Most of us dream of the day we become parents. I can’t wait to be a mother one day, and I hope I’m just as perfect as my mom is. Of course, many people aim to be the opposite of their parents, but there is one thing we all have in common: we want our children to grow up to be kind, respectful, and happy adults. From the moment you bring home your little bundle of joy, your life revolves around making them smile and there is no better feeling in the world.
Now, imagine being not being able to have kids of your own and eagerly waiting to adopt. But once you bring home your 19-month-old child, she displays horrifying behavior and psychopathic tendencies. This is exactly what happened to Tim and Julie Thomas when they adopted siblings, Beth and Jonathan. By age six, Beth was acting out in terrifying ways, leaving her family, quite literally, fearing for their lives.
This is the story of Beth Thomas from the 1990 HBO documentary Child of Rage.
An Innocent Child
Childhood is supposed to be a time of pure innocence. You’re just getting to know yourself and the world around you as your mind expands. Unfortunately, not all kids grow up feeling safe, loved, and important. Sometimes, a child’s undeveloped brain becomes so traumatized that their psyche basically turns into a black hole that could swallow them up.
When Beth Thomas was just 19 months old, she and her baby brother, Jonathan, were adopted into a loving family. Her new family wasn’t initially aware of the suffering she had endured, but it didn’t take long for them to realize that Beth was dealing with some severe trauma. After finding out what their children had been through, her adoptive parents wanted to do everything they could to give Beth a good life, but as she got older, her behavior became painfully worse.
Loving, Adoptive Parents
Beth was not even two years old when the Department of Social Services took her away from her abusive biological parents. A couple named Tim and Julie couldn’t have kids of their own, but they had so much love in their hearts. They believed they could pass on good morals and values to children, so they decided to adopt.
They thought it would take a long time to get a child. The adoption process usually takes a while, and sometimes, it can take years for a couple to adopt a baby. But things happened fast for Tim and Julie. They were delighted to welcome not one but two children into their family: Beth and Jonathan.
Two Perfect Children
Social Services were aware of the abuse the children had suffered in the former home. However, they told Tim and Julie that the kids were perfectly healthy. Sure, they were physically healthy, but their mental health was another story, particularly Beth’s. But neither parent expected what was yet to come.
The new parents couldn’t have been happier. They showered their children with love and attention, but unfortunately, nothing could prepare them for the horrors about to arise. Imagine adopting two adorable, seemingly innocent kids. And then, your seemingly sweet daughter begins to display psychopathic tendencies putting your family in real danger.
Cute Little Beth
Beth had a big smile and a friendly, outgoing demeanor, but the things that came out of her mouth were eerie. Hearing her express the things she wants to do to her baby brother was shocking. As it turned out, the abuse, she suffered at the hands of her biological father severely damaged her psyche.
She had so much built up anger and resentment at such a young age that she was barely aware of it or how it was affecting her. At the tender age of six, when most kids are coloring or playing outside, Beth’s rage began to manifest in outrageous ways.
Nightmares and Trauma
At first, Beth had horrific nightmares. She would frequently wake up in the middle of the night, screaming in her room, and nothing could calm her down. Although these nightmares were extremely scary, they were nothing compared to how Beth started treating her parents and brother.
Beth would sneak into her brother’s room at night and physically assault him. Because he was so young, he was not able to defend himself. If that wasn’t bad enough, she even tormented the family dog. At this point, Beth’s parents were starting to worry about their own safety.
From Bad to Worse
Beth’s behavior went from bad to worse. Not only was she threatening her brother, but her parents had to hide the kitchen knives so that she wouldn’t stab them or Jonathan while they were asleep. She stated that she wanted to kill them and wanted them to die. On one occasion, Beth literally slammed her brother’s head against a cement floor until her parents came in and stopped her.
As scary as this was, things got even more terrifying when Beth started abusing animals. Her mother once found some birds with their necks cracked after Beth had killed them. Children abusing animals is a classic indicator of psychotic behavior or even serial killer tendencies later on in life.
Abuser or Victim?
However, it’s important to remember that Beth was a six-year-old and a victim of abuse. It was revealed in her therapy sessions that her nightmares revolved around a memory: a devastating recollection of her father physically and sexually abusing her as an infant. It’s hard to blame a child who lost their innocence at such a young age.
Unfortunately, she replicated the behavior she learned at such an impressionable time in her life when all she needed was to feel loved and protected. Even once she was moved into a safe environment, the horrific trauma she endured followed her. But, eventually, she managed to overcome it.
Out of Control
Her parents were so concerned about her behavior that they installed a special lock on her door, so she was unable to leave her room at night. Can you imagine being that terrified of your own daughter? Not only were they worried about their own safety, but they were scared Beth would harm her brother. They knew she needed serious help.
It was clear that whatever was going on with Beth wasn’t going away on its own. No matter how much love her parents gave her, it didn’t erase the appalling abuse that was ingrained into her psyche. It was time to call for external help. The only way to stop the problem was to figure out what was causing it.
Reactive Attachment Disorder
Tim and Julie finally decided to send Beth to a therapist. She clearly needed intensive sessions to understand the cause of her violent outbursts and then figure out how to stop them. After the therapist heard what Beth had to say about her behavior, she was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), stemming directly from her violent past.
Children suffering from RAD have almost no ability to connect with other human beings on an emotional level. Beth was incapable of giving or receiving love, and it reflected in her behavior. She didn’t feel empathy towards anything. That’s why she was acting out.
If you have ever studied psychology, you probably already know that lack of empathy and inability to feel remorse for heinous behavior are classic signs of psychopathy (known as an anti-social personality disorder). All of her actions could be linked to the trauma Beth endured as an infant.
Most children who experience the kind of extreme abuse that Beth did, tend to grow up with anti-social tendencies and social awkwardness due to their inability to connect with others. But the toll it took on Beth was unimaginable. Without getting her the help she needed, there was no telling what she would do to her family.
Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures
Life was miserable for every family member living in that home. Jonathan and the dog were suffering from physical abuse, and, meanwhile, Tim and Julie were petrified that their daughter would do something to hurt them. At this point, they needed to take extreme measures.
Beth’s parents contacted Connel Watkins, a therapist who specialized in attachment therapy. Watkins used “compression therapy,” a very controversial type of healing. Despite the criticism toward this method, Tim and Julie were desperate and decided to give it a try. I mean, their daughter tried killing them with a kitchen knife, so what did they have to lose?
Controversial Healing Methods
The purpose of compression therapy is to release suppressed rage in a controlled environment. It’s meant to bring a child to a state of submission where they could essentially be re-parented. Sure, the method came with its own set of risks, but, remarkably, Beth reacted positively to her first few sessions. However, that didn’t mean she would get better overnight.
After a full year of intense compression therapy and a substantial amount of support from her family, Beth Thomas got rid of the psychopathic emotional state that could have plagued her for the rest of her life. She finally understood the difference between right and wrong and realized the pain she had caused her family.
Healing Is Possible
It’s been about 30 years since Beth started the controversial therapy that turned her life around. She has transformed into a completely new human being: sweet, empathic, and kind. Thanks to Connell Watkins, she was able to deal with her past and lead a happy, healthy life. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out all that great for Watkins.
Watkins found herself in jail for seven years because of her controversial compression methods. A 10-year-old girl under her care named Candace Newmaker passed away accidentally during a “rebirthing” ceremony. She was suffocated by four grown-ups who were there to help her through the process. Luckily, things worked out differently for Beth, and she made it through the method unscathed.
An Impressive Young Lady
It is insane to see the shift in Beth’s behavior and psyche. She grew up to be a beautiful, well-behaved, and talented adult. She is now a nurse and the co-author of a book titled More Than a Thread of Hope that speaks about all the troubles linked to RAD and teaches parents how to cope if they have a child suffering from the condition.
Considering she famously dealt with psychopathic tendencies, it’s no surprise that she is highly involved in advocacy for RAD. She even runs a company called Families by Design, which also helps children with the disorder. She wants to inspire them and show them by example that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel.
A Living Inspiration
Beth Thomas continues to inspire children and even adults who suffer from RAD. Her adoptive parents and viewers all over the world who watched her on the HBO documentary, Child of Rage, never thought she would make a full recovery. However, she stands strong and has become a testament to everyone trying to overcome difficult situations.
It was a long road to help improve Beth’s emotional sensibilities. It was difficult for everyone involved. But her adoptive parents would not give up. They just wanted to give her the love and support she never got when she was an infant. Needless to say, dealing with a child with psychopathic tendencies isn’t easy, especially when you have to worry about the rest of the family’s safety.
Child of Rage
In 1990, HBO released a documentary depicting the little girl and what was going on in her mind. It’s called “Child of Rage” and is mandatory to watch in many psychology classes. It was quite scary to see how innocently and casually she states that she physically abuses her brother and wants him to die.
She speaks about how she hurts animals and doesn’t seem to realize how awful her statements were. It was evident that 6-year-old Beth made no distinction between what’s right and what’s wrong. This was likely because of her severe attachment issues, which made her feel like no one could be trusted. She didn’t even realize where all her built-up rage was coming from.
Overcoming the Struggles
The documentary takes you into the brain of a young, traumatized child. It was obvious that she had severe issues and her state of mind was not normal. Children who act like this can grow up to become violent criminals or even serial killers because of their lack of empathy.
You can see Beth’s extreme transformation from her therapy sessions to making a complete 180 degree turn in her recovery process. She is living proof that children with behavioral issues and even psychopathic tendencies can recover with support, therapy, and patience.