oh how I learned. RAD, comes from ELS. Reactive Attachment Disorder comes from Early Life Stress like institutional care, prenatal stress in utero as well as drug use in utero. These factors can lead to sensitized brain receptors and the brain is formed differently. Impulse control, anger response, persistent fear and ashame are manifested in behaviours like aggression, relationship problems (mentioned above) ss well as an oncreased risk for mental illness.
    Dr. Daniel Hughes, Robert Spottswood, and Dr. Karyn Purvis at TCU have done promising work which, for us has yielded results with our daughters, both adopted.
    Both of our girls are so very loved. We have, as parents, had to examine our own attachment histories deeply and to understand how they relate to our parenting of children with RAD (Attachment Focused Parenting, Hughes). Hundreds of counseling, co-counseling, hospital and occupational therapy visits point to the parent delivery model of therapy being the current approach. Parent and child are counseled (if child refuses to go, parents gets respite care and goes to the appointment). Ongoing counseling is helpful in providing parental support (Brain-based Parenting, Hughes). Couples counseling, individual counseling–with adoption-competent care providers–all are essential components in coping with RAD and its co-morbids conditions.
    We have a safety plan in place and believe me, we use it. We monitor dosages, ourselves and have a therapy dog who helps all of us deal with PTSD from the ELS, RAD, non-competent care providers who’ve subjected my kids to CPS interviews at school, police who have detained and pursued us for having someone with mental illness in our family, to my very own job that tried unsuccessfully to remove me for seeking care for our child. Who can think of any of that when you see your child laying by the dog looking contented? Working in a guarded enclave, I pass the three G’s–gate, gun, and guard 5 to 6 times a day to get to my desk but there is 110 pounds of loyal dog by my shoulder. Our doggy, Jack, makes it all good for us. If anyone knows how to get him a stamp for service dog status, please reply.


    • Wendy, thank you for sharing this amazing story. I do a little happy dance every time there is a “win” against RAD. Dr. Karyn Purvis is an all-time favorite of mine. Thank you for sharing this incredibly moving story from the trenches! Wow!!


  8. deb camponelli says:

    I’m not sure this is an adoption or a RAD issue as much as it is a mother/daughter relationship issue. Rosie has had public persona problems and who knows what happens at home. Rosie may have her own issues. We can only make assumptions on how she is as a mother. Simply being famous and having money doesn’t automatically make you a good parent. Chelsea is in search of something. Whether it is searching for identity, love, or male attention remains to be seen, but she is need of therapy, and I hope she finds it. Nonetheless, a heartfelt article and interesting read. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I think that RAD is non existent what we adoptees get is ptsd which is preverbal as we are infants removed from our mothers this is one of the most traumatic events a child can feel is the loss of their mother.. Ptsd has many symptoms which include anxiety, depression, sleeping and eating problems ect ect… this plus the many mistruths that we can be told eg… that our mothers didn’t want us or that we are lucky and should be grateful we got a home…adds to the many complexities of adoption.. I have been on a healing path for 3 years now and recently reunited with my nmom and sister … I was wanted and I was loved but my nmom had no help getting out of the abusive situation she found herself in…. I hope that Rosie can be supportive of her adoptive daughters reunion with her mother and search for her authentic self …

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jane, this beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Please be sure to read my blog post titled “Why I Wish We Never Adopted Our Children.” I completely agree that losing a birth parent, even after only a few months of life, is the most traumatizing thing. PTSD is real and it is one more disorder that hits our children. Dr. Karyn Purvis says it’s us and our children against their past. I believe that in this situation contact with the birth family was supported until the birth mom attempted to use the situation for financial gain. Yes, openness is important but safety should always be first. I’m sorry if you were told mistruths about your history. Every child, in my opinion, has a right to their story. The good, the bad, the ugly, should all belong to you. Good for you for finding your path to healing. I respectfully disagree with you about RAD but I appreciate your voice in this conversation.


  10. Pam says:

    The more I read up on RAD, the more I wonder if my oldest son, R, has that. He was five years old and I was 18 years old when he came to live with me. His bio mom had died and his bio dad didn’t want him and I had been his babysitter for a couple of years. I had just moved out on my own and I did want him!! I was so naive and thought that love could cure anything and anyone. After a very short unsuccessful marriage, he was passed back and forth between his adopted daddy and myself due to custody issues, but his adopted daddy soon grew tired of that and just quit being his dad. From day one, R had trouble feeling like I was his mom. This was almost 40 years ago. I raised him and in fact am raising two of his kids, while their last child was able to remain with my son and his wife; his wife has had past abuse issues and has had to give up five of her six children. For a long time during R’s adult life, he would hunt down his bio family and get close to his older siblings. However, he would do something to make them not like him and reject him. Then he would come find “mom” again and be close to me for awhile. Even now he feels like our extended family doesn’t want him even though they make all sorts of efforts to continue to love him. There are times R will find a reason to go a few weeks without talking to me, finding some sort of unknown, ill-perceived reason that I’m mad at him when in reality I had no idea that me having to get off the phone quickly for some reason was a “sign” to him that I was angry at him. He is 43 years old and if I don’t make the effort to include him in my life, he would easily become a hermit from our family. I will always love R, even as he tries to push me away, I have reminded him that no matter what, I will always be his mom and will always love him. Sadly, that really doesn’t register with him. Interestingly though, about ten years ago I moved away from my home town and state and he and his wife and son followed a few years later. Now we only live within about a minute of each other so we do see each other a few times a week. He may still struggle with his complicated childhood, but he knows after 38 years, that I’m still right here for him. (Saying that though, he will attach himself to strangers, befriending them, and believe that relationship is equal – and sometimes more powerful – than our family relationship. Does this sound like RAD? Of course he had a whole host of other behaviors that I can’t go into here – too long a list – but as I have been raising R’s son for the last 15 years diagnosed with Asperger’s I see some of the same traits in my grandson as in R.) (Sorry if this is confusing.)


    • Thank you for sharing this story. R sounds exactly like Marcus, our oldest. You are fighting the good fight. I am proud of you, Mama. You are brave and you keep loving him no matter what. Thank goodness he and his children have you!!


  11. lindarosarn says:

    There is a great deal of misinformation about RAD on the internet. If you look at the recognized definition of this rare disorder in the “DSM” you will see that a child with this condition has one of two problems: he is either very withdrawn or overly friendly with unfamiliar people. Both are to be treated with parent education so they can provide patient and responsive parenting.

    On the other hand, there is a phony diagnosis often referred to as “RAD” that is used by a fringe group of therapists. Its actual name is “Attachment Disorder” or AD. AD is a catch-all quack diagnosis invented by “Attachment Therapists” who use a highly abusive practices condemned by the mental health professions. To be blunt, it is actual torture.

    This is not to say that children can’t have problem; it just means that “AD” (or the bogus “RAD”) is never one of them. Attachment Therapy/Parenting is likely to make things worse for child and parent. These children need proper evaluation and help.

    APSAC and the American Psychological Association’s Division on Child Maltreatment advise child welfare workers to investigate for potential abuse wherever Attachment Therapy, its brutal parenting methods, and the bogus “RAD” diagnosis are used.

    “RAD vs. AD”


    • Interesting comment. Thank you for reading. This has sparked some great conversations, for sure. The DSM lists “Inhibited” and “Disinhibited” as the 2 types of RAD. Other theories range from “anxious attachment” to “disorganized attachment.” I’m assuming the abusive therapy you are referring to is the “holding” therapy etc. used in the 80s by Foster Cline et al? Or Nancy Thomas (not a therapist)? I would suggest reading Dr. Karyn Purvis and Deborah D Gray, my personal favorites, for loving bonding fun activities. Interesting view point.


      • While the style of Attachment Therapy has always varied, the intent, beliefs, and abuse has not. Actually Gray recommends Holding Therapy for serious cases, and Purvis, who long worked closely with Ronald S. Federici, has since recommended his prone restraint method (see which is extremely dangerous.

        Moreover, authors like these do not adhere to research-based views about child development — especially regarding attachment. I can see this reflected in your well-meant open letter to Rosie O’Donnell.

        I recommend the book “Understanding Attachment” by Jean Mercer, professor emerita in child development.


      • Linda, thank you for reading. I’ve never heard of Purvis or Gray recommending a prone restraint. A protective hold is different, but I didn’t see anything about that in their published books? I agree that there needs to be more research in this area. Texas Christian University has some great studies on trauma and how it effects brain development, but attachment research is a somewhat grey area. I will certainly look into the book. Thank you for the recommendations and thank you for joining the conversation.


      • Wendy Tanaka says:

        I am in the unusual position of having my own daughter in my h.s. class. She did her homework for class and was a stand-out in class discussion today. Tonight she took a short walk with our therapy dog and me. It’s these little things that are big to me right now.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wendy Tanaka says:

        Holding or restraint is not recommended any longer and there have been Congressional hearings which attest to that not being safe. Daniel Hughes in his Attachment-Focused Parenting also underscores that holding is not part of his approach. It may be on his web site.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I couldn’t have written a better letter to Rosie myself. Until you have lived with a child with RAD, you have no idea what they are capable of putting parents through.
    They are masters at lying, manipulation and charm. They know how to push every button you have to keep you from getting too close. And it’s always everyone else’s fault!

    Liked by 1 person

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