The Three Faces of Adoptees

Seminar for 2013 AAC – Cleveland
By Nancy Verrier, MFT

Children who are separated from their mothers early in life have different issues to deal with than those who are kept and cared for by their mothers. The relationship with the mother is the cornerstone for all future relationships. We are mammals and are meant to be close to our mothers in our early years. (Just watch Animal Planet and see how mothers and babies interact.)

All mammals know their own mothers through all their senses. Therefore when a baby is immediately taken from the bio mom and handed over to another mom, the baby is confused and disoriented. “Where is mom?” The new mom doesn’t pass the “sensory test.” She doesn’t sound right, or smell right, or feel right, or have the right resonance or energy. The infant becomes disregulated. This is no one’s fault except that we continue to ignore it and therefore don’t address it. What does the child do?

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Transitional Adoptions

By Nancy Verrier, MFT

Adoption is a difficult enough trauma for any child who is taken away from his or her first mother. That child is primed to be welcomed into the world, protected, and nurtured by this mother with whom he has been physically, emotionally, and spiritually connected for nine months. Every sensory aspect of the child expects her, knows her, wants her. Therefore, when an infant is whisked away and placed in a nursery away from mom and then placed in the arms of another woman, it is disorienting, confusing, and terrifying.

Try to picture, then, the infant who is placed in an institution such as an orphanage instead of getting the full attention of another “mother,” even the “wrong” mother. How does that infant feel? What happens when the child is deprived of the kind of nurturing that any infant needs, which is pretty constant? Then after being in this place with many other children and a lack of sensory stimulation, she is placed in the arms of another mother and whisked, not just to another town or city, but to another country where there is a different culture, different food, different smells, different sounds, and often a different language. What then?

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Awareness, Authenticity, and Accountability

An Essay for Adoptees
By Nancy Verrier, MFT

First of all, every one of you has a right to be in this world, find happiness, and maintain good relationships. However, when one begins life with a trauma, especially one as devastating as losing ones mother, one begins to compensate and cope with that trauma from that moment on. These coping behaviors are meant to defend against another devastating loss. Because relinquishment usually takes place during the time of implicit memory, rather than explicit memory, a child doesn’t remember the event which caused those coping mechanisms to kick in. He just knows he has to keep himself safe.

What do I mean? A baby is born ready to be welcomed into the world, protected, and nurtured by this mother with whom she was genetically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually connected for nine months. Every sensory aspect of the infant expects her, knows her, wants her. When the baby is whisked away to a nursery or placed in the arms of another woman, she is confused, disorientated, and terrified. Where is mom? A few mothers assert their rights and demand to hold their babies after birth. Those are the lucky babies. But many mothers do not. They certainly aren’t encouraged to do so, even though the nurses should know that there are post-natal, hormonally-connected responses between mother and child which need to take place.

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Adoptees and the Double Standard

By Nancy Verrier, MFT

One of the things that people in relationship with adoptees complain about is that adoptees don’t seem to realize how they affect their partners, parents, or friends. Although they are exquisitely aware of how they are affected by others, they seem oblivious to their effect on others. There seems to be a double standard. This is one of the chief reasons many relationships fail. Here is an example of this phenomenon sent to me in an email many years ago by a woman who was planning to leave her boyfriend of two years. As she was getting ready to leave, her partner begged her to read The Primal Wound as an attempt to get her to understand his behavior as being his reaction to loss and pain. She read it and did understand better, but she wrote to me:

I have tried so hard in this relationship—I have tried to understand and to love him. I have tried to make him feel secure and I have tried to accept him. But… he has made it impossible to love him and impossible to receive love in his life. I have felt that I have been living with a child, and I hate to say it, but a monstrous child at times. The violent, uncontrollable outbursts, and the “tests” he has set for me have been a normal part of our life for two years. I am exhausted with the battle, and now understand how he can comfortably continue to participate in it. From three months after we first met, he has been working towards the day when I will leave.

And it has come.

This is the self-fulfilling prophecy of many adoptee relationships. This woman recognized many wonderful qualities of her partner: gifted, intelligent, and passionate. These qualities were evident in the beginning of the relationship, before it got more serious and intimate. However, the closer they got, the more dangerous it felt to her partner and the more he felt he had to distance himself by childlike, abusive behavior, which eventually contaminated the relationship. The woman sat up all night reading PW, but it was too late. Too much damage had been done and she wasn’t willing to wait for him to “get his act together.”
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Identity And Relationships

By Nancy Verrier, MFT

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.

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