The Normal Dysfunctional Adoptee-Adoptive Parent Relationship and Development of the "Adoptive Identity"
Identity And Relationships
What is identity and what makes it so crucial when speaking of adoption? I believe it is something that makes adoptees feel a kind of alienation all their lives, beginning with their adoptive families. Adoptees call it genetic confusion.
This confusion begins when the baby is separated from the first mother and begins his life with his adoptive mother. At birth a baby knows his mother through his senses: smell, touch, sight of mother’s face, tone of voice, heartbeat, resonance. No matter how wonderful the adoptive mother, she doesn’t pass the sensory test. The baby is confused, terrified, angry; then sad, helpless, hopeless, alone. Where is mom? Although the cutting of the umbilical cord separates the mother and child physically, they are not yet separated psychologically. They are what Eric Neumann calls “the mother/baby.” The psychological separation is an intra-psychic process that happens gradually during the first year of life. So the relinquished baby feels, not only the loss of the mother, but also the loss of part of the Self.
From the moment the baby is separated from the first mom and gives up hope of connecting with her again, she begins to cope with that loss. These coping mechanisms are outlined in my first book The Primal Wound: the effects of separation trauma on her attitudes, feelings, and behavior. Those behaviors, which emanate from the child’s early experience of separation and loss, do not give an accurate picture of who the child is. Many adoptees have written to me after having read The Primal Wound and said something to the effect: “You know me better than anyone.” Yet, I don’t know them at all. What I do know is how they may have responded to being separated from their first mothers. What I know is how they coped. This coping behavior is most noticeable in the adoptive home. Sometimes others—neighbors, teachers, strangers—actually see more of the true identity of adoptees than their own families.
Why is this? It seems crucial for the adoptee to fit as well as possible into the adoptive family. Since he doesn’t have any genetic cues, he has to find all his cues from his environment. In many cases adoptees are basically so different from their adoptive parents, it is a wonder they survive in those families. However, to survive is to adapt, so every day the adoptee tries to figure out how to be in that family. But because he is basically different, he always may feel somewhat of a failure at this. First of all he failed to keep first mom, and now he is failing to truly fit into this new family. What do you suppose this does to self-esteem?
Life goes on and the adoptee is struggling on two fronts: trying to figure out how to be a part of her adoptive family without any genetic cues, and how to deal with all the feelings she has about what has happened to her, while trying very hard not to be abandoned again. Fear of abandonment is a driving force (or a paralyzing agent) in the life of every adoptee. Although not consciously remembering that devastating event, the experience is imprinted on every neuron/cell in her body. Something happened which changed her life forever and she has to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Because she doesn’t know exactly what that event was, she has to be very, very vigilant.