Is It This Or That ?

An adoptee blogging friend wrote – Borderline Personality Disorder or Adoptee?

This attracted my reading attention right away because for quite a few weeks, months?, I’ve been reading a book titled Healing the Split – Integrating Spirit Into Our Understanding Of The Mentally Ill by John E Nelson, MD. Because there is evidently a severe case mental illness (likely paranoid schizophrenia) in one of my childhood siblings, this book has really spoken to a heart that will always have concern about her well-being, even if my relationship with her has become hostile from her side of the equation. But the book goes into much more than merely mental illness but deeply into how spirituality evolves in a human being. As a matter of fact, I had my own spiritual emergency in my early 20s and but for my own realization around that, I might have ended up very much like my sister who has had a multi-year stint of homelessness (but not presently, thanking all that is good).

One of the topics that gets touched on – but mostly very briefly overall – is borderline personality disorders. There are nine classic symptoms from chronic emptiness to uncontrollable anger, and there is a lot of variation from symptom to symptom. You can read about all of them at The Mighty from where today’s graphic was sourced. The 5 types briefly are Affective, Impulsive, Aggressive, Dependent and Empty. These are also discussed more in depth at the link.

In the blog I refer to at the beginning of my own, she says that it is a disorder of instability and impulsivity. In relationships, moods and behavior and sense of self. She goes on to ask – “OK how many adoptees reading this have already put their hands up as recognizing themselves in that description?” She prefers to call the traits of borderline personality disorder – “adoptee functioning.” She goes on to say of the 9 traits – “this is pretty typical behavior for someone who has experienced being relinquished at birth, and it is the way that adoptees function, rather than it being dysfunctional.” 

She concludes – “I am going to re-label Borderline Personality Disorder as Adoptee Adaptive Personality, caused by relinquishment.”

Adoption Can’t Give This

Dr Nelson, in his book – Healing the Split, suggests the ideal gestation, birth and infancy circumstances for healthy development in a child. This goes beyond the obvious and unavoidable trauma of separating an infant from their natural mother or any emotional distress that mother feels while pregnant and planning to surrender her baby to adoption.

Here is what he suggests – some of the best pregnancy, birth and infant care advice I have already encountered during my own last two pregnancies and baby care days, beginning in the early 2000s.

In pregnancy, this mother might be treated as special by her own loving selfobjects, so that she finds it easy to maintain a placid inner state. Her pregnancy would allow her extra time to meditate regularly and through this practice she establishes an unspoken communion with her unborn fetus with the subconscious residues of her own early life experiences resolved.

As the time of her child’s birth nears, the mother rehearses breathing and pelvic exercise to facilitate her natural delivery. As the child enters the world, he is welcomed into a softly lit room, the predominant feature of which is his mother’s warm skin and breast as she gently bathes and massages him.

The synapses that are rapidly proliferating within his still unfinished brain form a physical supporting grid for a psychic self that is primed to accept soothing, is ready to trust and can intuit a sense of belongingness.

As the newborn’s psyche begins to construct holographic patterns of the consensual world, his empathic parents instinctively anticipate his needs, neither overstimulating him nor leaving him wanting. Wordless harmonies resonate between him and his caretakers and condition his own fundamental vibrational patterns. These harmonies are periodically broken by inevitable frustrations and deprivations but timely reunions with empathic parents quickly restore synchronous patterns within his psychic field.

As the child grows into a toddler, empathic mirroring enlivens his tentative explorations of a world apart from mother, followed by just a little extra soothing that directs his psychic energies along navigable neural pathways. This compensates for his inborn exaggerated stress reaction and enables him to incorporate his mother’s self within his own without fear of engulfment. His self-secure mother joyfully encourages his wary independence and offers a fresh measure of support during what is a particularly lengthy rapprochement period. This insures that his slowly forming self-boundaries can withstand the social challenges that this unusual child will later endure.

As the child learns to communicate, his parents take pains to be consistent in their rewards and punishments. When he is excited and hyperaroused, they set firm limits on his behavior and they teach him to cope with this and similar altered states of consciousness by monitoring his breathing and concentrating on his inner awareness, especially his feelings. They teach him to ask for a massage and also to give one back. Both calm a turbulent arousal. Kindly, they teach him to laugh at them, and at himself.

Dr Nelson believes that as many as half of all permanently disabling psychotic altered states of consciousness could be prevented or diverted into a favorable life pathway if given the right start in life.

Family Breakdown

Painting by Mary Cassatt 1889

Some reading I was doing today in a book titled Healing the Split by John E Nelson MD caused me to reflect on my mom’s adoption from a new perspective.

He writes – “While there remains much to learn and study, schizophrenogenic mothers bring a sense of incompleteness to child raising. This is not the same as that mother rejecting her child.”

“Quite the contrary. She regards him as particularly close and significant for her. She needs her child in a distorted way as much as her child needs her.”

This causes me to reflect on my maternal grandfather. His very young mother gave birth to him AFTER her husband, his father, has died. He was her first born (even as my grandmother was her father’s first born and his wife had died but only after the 5th child was born) and remained extraordinarily close to her all her life.

As much as I have blamed my maternal grandmother’s widowed father for not supporting her and my mother, when it appeared that my maternal grandfather (whether this was entirely true or not) had abandoned her at 4 months pregnant – there remains this question in my own heart that can never be answered now. Why did he leave her and why did he not come to her defense when she returned to Tennessee from Virginia after my mom had been born and reached out to him through the Juvenile Court in Memphis.

With the same kind of destructive failure to be supportive that I blame my maternal grandmother’s family for, I do also believe that my maternal grandfather’s mother was not supportive of him. I believe she was not happy he had married my grandmother nor did she want anything to do with the child they conceived while married.

I can never know this for certain but why didn’t he take her back to Arkansas with him, when his WPA job in Memphis ended ? It could be because he was dependent upon his mother since she was caring for his children after their mother, his wife, had died – so that he could go to work in Memphis.

So, I believe the deck was stacked against both of my mom’s natural parents raising her – by her very own grandparents, their father and their mother, one on each side of the parental equation.

Dr Nelson notes in his book – “Any movement toward autonomy leads him to feel that she cannot survive without him, added to his certainty that he cannot survive without her. For him to individuate would destroy them both.” Just the thoughts percolating in my own mind this afternoon related to my own familial adoption stories.

No, I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day

Oh, little darling of mine
I can’t for the life of me
Remember a sadder day
I know they say let it be
But it just don’t work out that way
And the course of a lifetime runs
Over and over again

~ lyrics in Mother and Child Reunion by Paul Simon

A Disconnect

I’ve been reading about infant development lately in a book titled Healing the Split – Integrating Spirit Into Our Understanding of the Mentally Ill by John E Nelson MD. I often reflect on my own mothering of my daughter at the age of 19. Though the love was never lacking, I was not as good of a mother for her as I might have been, had I know how to be a good mother.

I believe some of that comes of the slight disconnect in my own parents as regards their parenting of us. It is not their fault, they were both adopted. Oh, they were good parents, not abusive, and we knew they loved us but there was something missing in them and it affected their parenting of us.

What was missing in my parents were their natural mothers, who carried them in their wombs and gave birth to them, may have breastfed them. I know that was true with my dad. I don’t have a record of that for my mom. She was taken to an orphanage for temporary care by her own financially desperate mother and put on a formula. My dad was allowed to stay with his mother and continue to nurse for some months as he accompanied her when she was employed by the Salvation Army, through who’s home for unwed mothers she had given birth to him.

I was reflecting on this as I sat out on the deck overlooking the field at my writer’s retreat. I was bundled up in a cozy jacket as the temperature is not more than the mid-30s and drinking warm tea.

I was thinking about how my mom took my bottle from me at 13 months to give to my newborn younger sister. My mom intended no harm, she didn’t know better. We can’t do better than we know how.

So, as I was drinking the warm tea, I imagined mothering myself. I imagined being warm and cozy in the soft embrace of my mother, drinking in the warm, nourishing liquid.

In that moment, I forgave my mom and had to extend that forgiveness to myself. I can acknowledge that I might have done better if I had know how to do better and in realizing that, I can acknowledge that my own mother would have done better had she known how to do better.

My late life sons (born when I was 47 and 50 years old) have benefitted from having a better mother in me. Certainly, I did have previous experience when the first boy was born and I had a huge amount of support from my in-laws who came every day for the first 4 months and only stopped when my husband begged me to ask them to back off.

My husband was always a good and nurturing co-parent as he did not become a father until he was personally ready to commit to that responsibility. When the second boy was born, he doubled down on the attention he gave the older boy, that he suffer less from the loss of attention of his mother, due to a newborn in the house.

It was a situation that I had to rectify when the younger boy was about 2 or 3 and the older one about 6 as he was acting out a lot to get my attention. With sufficient attention from me, that behavior quickly ceased and the younger boy benefitted from having more dad time.

Hindsight doesn’t replace ignorance but ignorance is not willful neglect.

Folkeregister

I’ve been reading a book titled Healing the Split – Integrating Spirit Into Our Understanding of the Mentally Ill by John E Nelson MD. My youngest sister is affected by a chronic and profound mental illness, likely paranoid schizophrenia based upon her expression of this challenging condition. Therefore, I want to understand this as much as possible.

So imagine my surprise at encountering the portion I will share with you in today’s blog. When I learned the identity of my dad’s father, I discovered he was a Danish immigrant, not yet a citizen though he would become one in the 1940s and he was married (not to my dad’s mother). With that discovery, I remain forever interested in anything to do with Denmark. I am fortunate as well to now have a direct link to a cousin in this family who lives in Denmark.

The Folkeregister, is a Danish registry containing detailed birth, family history, health records and circumstances of death for virtually every person in that country. Researchers used this resource in an attempt to separate the effects of genetic endowment from the tribulations of childhood.

Therefore, the researchers started their study looking at entire generations of people with mental problems, then cross-referenced their results with dozens of traits. To isolate inherited traits from environmentally induced ones, they focused on children adopted at birth and raised by families unrelated to the natural parents. They readily determined that children adopted from families of schizophrenic parents are more likely to become schizophrenic than children adopted from non-schizophrenic parents – no matter the circumstances of their upbringing.

But when researchers compared identical and fraternal twins who were separated at birth and raised in foster homes. they found the unexpected. The concordance for schizophrenia between identical twins is less than 50%. Identical twins have exactly the same genetic structure from conception. We would expect 100% concordance – if genes are the ONLY cause of schizophrenia. Clearly, genetic influence is powerful but other forces are involved. There are indications that ongoing genetic mutations create new genetic expressions of schizophrenia.

Not all psychotic ASCs (Altered States of Consciousness) reflect genetic abnormalities or primary brain disorders. What is inherited is a predisposition for idiosyncratic thinking and for developing psychotic ASCs when under stress. If genes do predispose some people to schizophrenia, what is the final trigger that pushes the person over that edge or boundary ? We know that family and social environments profoundly affect a growing brain, which changes throughout life. So the outcome of genetic predispositions to certain ASCs might be entirely different from family to family and culture to culture.

So both good news and cautionary expectations when one has this presented in their family line.