The Missing Piece: Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)
Hulu’s documentary on Christina Boyer (formerly known as Tina Resch) raises puzzling questions that seem to defy answers:
- Did teenage Christina Boyer possess paranormal powers? If not, what was really going on?
- How could someone remembered as a selfless mother kill her own 3-year-old daughter?
- Why hasn’t Christina given up claiming innocence after 30 years, even when it hinders her chance for parole?
The answers to these questions may lie in a little-known but serious mental health disorder called Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).
The Unfamiliar Crisis: What is RAD?
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a rare but devastating mental health disorder caused by early childhood trauma. It is most common among people who have spent time in foster care or have been adopted. Newly identified by psychiatry in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Christina was growing up, it was virtually unknown to parents and many clinicians. Decades later, RAD remains relatively unknown compared to other mental health disorders, but is a significant crisis within adoptive and fostering communities.
Children suffering from RAD struggle to form healthy attachments with adults and display a spectrum of symptoms ranging from aggression to manipulation. They may have violent outbursts, weaponize bodily fluids, or fly into uncontrollable rages. Their indefatigable need for control stems from a lack of safety and trust due to neglect and abuse they experienced before the age of five.
Recognizing RAD in Christina: All the hallmarks
Christina’s story exhibits several key hallmarks of RAD, including:
Childhood Background: Time in foster care, adoption, neglect, and potential abuse, all of which are high-risk factors for RAD.
Behavioral Traits: Aggressive tendencies, extraordinary destruction during tantrums, superficial charm, manipulation, and controlling behavior.
Misdiagnosis: Misinterpreted symptoms, misdiagnosed and treated as hyperactivity (ADHD) instead of RAD.
As the parent of a child with RAD, I immediately recognized the intangible and nuanced clues of the disorder throughout the documentary’s clips and pictures. The aftermath of her rages, her beguiling nature, and the enamored reactions of adults who interacted with Christina are all consistent with RAD.
RAD: A Complex and Nuanced Disorder
Christina’s situation reflects a profound misunderstanding of the impacts of early childhood trauma during her time, particularly as her parents came to believe she was demon possessed and turn to exorcisms. Today RAD is still misunderstood and often not properly diagnosed.
Though there’s no indication that Christine was diagnosed with RAD, there are specific indicators in her case.
Manipulation: Convincing lies and control over adults and professionals. Learn more here.
Family Impact: The frustration, fear, and desperation seen in her parents. Learn more here.
These signs are compelling evidence that Christina likely suffered from RAD, though it remained undiagnosed.
A Closer Look at Christina’s Story
Taken through the lens of undiagnosed RAD, Christina’s story represents a web of trauma, psychological struggles, and societal misunderstandings about early childhood trauma. It challenges us to consider how the system failed her, and continues to fail troubled children and their families.
This is my interpretation of the story, based on my understanding of the facts as well as the potential impact of early childhood trauma.
A tragic tale retold: Christina’s story viewed through the lens of RAD
Born in 1969 to a drug-addicted mother, Christina is abandoned at just 10 months old and placed into foster care. At the age of two, she’s adopted by Joan and John Resch. Despite the love and care Christina finds in her new home, her early months have already scarred her in hidden ways that will shadow her entire life. She’s suffered neglect at the hands of a substance-addicted mother, and erratic care that leaves her emotionally wounded. Even if her removal to foster care rescued her from neglect and abuse, being taken from the her birth mother is a traumatic loss nonetheless. Christina is too young to understand what’s happening around her, but her body and subconscious mind are permanently crippled with feelings of insecurity and chaos.
The prevailing wisdom of the time wrongly assures Joan and John that Christina will be fine because of her young age, but the damage is done. The neglect and abuse Christina suffered during her formative years likely have caused her to develop Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).
By the time she turns eight, the signs are unmistakable. Christina’s tantrums spiral out of control. She’s aggressive and disruptive at school. Misunderstanding her condition, medical professionals prescribe medication for hyperactivity which only exacerbates the symptoms. Christina’s outbursts are more than mere tantrums – she “boils over” into destructive rages of extreme emotion that leave her parents bewildered.
Years go by, and Joan and John’s frustration grows as they struggle to parent Christina. Conventional methods fail them, and their home becomes a battlefield of screaming fights. They turn to corporal punishment, timeouts, and religious reprimands. Nothing works.
The year 1984 arrives, and Christina is now 14. Mysterious occurrences begin to plague the family home: lights flicker on and off, the television changes channels by itself. John and Joan suspect Christina of playing pranks, but she eludes them, fueling their fears that she may be demon-possessed. In the grip of the satanic panic of the era, they resort to an exorcism, clinging desperately to any solution. Christina, aware of her parents’ religious beliefs, exploits their fear to gain control over them.
Word escapes to the media, and Christina becomes a sensation. Her alleged paranormal abilities draw attention from journalists, psychiatrists, and investigators. Her flair for manipulation, combined with the public’s hunger for the supernatural, makes her all the more compelling. When psychologist William Roll moves in to observe, Christina’s charm beguiles him and he becomes entangled, disregarding obvious signs of deceit.
Dr. Roll takes Christina to North Carolina for additional research, and she senses his disappointment as she fails to perform paranormal feats for him. She is returned to her troubled home and alleges abuse by her parents. Unable to cope, her family tries to put Christina back up for adoption or in a juvenile detention facility.
At 16, Christina runs away, marries, and gives birth. Independence brings temporary happiness and the paranormal activity subsides. Her marriage becomes abusive, however, and she leaves her husband. When faced with the challenges of single motherhood, Christina leverages interest in the paranormal for attention, support, and empathy. Frighteningly, the alleged paranormal activity threatens the safety of the child.
Christina’s frustration at her situation grows and she struggles with her unresolved anger and trauma. Her discipline of her child becomes abusive. Perhaps she allows her boyfriend to abuse her child as well. Her three-year-old daughter dies of chronic child abuse – and it’s ruled as murder.
Christina’s grief at her child’s death is wrapped in self-pity. What matters most to Christina, is Christina. She takes an Alford plea to avoid the death penalty and for the next 30 years doggedly maintains her innocence. While those working for Christine’s exoneration see this stubborn clinging to her version of the truth as evidence of actual innocence, extreme denial is common for people with RAD.
What About The “Paranormal” Events?
Christina’s “paranormal” powers became a media sensation. This begs the question: Could a 14-year-old carry out such an elaborate fraud?
Kids with RAD are often clever, manipulative, and extremely convincing in their ability to garner attention and gain control over people and situations.
Photo: ABC News
Debunking the Phenomenon
The Floating Phone Photograph: UPI Science reports that the famous photograph of a phone hovering over Christina is a hoax. The photographer, influenced by his religious beliefs and confirmation bias, chose to hide additional photographs that prove the phone was thrown. A contemporaneous Indianapolis Star article offers further details.
The Lamp Incident: According to the Hulu documentary, and other sources, a news crew captured footage of a lamp flying off a table in 1984. Later review of the footage revealed Christina throwing the lamp when she thought no one was watching.
The Lack of Evidence: Investigator James Randi further concluded that the activity was a hoax, as no paranormal activity was witnessed or caught on film, even by Dr. Roll who moved in to observe. He said this paranormal activity “turned out to be so elusive that no one ever actually saw a single object even start to move of its own accord.”
Lab Testing: According to Christina’s recollections in the Hulu documentary, when she underwent extensive testing in North Carolina, the paranormal events ceased.
Manipulating Perceptions: “Eye witnesses” in the documentary did not actually witness paranormal activity. For example, hypnotherapist Jeannie Leagle adoringly shows the audience the silverware supposedly bent by Christina’s psychokinesis — but she only saw the objects after the fact. Similarly, a friend tells of how she was sitting in one room of the house and suddenly saw a piece of bent silverware fly through the air from another room. The most reasonable and logical conclusion is that Christina was manually bending the silverware.
But, why would so many people believe her?
Media Sensation: The public interest in paranormal events and confirmation bias led journalists to favor the interpretation of paranormal activity over the logical explanation of a troubled teenager perpetuating a hoax.
Professional Bias. Professionals working with Christina, eager to study paranormal activity, suffered from confirmation bias. They ignored facts and acted unprofessionally, even as RAD children are known for their ability to manipulate mental health professionals.
Satanic Panic: During a time rife with fear of occult activity, called the Satanic Panic, the community was primed to believe in spiritual causes for the paranormal events.
Parental Desperation: Frustrated and overwhelmed, Christina’s parents found it easier to believe in demonic possession rather than face their own perceived failures as parents. Later, the hype around paranormal activity brought positive attention and notoriety to the family.
Career Benefits: Many who attested to Christina’s paranormal powers saw financial and career gains (selling books, professional expertise, notority), making retraction unlikely as it would dramatically impact their credibility.
Conclusion: Where do we go from here?
The story of Christina and her supposed paranormal abilities unravels to reveal a deeper and more tragic truth when we consider the early childhood trauma underpinning it. It’s a narrative shaped by human frailty, societal obsession with the supernatural, professional malpractice, and likely an undiagnosed mental health condition: Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).
The key to unlocking this tragic tale lies in recognizing the implications of early childhood trauma and understanding the troubling threads that weave through our child welfare and mental health systems. Even after 30 years, these systems still fail to provide adequate prevention and treatment for the outcomes of early childhood trauma, including conditions like RAD. Sadly, there are too many cases today that lead to similar tragedies like the death of Christina’s daughter.
The story of Christina is not just a haunting tale from the past or a fascinating true crime binge watch; it’s a call to awareness and action. To learn more about Reactive Attachment Disorder, visit www.raisingdevon.com and www.radadvocates.com.
What are your thoughts on Christina Boyer’s story and the potential connection to Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)? Have you experienced or seen the effects of RAD in your own family or community? Share your insights, opinions, or questions in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!
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Christina Boyer, www.christinaboyer.org/.
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“The Columbus Poltergeist: How a 14-Year-Old May Have Bamboozled Media.” UPI, 9 Apr. 1985, www.upi.com/Archives/1985/04/09/The-Columbus-Poltergeist-How-a-14-year-old-may-have-bamboozled-media/4116481870800/.
“Demons and Saviors.” Hulu, 3 Aug. 2023, www.hulu.com/series/demons-saviors-05b16187-192e-40f3-b65a-399ac01f4f2a.
Mann, Sophie. “‘demons and Saviors’ Hulu Documentary Looks at ‘Poltergeist Girl’ Christina Boyer Who Claims She Was Possessed as a Teen and Later Found Guilty of Murdering Her Three-Year-Old Daughter despite Not Being Home at Time.” Daily Mail Online, 5 Aug. 2023, www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12366591/Demons-Saviors-Hulu-documentary-looks-poltergeist-girl-Christina-Boyer-claims-possessed-teen-later-guilty-murdering-three-year-old-daughter-despite-NOT-home-time.html.
Wiki, Contributors to Unsolved Mysteries. “Tina Resch.” Unsolved Mysteries Wiki, unsolvedmysteries.fandom.com/wiki/Tina_Resch.