Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Quote From What I'm Reading: Ghosts in the Adopted Family

This week, I read an article by BJ Lifton called "Ghosts in the Adopted Family."  It is about therapists being aware of the invisible grief and loss that those clients impacted by adoption carry with them.  It was published in the Jan/Feb issue of Psychoanalytic Inquiry.

The portion I'd like to quote is from the conclusion of her article:
"Those adoptees already in Reunion need help in integrating their two selves—the one who grew up adopted and the alternate one who might have been" (Lifton, 2010, p. 8).
I have heard adoptees talk about their "Selves," the Self on their adopted path, and the Self as they might have been had they been raised by their biological families.  When you're not reunited and have no one to ask questions to about your original family or are only going by what the agency passed along, filling in the blanks can be difficult.  Some adoptees might not think about it.  Other adoptees might fill in the blanks with things they've imagined.  Dropping what you once thought was true but isn't, and thinking how the "would have been" and the "is" now come together, is an interesting journey, to say the least.

Lifton, B. (2010). Ghosts in the Adopted Family. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 30(1), 71-79. doi:10.1080/07351690903200176.

Photo credit:  jscreationzs


Von said...

Great quote and much food for pondering.

Assembling Self said...

Oh wow, that's is SO true. The person we "might" have been is always with is in some capacity as adoptees. It's almost like having a twin in another dimension. I don't think I've ever cognitively thought of it that way, but felt it on an emotional level my whole life. It never ceases to amaze me the self discoveries we continue to make about ourselves as adoptees.

CullyRay said...

interesting... I said the usual cruel things to my Mom (you're not my Real Mom, you don't love me) but it wasn't until I learned about my Natural Mother that I ever thought (realistically) about what my life might have been like if I had grown up with her.
Thank you for acknowleging that some adoptees do not think about a different life. I always thought that how I was, was how I would have been no matter what. I'm guessing that that is because I always had soft loving places to land (my Grandma and my Aunt & Uncle, and even my Mom when I was little). I did fantasize about what my life would have been like if my Dad had not died.

Campbell said...

"Dropping what you once thought was true but isn't..."

This happened to me. Because I knew better than to believe 100% my non identifying biological info supplied to me by the government, I was prepared for inaccuracies or out and out lies. Even with this knowledge which I'd gained through my sister, it was a little weird. Some things were better than I expected, some things were worse, and some I am still not convinced I'm being told the truth.

For a long time I'd thought I had an older half brother but I'm told that isn't true.

I liked having an older half brother.

Amanda Woolston said...

Von, Lifton is always great to quote isn't she? She "gets" so much of it.

Cully, I'm sorry about your dad :-(

Assembling Self, I am making new discoveries every day I feel like lol.

Campbell, thank you for sharing that. My First Mom thought I was being adopted by a family that already had a son so that I would have a brother. It's bizzare how information gets passed along that isn't true--and frustrating.

Anonymous said...

As an adult adooptee (46 years young - adopted when I was 7, taken away from my biological family at 5) I am now grateful for the experiences I have had in life. Although at times this has been tough road for me, I have to admit these unique experiences have made me a happier, more stable, and educated person. I wake up every day happy to be alive and having the loving family I have. Paula A.

Lorraine Dusky said...

It was difficult for my daughter and I to talk about adoption issues--she more or less wanted to avoid it--but we did on a couple of occasions after we had been in reunion for a couple of decades. One time I was even able to tape her as she talked.

She spoke of feeling conflicted sometimes between her two mothers, which was made especially difficult as her adoptive mother came to dislike me as I continued to be a part of Jane's life. This was largely complicated by the fact that she was raising Jane's kept daughter when Jane was unable to for emotional reasons, possibly largely the result of her epilepsy.

But one day she said, almost offhandedly: If I told the truth, both of your feelings would be hurt.

I have often thought of that as one of the saddest things she said, because it was a reality in her life.

lorraine from

First Mother Forum

Anonymous said...

My adoptive family as they call it tends towards Asperger's traits. I am no where near that end of the spectrum. And my brother who was adopted but not biological tends towards antisocial traits. I am also no where near that end of the spectrum. As you can imagine there was a lot of abuse and general confusion in my household growing up.

I'm 27 now and a female. The concept of "self" and "selves" as you have mentioned is something that I have struggled with in adulthood. It's a fight between impulses, biological rhythm versus conditioning, how your adoptive parents, the people who had control over you raised you.

I was an international adoptee. I have no interest in meeting my birth family at this point though I have visited my first country. But I will tell you this. I am an extremely complex and complicated person because of my experience mentally and emotionally. I drive myself nuts. I have so much energy and so much going on inside, not negative stuff, mostly excitement at this point, that I have difficulty taming myself. I have problems living in "reality" in America.

The happier and more liberated that I become from my wounds, the more crazy and outcast I feel because the "self" that I've been hiding is emerging, and I simply don't care what people think they are looking at.

Yet the whole concept of "self" and "selves" is really at the core of it all. Do I wake up in the morning and be mom and dad's perfect child? (Which is boring to me). Or do I wake up and be the synthesis of my incompleteness? Part this, part that, etc. I sometimes fantasize about having a great connection with my family of origin but I know it won't be like what I have in mind.

In honestly I think that our problems with "self" really interrupt our lives because most of us are truly not happy. If we are happy, and when I am happy, which is 90% of the time now, I'm cool with just rocking out to what I am in the moment and I have a good time and make positive connections with people. But it's real hard to be happy when you are put in this position and given this "condition" in life to deal with.

For me, I am just learning that I have to rock my own path! I can't follow my adoptive mom or my a. dad's footsteps and find joy. I will only find struggle, sorrow, and loss. Nor can I follow my birth families footsteps because I have no real clue of who they are and they were campesinos. There isn't really even campesino life in the United States. So for me it's about finding the middle ground and inventing myself. What's wrong with that? Whole cultures invent themselves with time, why can't I?

But it is scary to stray from the hands and path that raised you. They were our guideposts, our adoptive parents, yet often times inside us we urge for something else. Too often I think there is too much fear between the a. parents and a. kids because of this abyss that separates us genetically, the rhythm of our soul. If a. parents knew how to let their kids be different from them while doing their best to ensure that their world is safe, rather than complain about the differences, it may be easier to be raised but it will never cure the first wounds. The problem is most a. parents who adopt kids have it in mind consciously or unconsciously to form the child similarly to themselves. Heaven forbid the shame my mother felt when she coined me "an early developer" of breasts! I was normal for my group of people. But for hers, apparently not. I could go on, but there is just too much. One day when the world is healed people won't have these crazy stories anymore. Sorting though adoption is a waste of time and it's not an adaptive strategy for cultures as a whole because of the detriment to the minds of the people who grow up this way. But neither is poverty, malnutrition,addiction, abuse, ect. We have a long way to go as a planet. Safe journey's to us all.