It’s About Being Divided In Two

Two Forms (Divided Circle) 1969
by Dame Barbara Hepworth

At the bottom of this blog, I’ll link the Adoption & Addiction, Remembered Not Recalled video by Paul Sunderland but first, for those who don’t want to watch for almost an hour, I share a few snippets.

The issue of adoption is all about divided attention, it’s all about 2 sets of families. It’s all about the conflicting feelings of wanting to belong, yet fearing belonging. (As the child of two adoptees, I’m certain this has filtered down into my own soul. I have never felt that I added up to be as much as the golden people I surround myself with – whether in social online networking communities or in my writer’s guild up in St Louis – those are just two examples but it probably goes back into my childhood as well.)

Adoption is a pretty weird word because it’s about the only condition that doesn’t really describe what has happened. Talking about adoption is a denial of relinquishment. The relinquishment wounds can be seen as a developmental post-traumatic stress disorder.

The word adoption is a cover-up. When we think about the adoption triangle, we think about the 3 parties in adoption. The adopted child, there are the birth or natural parents and there is the adoptive parent(s). Sunderland’s focus in his lecture is mostly about the adopted child. And as the title of his lecture suggests, his lecture is also about the apparent addition of addiction to that adopted child.

(And I do believe it is in struggling with an abandonment that one is lead into addiction. As an aside, we watched the 2008 Will Smith movie Hancock last night. He is an alcoholic and it seems to me that his alcoholism is due to similar issues of not knowing who one is at the core and feeling abandoned but not knowing by who.)

Back to the Sunderland lecture, he says that when he encounters birth parents in a treatment setting they usually say, “Not a day goes by when I don’t think about what happened.”

Adoptees are massively over-represented in treatment. And that leads to a question, Why is that ?

He has met quite a few adoptive parents, particularly as cross-cultural adoptions have been so popular. It is clear that many are feeling like, this is just not what we signed up to do.

Sunderland’s perspective is that there are NO adoptions without trauma. What he is talking about in his lecture is an enormous grief. A baby who has been waiting 9 months to meet somebody that they are not going to meet. It is about a mother who cannot live with having her child because society has told her that she cannot do it. Relinquishment goes against her biology.

And very often, the adoptive parents come into adoption carrying their own enormous grief due to having been unable to have a child of their own, naturally. One of the problems that Sunderland has with the word adoption is that it covers up the adoptive parents own grief.

So often, an adoptee will be told that they were chosen but the reality is that child has entered into a family that does not genetically fit them and given an impossible job description. They are forced to be someone that they can never actually be to fix the wound that the adoptive parents have. Infertility is an enormous disappointment for a couple and adoption tries to cover that up.

For an adoptee, the issue of abandonment is life threatening. There is nothing worse than to be separated from the one person (your mother) who you needed most at the beginning of your life. This is preverbal – it can’t be recalled – however, it IS remembered.

The word adoption tries to suggest that it is going to be a happily ever after situation. The human brain begins working before it is entirely built and experience is what programs the brain. If the beginning is a trauma and separation, then this is the experience that is wiring the neurons in the brain of the infant. For an adoptee there is a constant desire to attach accompanied by the conflicting sense that it isn’t safe to do so. There is no pre-trauma personality in an adoptee because there is no normal to compare this experience to as there would be for other traumatic events (war, car accidents, etc).

Being born prematurely and placed into an incubator is another kind of relinquishment when the infant leaves that containing environment. If a child is placed into foster care, that is also a relinquishment. Each change of foster family is yet another in a series of relinquishments. And second chance adoptions, where an adopted child is given back, is another relinquishment. In some cross-cultural adoptive situations, the child is born into such poverty, they are separated from the mother into an orphanage.

The bonding of an infant with their human mother actually begins 2 months before birth, while in utero, as proven by multiple experiments. Adoptees will often share that they have heard stories that they cried and cried. And I think of the mention of that in my mom’s adoption file via a letter from her adoptive mother to the Tennessee Children’s Home about the train trip upsetting my mom but that the doctor had her settled down now (and I always think – they drugged her, though it is not said directly). And I can understand now that my mom was relinquished twice because her mother took her to Porter Leath Orphanage in desperation for TEMPORARY care while she tried to get on her feet because her lawfully married husband had abandoned her and did not respond to a letter that the Juvenile Court in Memphis had written to him about his obligations.

Sunderland speaks about the stability of a child being dependent on a mother being able to know herself (which certainly was a black hole, actually for both of my parents, that I had until I was well over 60 years old and began to discover my own adoptee parents origin stories). People who are adopted and end up in treatment, often present themselves as fairly well put together.

Sunderland speaks of “love addiction” as needing to have the positive regard of a significant other. Addiction is genetically proposed and environmentally disposed. The hormonal aspects of having been relinquished are similar to living one’s life on red alert. In an adoption, there is a slow loss of self. A belief that they cannot be them self and get along with the people with whom they have been placed. The hormonal aspects affect sleep and stomach issues (and certainly my mom had her share of gastrointestinal issues throughout her entire life). Real difficulties managing moods (I think of my dad’s underlying seething anger that occasionally popped out).

If you think about serotonin, it is a soothing hormone. Addiction is usually an effort to self soothe. Eating sugar is one such effort to self soothe. Both of my parents were seriously diabetic and myself to some extent (though I am trying to manage my own sugar issues without ending up on insulin). Serotonin also manages shame and let’s you know you are okay but if your levels are low, the answer is “I’m not okay.”

Some people are not given up at birth and that was certainly true with both of my parents who spent 6-8 months with their original mothers before being adopted. People who diet and then give up on themselves, often multiple times. The chemicals in the brains of adoptees who have early psychological wounds are very different from other people without this personal background.

Adoptees have a tendency towards catastrophic thinking, always expecting the worst. The original wound of being separated from their mother was a life-threatening one. Shame is an unacknowledged aspect that is the understanding that I am not good enough, the bad baby (I’m unworthy, unlovable, there is something flawed in me) because if I was given up by my mother, I don’t have value. People pleasing arises from this feeling. How do I need to be to be accepted ?

Being extremely self-reliant (if you want something done, do it yourself) is also an outcome. It is interesting to note that both of my parents’ mothers had early abandonment or separation wounds from their own mothers caused by the deaths of their mothers. My dad’s mother had the worst one as her mother died when she was only 3 mos old. When she discovered that she was pregnant by a married man that she was not married to, she simply handled it herself and he never knew. With my mom’s mother, she was in her pre-teens and had to become “mom” to her 4 siblings.

Shame and anxiety are at the root of all addictions. There is an attempt to manage anxiety by managing the externals out there. Addictions are attempts to put anxieties elsewhere and explain the inexplicable. And there is the belief that somehow it is your own fault. Up until about the age of 10, infants and children believe that everything that happens to them, happened because of them.

In life, it’s not so much what happens to you as how secure you were with your early attachments. Roots, the secure base. Without these, one is less resilient. Adaption is a better word for what is done, not adoption. Adoptees end up with two minds. Real difficulties making decisions. The limbic system – fight, flight or freeze – is what kicks in with the catastrophic thinking. It is the part of the brain that developed before the frontal cortex. If you have an attachment wound, you never learned how to become a separate person. Any successful relationship exists in separateness, not in trying to adapt yourself to be accepted by that other person. The erotic exists in the space between the two. The real challenge for an adopted person is to actually BE their own self.

Preventing Adoptee Suicides

I was already aware that the statistics are worrisome. I didn’t know there was a month dedicated to focusing on this particular issue. Suicide is a sad and desperate choice no matter who chooses it but it is an individual choice and yet affects everyone who ever knew the person.

Attempted suicide is more common among adolescents who live with adoptive parents than among adolescents who live with biological parents. The association persists after adjusting for depression and aggression and is not explained by impulsivity as measured by a self-reported tendency to make decisions quickly.

You may be fortunate enough to be an adoptee who does not struggle with suicidal thoughts. But some adoptees struggle in silence, feel shame or feel disenfranchised and marginalized. I am seeking to share what some adoptees know, and the broader public should know, that suicidal adoptees are not an abnormality.

There is a need to talk about this issue more openly and in the mainstream. This is so important because adoption is sold as a “win-win” scenario. Talking about suicide is hard and uncomfortable. Talking about it in connection with adoption – which often has much joy but is more complex than most people realize – is challenging.

Generally, people would not have any reason to know that some adoptees struggle. The issues are real, and should be discussed more openly. Dismissing adoptee related suicide or mental illness will not help anyone. It will however further disenfranchise vulnerable adoptees.

If you are an adoptee with suicidal thoughts, know that you are not alone, other adoptees have felt this way too. Please reach out for help and know that you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If you know of an adoptee who is at risk, please do not be afraid to likewise reach out and help them to access appropriate support services. Do not be afraid to ask direct questions about suicide. You can’t put the idea of suicide in someone’s head by talking about it. Asking direct questions can help you to determine if they’re in immediate danger and in need of assistance.

So much of the messaging around adoption is invisibly supported by the interests with a financial stake in promoting it. However, the separation that precedes the placement of a baby or young child into adoption causes a trauma that may be subconscious and not consciously recognized by the adoptee or the people who have adopted them.

4.5 percent of adopted individuals have problems with drug abuse, compared with 2.9 percent of the general population. This is striking because it is a far higher a percentage than the 2% of the population who are adopted. Despite what adoptive parents are told and hope for, no matter how loving and nurturing an adoptive parent, no matter how deeply loved an adopted child may be, many adoptees will say, that “Love is not all we need.”

One adoptee describes their own experience this way –

“So what does it feel like to be adopted? A weird amalgamation of rejection and acceptance. Someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure… It’s been difficult for me to accept that my parents actually love me, and that they’re not just putting me on a shelf somewhere to gawk at and to call their own. I’m still figuring it out.”

Often, adoptees don’t want to upset their adoptive parents with concerns about depression or anything that could be seen as ingratitude, including normal, healthy curiosity about their own genetic, biological roots. This is very common among adoptees. No one mirrors you while growing up to assist you in forming a sense of identity and self-worth. Many adoptees describe intense feelings when they give birth to their own child. Finally seeing a human being who is biologically and genetically connected to them for the very first time. Adoptees lack a recognizable source for personality traits, temperament, and abilities. It’s difficult to feel connected without knowing where you inherited your love of playing music, or curly hair, or shyness, or why everyone in your family is athletic but you.

Another adoptee notes –

“There is a certain detachment to adoption. Being ‘chosen’ rather than ‘born to’ does it. Because we did not arrive by natural means, and so much mystery (or outright lies) are our baggage, we often feel not only that we do not fit in, but that we are disposable. That’s the thing about being chosen, you can be unchosen. And some adoptees aren’t going to wait for the dismissal; they are going to finally take control of their life by ending it.”

It is true that some adoptees (my dad was one of this kind) have the resilience and temperament to lead perfectly happy lives. He simply chose to accept that his adoptive family was the only family he needed and was quick to dismiss any curiosity my mom had as an adoptee as ill founded. I believe that he had a deep-seated fear of knowing the truth regarding why he was adopted.

If you love someone who is adopted, be aware of this risk factor. The best thing we can do for our adopted children, friends, siblings, and spouses is listen and validate their sadness as a normal and natural need to know why. I am grateful that my mom had me to share her feelings with. Someone who understood that these feelings in her were valid and reasonable.

A Sad Reality

Adoptees are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than non-adoptees are. Why is that ? Maybe because being adopted is not all unicorns and rainbows.

So today comes this sad story.

I work in animal rescue because I couldn’t handle working for the Department of Children and Families. It’s a corrupt system.

Today I took a phone call that really got to me and started a small debate between others in the office at the time.

The caller said a 26 year old adoptee had killed herself and left four cats behind. One cat was found dead with her. One cat a friend took and the other two the rescue I work in is taking. We learned these animals were without food for sometime. Meaning no one had checked up on her.

I was told the adoptive mom was a bad alcoholic, adoptive father is a prominent well known doctor. That the 26 year old suffered years of mental health issues. I told the caller we would take in the two two cats no questions asked and no surrender fee. When the caller asked me why… I responded that as an adoptee myself….

My heart breaks for any adoptee who was this upset and hurting to take her own life in front of pets who she saved and loved. I said most adoptees have trauma and pain and it seldom gets better even with the best therapy! She thanked me and I’ll meet the lady Friday with the two cats.

When I got off the phone the two other people in the office told me I cannot generalize adoptive people that way. That many adoptive people are happy! I’m like no… I’m an adoptee and while my life on the outside may look perfect and my own children are …. I cry daily and have struggled my entire life. In my teens, I wanted to die! So I told them unless they were an adoptee nothing that they could tell me would change my view!

The truth is that the lived experience of many adoptees makes those who have not experienced it, uncomfortable.

October 30th is Adoptee Remembrance Day.

With Privilege Comes Judgment

Growing up, I remember being told not to judge, to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before judging them. I need to understand the other person’s experiences, challenges, thought processes, etc before judging their own personal choices or lived stories. It is true that judgments keep us safe, help us make friends, accomplish our goals, and all sorts of wonderful, important stuff.

The idea of privilege has become really controversial in some circles, even offensive. Usually the people who are offended by the idea of privilege are the people who have it. And when someone who has had some experience – maybe they have experienced being judged, as being inferior, because they were living in poverty, or they had a bad experience in foster care or in their childhood while being raised by adoptive parents – we should do our best to listen to their stories with compassion, realizing that because we did not have that experience ourselves, we cannot really know how bad it was for them. We need to simply give them the benefit of the doubt and open our heart to their pain and/or trauma.

So, too often when people are simply trying to share whatever awful experience they have lived through, someone will feel triggered and quickly counter this person’s lived experience with the words “not all” – which is simply meant to shut the person up and not allow them to revel their own experience honestly. Maybe you are a foster parent or an adoptive parent or do social work or work for the government in some kind of child welfare or government assistance office and you are feeling judged by the story you are hearing. You are desperate to point out that you are not one of those kinds of people yourself. And it’s wonderful if you are not. However, you should restrain yourself at such a time, take comfort and be confident in the knowledge that the story you are hearing is not about you but about the person telling it and their experience. Allow them to revel their own truth without dismissing it by inserting why you are such a good person (and in fact, maybe look long and hard at your own heart to determine is what it actually is that is being triggered. Is it your sense of being some kind of savior to some segment of humanity ?).

Privilege is something your life gives you that is good. By being able to see those aspects as a privilege, you should also be able to realize that you have had access to something that some other people didn’t.  Often in adoption land, as in real life, those with privilege and those in government service too often treat the underprivileged poorly and that is un-necessary. They have it hard enough without you piling on.

The truth is, adoptive parents hold the dominant view in society. Their perspectives rule when it comes to creating the perceptions that people with no experience with what adoption is like in general, believe it to be. Adult adoptees are too often either silenced or dismissed. Money rules. The financially privileged hold the power in society over the less fortunate – who are too easily overlooked or not seen at all. Adoption is almost always a case of allocating a child. Taking a child out of a poverty stricken family and placing that child into a rich one. Georgia Tann didn’t hide her belief that doing this intended engineering of a child’s life led to better outcomes for that child than leaving them in their original poverty-stricken family. So the truth is, money matters.

Just as it was with Georgia Tann, money continues to be the motivation in our modern times. There are people making a LOT of money by taking money from rich people, in return for giving them the opportunity to experience parenting. An experience that infertility or the tragic death of their biological child may have robbed them of. Money can buy you the opportunity to parent a child. Only people with money can afford a domestic infant adoption. This is the reality. And some determined people without financial good fortune will even set up a Go Fund Me page or some other kind of charity outreach to get the money to adopt a child. But the fact remains – the adoption industry is doing very well at generating a lot of revenue for itself.

Why ?

Today’s story – I Never Wanted Boys

Husband’s first cousin and his girlfriend have, actually had – 5 children – 3 girls, 2 boys. They have custody of the 3 girls but both boys were placed for adoption because in her words “I never wanted boys”. We didn’t think she meant it, but she did.

She placed the first boy with a friend of hers and the other with my husband and I. She has no relationship with her first son but for the first 4 years of our son’s life, she and his sisters would see my adopted son, a few times a year at family functions. She would always tell him “Hello” and give him a hug, but that was the extent of her interaction with him.

When he turned 4, the couple, parents of these 5 children split up. That was now 2½ years ago. She doesn’t come to family functions anymore and turned down my suggestions, more than once, before blocking me completely for asking her to maintain some sort of relationship with the son that is in my care. He has always known she is his mother, and from birth until he was the age of 4, he was able to have some sort of relationship with his sisters. I’ve explained to her the importance of the children having a sibling relationship and bond. She does not agree with me that this is necessary.

My adopted son is now 6½ years old. His questions have started to be – “Why?” I don’t know what to say to him. The truth to me is harsh and I’ve always struggled with the thought that the day might come when I would have to tell him what her reasons were. Before all of this happened, I was for 100% transparency and truth as regards his adoption. But do I really tell him this?? Surely not this young!!? When he’s older? EVER?? I don’t want to add to his trauma.

One answer that came, really tore at my heart.

99% of the time I am for telling a 100% of the truth all the time – except for this situation. My brother and I are adopted. We have different genetic/biological families. Our story comes quite close to this one. My brother is an adult now. But at the age of 9, my adoptive mom told him – his mom treated him the way she did because he was a boy. Now that he is an adult, his original mother has admitted that is true. But being told this when he was 9, well, my brother was so confused and hurt that he self mutilated himself trying to become a girl. The best advice I can give in this situation is to seek an adoption trauma therapist to help you navigate the years ahead. I know such a rejection definitely messed with my brother’s self identity.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

I came across the letters DBT in an adoption discussion group and as I had no idea what it stood for, I do what I often do in such cases, google it. It started with this comment by an adoptive parent –

“I just had it click in a deeper way yesterday that I put a lot of thought and effort and will into trying to heal my kids. As if I’m a savior. As if I can. But in DBT, it talks about creating a change ready environment for your kids. By the way, if you can find a child DBT therapist, do it! Its expensive and it involves individual and parent and group sessions, and its work and learning, but its SUPER effective. All kinds of stuff prove its effective. Back to my point, if I’m trying to create a change ready environment, a calm and consistent environment where mean words can roll off my back, and I’m working on me setting the example that self care is important and I’m working on me so that I can hold all the pain they send my way, that’s where I make the most beneficial impact for all of the family and that’s where I love my kids the best.”

DBT stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Dialectical behavior therapy is an evidence-based psychotherapy that began with efforts to treat borderline personality disorder. There is evidence that DBT can be useful in treating mood disorders, suicidal ideation, and for change in behavioral patterns such as self-harm and substance abuse. Many of these issues are aspects experienced by adoptees due to the trauma of separation from their original mothers.

One woman commented – “DBT absolutely SAVED MY LIFE. The skills helped me stop with SI and I then went on to lose 140 pounds.” I had to google SI too. Introverted sensing (or Si for short) is one of the most misunderstood cognitive functions in the personality community. Introverted sensing is a perceiving (information-gathering) function. It focuses on the subjective, internal world of personal experience and compares and contrasts new experiences to past experiences and memories. Si-users tend to notice patterns repeating themselves and are quick to spot changes or inconsistencies in their environment. They trust personal experience and subjectively explore the impact of current events, choices, and consequences.

So back to DBT . . . .

Its main goals are to teach people how to live in the moment, develop healthy ways to cope with stress, regulate their emotions, and improve their relationships with others. DBT can help people who have difficulty with emotional regulation or are exhibiting self-destructive behaviors (eating disorders and substance use disorders). DBT is sometimes used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

DBT incorporates a philosophical process called dialectics. Dialectics is based on the concept that everything is composed of opposites and that change occurs when there is a “dialogue” between opposing forces. The process makes three basic assumptions:

All things are interconnected.
Change is constant and inevitable.
Opposites can be integrated to form a closer approximation.

Mindfulness skills help you slow down and focus on using healthy coping skills when you are in the midst of emotional pain. The strategy can also help you stay calm and avoid engaging in automatic negative thought patterns and impulsive behavior. BTW, I am a BIG believer in mindfulness.

Distress tolerance techniques help prepare you for intense emotions and empower you to cope with them with a more positive long-term outlook. There are 4 techniques – distraction, improving the moment, self-soothing and thinking of the pros and cons of not tolerating distress.

Emotion regulation lets you navigate powerful feelings in a more effective way. The skills you learn will help you to identify, name, and change your emotions. When you are able to recognize and cope with intense negative emotions (for example, anger), it reduces your emotional vulnerability and helps you have more positive emotional experiences.

Interpersonal effectiveness helps you to become more assertive in a relationship (for example, expressing your needs and be able to say “no”) while still keeping a relationship positive and healthy. You will learn to listen and communicate more effectively, deal with challenging people, and respect yourself and others.

Adoption-Related Complex Trauma

Also called Cumulative Trauma – The research is definitive. Adopted kids are not only traumatized by the original separation from their parents, they may also have been traumatized by the events that led to them being put up for adoption. In addition to that, foster care itself is considered an adverse childhood experience.

I recently wrote a blog titled “It’s Simply NOT the Same.” Though the traumas may originate similarly, the outcomes are not the same because just like any other person, no two adoptees are exactly alike. That should not prevent any of us from trying to understand that adoptees carry wounds, even if the adoptee is unaware that the wounds are deep within them.

It is not uncommon for an adopted person and/or the adoptive family to seek mental health services due to the effect of the adoptee experiencing traumatic events. Unfortunately, for psychology and psychiatry clinicians, adoption related training is rare. In my all things adoption group, the advice is often to seek out an adoption competent therapist for good reason.

“What does an adopted baby know ? She knows her mother, she knows her loss, sadness and hurt, she knows that those who hold her today may be gone tomorrow and that she will be the only one left to pick up the pieces that no one seems to think are broken.”
~ Karl Stenske, 2012

The reasons a child is put up for adoption or relinquished are many – an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, often compounded or driven by a lack of financial resources (poverty) or no familial support to care for a child. Becoming a single parent may simply seem too daunting to an unwed expectant mother. Sadly, for some, a chronic/terminal illness or certain diseases may lead the mother to believe she cannot provide proper care for her baby. Certainly, prolonged substance addiction and/or severe mental health issues (which may be related to addiction) can cause parental rights to be forcefully terminated by child welfare authorities. Adoptees who come out of the child welfare system (legal termination of parental rights by a court of law) cannot legally be returned to their birth families due to safety or other reasons that are considered serious.

Adoption is not always a success. Disruptions and dissolutions do sometimes occur.

Disruptions can happen after the adoption has been finalized when the adoptive parents then experience difficulties with their adopted child. The adoptive parents may have difficulty finding support and the resources they require to deal with the issues that come up.

Risk factors leading to a higher rate of disruptions are: older age when adopted, existing emotional and behavioral issues, having a strong attachment to their birth mother, having been a victim of pre-adoption sexual abuse, suffering from a lack of social support from relatives causing the adoption to occur, unrealistic expectations surrounding the adoption and the child on the part of hopeful adoptive parents, and a lack of adequate preparation and ongoing support for the adoptive family prior to and after the placement.

A devastating occurrence is a dissolution or breakdown. This applies to an adoption in which the legal relationship between the adoptive parents and the adoptive child is severed, either voluntary or involuntarily. Usually this will result in the entry or re-entry of the child into the foster care system, or less commonly a second chance adoption, or even the private transfer of the child from the adoptive parents to a non-vetted receiving parent.

Adoption has been subject to both positive and negative assumptions related to the practice and this is of no surprise to anyone who has studied the practice of adoption for a period of time.

There are 6 main assumptions about the practice of adoption –

[1] Adoption is a joyous event for all involved – known as the Unicorns and Rainbows Fantasy in adoption centric communities; [2] adoption parallels genetic birth experience and a biological family life – which close observation and mixed families (who have both biological and adopted children often belie); [3] once adopted, all of the child’s problems disappear and there will be no additional challenges – rarely true – and often attachment or bonding fail to occur; [4] creating a family through adoption is “false,” only biological families are “real” – this goes too far in making a case because many adults create chosen families – the truth is as regards children, family is those persons we grow up with – believing we are related to them – in my case, both of my parents were adopted and all of my “relations” growing up were non-genetic and non-biological but I have a life history with them and continue to have contact with aunts, an uncle and cousins I obtained through my parents’ adoptions; [5] the adoptive life is better than the biological life the child had or would have had – never a known assumption – more accurately, the adoptee’s life is different than that child would have had, if they had not been adopted; and, [6] closed adoptions are in the best interest of the child – this one was promoted with the intention of shielding adoptive parents from original parents who regretted the surrender, from the child who might yearn for their original family and often in some cases to shield a person operating unscrupulously, such as the baby thief Georgia Tann who sold ill-gotten children. Popular media has reinforced both the positive and the negative messages about adoption and many myths and stereotypes regarding adoptive families and birth parents are believed in society as a whole.

The term “adoption-related complex trauma” is rarely used in discussing symptoms and behaviors. It is more common to see terms such as “developmental trauma” or “complex trauma” to describe the psychological effects found within the adopted population.

The terms complex trauma and complex post-traumatic stress disorder have been used to describe the experience of multiple and/or chronic and prolonged, developmentally adverse traumatic events, most often of an personal nature such as sexual, physical, verbal abuse or of a societal nature such as war or community violence. These exposures often have occurred within the child’s caregiving environment and may include physical, emotional and/or other forms of neglect and maltreatment that begin early in childhood. In the case of infant adoptions, the trauma is non-verbal but stored in the body of that baby – not conscious but recorded.

Some of this content has been sourced from a long dissertation titled Treatment Considerations For Adoption-related Complex Trauma. Anyone interested is encouraged to read more at the link.

The Fog

In adoptee centric communities, one quickly learns about “the fog”. This is the feel good narrative that adoption agencies and adoptive parents “feed” their adopted child. Many adoptees never come out of the fog. Most do not come out until maturity, maybe when they give birth to a biological child genetically related to them and begin searching the adoption related literature, a prominent one is The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. This is the preverbal, subconscious trauma experienced by a baby when they are taken from the mother who gestated them and then gave birth. It matters not a lot whether this separation occurs immediately after birth or months later. My parents were 6 mos and 8 mos old at the time they were separated from their mothers – so preverbal. The trauma is real and has ongoing effects.

So, I was attracted to an article in The Guardian titled Brain fog: how trauma, uncertainty and isolation have affected our minds and memory in the Health & wellbeing section by Moya Sarner. A feeling of brain fog has become more common as a result of the collective trauma of the COVID pandemic. It is described as a feeling of being unable to concentrate. There’s this sense of debilitation or of losing ordinary facility with everyday life.

It could be helpful for an adoptee to understand that this feeling isn’t unusual or weird. There isn’t something wrong with you. It’s a completely normal reaction to a seriously traumatic experience. This can affect you ability to problem-solve, your capacity to be creative in the face of life’s challenges. There can be a lot of different factors that taken together and interacting with each other, can cause these impairments, attentional deficits and other processing difficulties. Humans have effectively evolved to stop paying attention when nothing changes, but to pay particular attention when things do change.

For an adoptee, it is life changes such has giving birth that can begin the process of waking up from the fog. The adoptive parents dying, so freeing the adopted child from a need to remain loyal to the people who cared and nurtured them growing up that may kindle a need for their own personal truth. Who were the people that gave them life ? Are they still living ? What is the background story ? Are there other genetic relations ? What can they learn about their familial medical history ? What is their cultural identity ? Waking up to the reality of who the adopted person actually is.

Brain fog is a common experience but it’s very complex. It is the cognitive equivalent of feeling emotionally distressed; it’s almost the way the brain expresses sadness, beyond the emotion. One needs to think about the mind, the brain, the immune and the hormonal systems to understand the various mental and physical processes that might underlie this consequence of stress.  

When our mind appraises a situation as stressful, our brain immediately transmits the message to our immune and endocrine systems. These systems respond in exactly the same way they did in early humans – with what may feel like an irrational fear.  The heart beats faster so we can run away, inflammation is initiated by the immune system and the hormone cortisol is released. A dose of cortisol will lower a person’s attention, concentration and memory for their immediate environment. 

An experience of the fog is one of the most disturbing aspects of the unconscious. Recognizing the fog is our body and our brain telling us something, a signal – an alarm bell. We should stop and ask ourselves, why am I feeling this way ? What is the trigger ? What is the source ?  The idea is that we have a force inside us that is propelling us towards life. What has been hidden from us is now pushing us into a discovery. To make connections with our familial tribe and seek to expand the meaning of our very own life with the truth. 

The mental weight of our unknowns becomes harder to drag around. We have – at some moment in our lifetime – a will to know something about ourselves and our lives, even when that knowledge is profoundly painful. Paradoxically, there is also a powerful will not to know, a wish to defend against this awareness so that we can continue to live cosseted by lies. An adoptee might chose to live in the misty, murky fog rather than to face, to suffer, the painful truth and horror of their origin situation because the truth of the experience of how and why they were separated from their natural mother is too hard to bear.

We all experience grief, times in our lives where we feel like we can’t function at all. If you find yourself here, may it be mercifully temporary and may you recover from the shocks of reality and move forward, feeling a new wholeness in an expanded identity of yourself.

Why Do I Care ?

I was searching my heart for a topic for today’s blog. I’ve been reading a book and recently the topic was treating Borderlines. I once knew someone slightly who lost her children and described her diagnosis with that as the reason. I didn’t think too much about it at the time but due to my reading, I understand her personality better now. I also know that adoptees often suffer from a wide range of mental health issues. So I googled Adoptees and Borderline Personality Traits.

I am going to link this sad article for you because there is so much there. I actually care and have learned a lot more to care about since uncovering my adoptee (both mom and dad) parents origins and adoption stories. While I will be forever grateful I didn’t end up adopted (because it is a minor miracle I did not), I care about all things adoption and an extension of that has been caring about foster care youth and often, foster care does lead to adoption. That is the background of the story I will link for you here.

Dark Enough: When Adoptive Families Struggle

The subject of the story is Rebecca who was removed by Child Protective Services (CPS) from her natural mother when she was 6 years old. CPS did initially try a kinship placement with Rebecca’s maternal grandmother but a few months, it became clear that their grandmother was unable to meet the children’s needs. There were 3 girls. Rebecca went through multiple foster care placements but eventually was reunited with her 15 month old sister Alina, when Rebecca was 7, in that separate foster home. The 3 girls had been sent to separate homes after their stay with the grandmother. Rebecca and Alina were then placed in a foster to adopt situation.

Rebecca’s adjustment has been difficult, to put it mildly. By the middle of eighth grade, her adoptive parents began to suspect that Rebecca was afflicted by Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Though both RAD and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder were both ruled out, her adoptive mom felt frustrated and defeated. Everyone was telling her this child was normal when she knew something was terribly wrong. CPS referred them to a psychiatrist who found symptoms of PTSD, major depression and anxiety, as well as poor coping skills for stress – and one surprise (which based on behaviors was not surprising at all) – Rebecca displayed an attachment disorder specific to father figures. Rebecca was able to develop an attachment to her maternal grandmother and to her adoptive mother but had severe difficulties with the adoptive father.

Rebecca’s new attachment therapist Cheri diagnosed her with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is not curable, but it can be understood and managed. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, BPD sufferers have an unstable self-image and their actions display that uncertainty about how they see themselves. Unsure of their worth, they will go to extreme lengths to avoid real or imagined abandonment. They also feel victimized by the world and have great difficulty taking responsibility for their actions. Therefore, by the very nature of the disorder, BPD sufferers are blind to their role in the troubles surrounding them.

The article is worth reading in full.

Check Your Privilege

It is hard for some people to understand, what it feels like not to know what ought to be yours to know. Like what your family health history is, who you were born to, where and when, why you were surrendered to adoption.

If you weren’t adopted, you make have the privilege of not having this uncertainty in your life. If you are judging an adoptee for being angry/disgusted at the entire world, don’t tell them to “get help”. Chances are they already have seen some therapist or counselor. Most do.

Each of us can only do, whatever we can with the hand life has dealt us. For some people, it’s a really hard hand. It’s not your job to put someone else in the place you think they should be. Doing so tells others more about you than whoever you are trying to fix.

Why do people use the phrase “you’re so angry” as a negative connotation ? Maybe there is a good reason. Why does someone else having something to be angry about have to be their problem to fix ? If my anger affects them in some way, they best start looking within for why it is triggering them.

I’ve been feeling a lot of anger from my oldest son lately. It is a frustration with life – not directed at anyone else and not hurting anyone else. If anything, he punishes himself which as a mom does hurt my own heart. A song’s lyrics keep coming to me and I don’t have the answer to the question it asks – maybe it is hormones and emotional immaturity still. Fooling Yourself by Styx.

You see the world through your cynical eyes
You’re a troubled young man I can tell
You’ve got it all in the palm of your hand

Why must you be such an angry young man
When your future looks quite bright to me

Get up, get back on your feet
You’re the one they can’t beat and you know it
Come on, let’s see what you’ve got

Mental health support is a human need and it is a privilege unfortunately. It should be accessible to anyone. Competent mental health guidance and compassion can be life changing. I googled Emotional Maturity – at what age ?

LOL

The term “mature” usually refers to a person’s mental state. Someone who is mature behaves in a way that is considered appropriately adult.  Emotional maturity is the ability to function in an effective, healthy way concerning one’s emotions. This means being able to express emotions accurately and appropriately, possessing some amount of self-control, and being able to think of others despite feeling strong emotions.

According to a study conducted in the United Kingdom, men do not become emotionally mature until the age of 43. This was not a scientific evaluation of maturity because that is largely dependent on social constructs. The study relied on surveys to determine what men and women considered mature, how they felt about their maturity, and whether or not they believed the opposite gender was mature at a certain age. Wondering what that surveyed age was for women ? Generally 32. This actually matches what is seen in school age children as well. Generally, the girls do mature earlier than the boys.

Emotional maturity is not a simple matter of checking off boxes. Some mental health professionals do not uphold the notion of age-based maturity. They assert that maturity has more to do with your background, values, and even biology than the number of years lived. How you mature, and the things you consider mature will vary based on the way you were raised, your neurological development, and your cultural framework. Some cultures value autonomy more than emotional depth, and maturity will be marked by the ability to take care of oneself. Other cultures value emotional depth, and dependence is not seen as a pitfall, but a lack of emotional intelligence.

Sometimes, it is anger that supplies the passion for change. I am very much the kind of person who puts up with stuff and adjusts my own self not to make waves. However, I can actually appreciate that dis-satisfaction can be the first step towards making a meaningful change that will make everything better.

For some adoptees and former foster youth, it was their well-deserved anger and fighting spirit that kept them safe in a lot of shitty situations. We have not walked in another person’s shoes and we can’t know what is going on inside of another person but we can be compassionate about the distress anytime we are aware of it or in proximity to it. Tolerance and patience helps, even for this mom.