Because you have lived with separation trauma your entire lives, many of you haven’t realized that what you have been feeling and experiencing is not what everyone experiences. For many of you, reading The Primal Wound was your first clue that your particular feelings and behaviors may have been caused by your experience of relinquishment and adoption. Relinquishment means separation and loss, and adoption means living without genetic markers or being reflected back. Both are traumas, one acute and one chronic, and both are going to affect your way of being in the world. Although these feelings, attitudes, and behaviors are normal for having had the experience of separation and adoption, yet they may not be serving you well in your lives today.
On the other hand, there are some of you who resist acknowledging the effects of early trauma, because you haven’t known anything else. For the doubters and naysayers, there is an excellent book by Daniel Siegel you might want to read titled The Developing Mind, which includes the neurobiological reasons that early trauma affects our behavior, emotional responses, and neurological connections. It is difficult to know that one has suffered a trauma, when that trauma happened so early in one’s life.
When someone suffers a trauma at age 30, she can go back to age 25 or 27 as a reference point for her feelings, attitudes and behaviors. She knows that she wasn’t so fearful, so mistrustful, so needing to be in control, so sensitive to rejection, so depressed and anxious. She knew who she was and it isn’t who she appears to be now. Birth mothers, who experience trauma at the time of relinquishment, often get stuck emotionally at the age at which they gave birth.
You as adoptees have no reference point. For most of you, your trauma occurred right after birth, so there is no “before trauma” self. You suffered a loss that you can’t consciously remember and which no one else is acknowledging, but which has a tremendous impact on your sense of Self and others, your emotional responses, your behavior, and your world view. Your brain synapses connected according to your perception of your environment which seemed unsafe, unfamiliar, and in need of constant vigilance. This need for vigilance may have filled you with anxiety. Some of you became compliant and tried to be perfect, while others of you acted out and tested everyone who was important to you.
As children, these behaviors are to be understood and worked with patiently and lovingly (that is if adoptive parents are given a clue that their children have experienced trauma). But as adults, it is up to you to begin to realize the impact your actions have on others and to take responsibility for those actions. This is not always easy, because many of you don’t even realize that you have an impact. (Mom leaves, baby cries, mom doesn’t come back = I have no impact, no effect, no importance.) It is the baby mind that believes you have no impact. For the “adult truth” you have to check with others. Ask your husband/wife/mother/ partner: “Did it hurt you when I did…?” Then you can modify your behavior to reflect their answer. You have to begin to notice and acknowledge the effect you are having on others and then take responsibility for it. Take it from me: You do have an impact! You do matter!
Separation from mother is the ultimate loss. Although hidden from your conscious memory, that loss affects much of how you act in relationships. To be in a mature relationship, you must learn how your beliefs differ from reality. Then you can begin to change harmful behaviors. You may be acting from your trauma and not from your true self at all. Allow others to help you distinguish between the two, and learn to act from your true self, rather than from your traumatized self.
I’ve met thousands of adoptees since the publication of my first book in 1993, and each and every one has had a unique and wonderful personality. Yet there are many similarities in their behavior patterns, some compliant, some defiant, but behavior patterns which emanated from early trauma. As adults, it is time for you to gain control in your life. By you I mean the mature adult you, not the traumatized child you. (How many of you would consciously put a three-year-old in charge of your life? Well, you may have unconsciously done just that!) You have to begin to distinguish between your child and adult selves, and act from your adult self. You owe it to yourselves and those who love you.
Remember: You deserve to be treated with love, respect, and dignity, and you deserve to treat others with love, respect, and dignity.