Sunday, December 13, 2009

Marsha: The Primal Wound

The questions I chose to respond to are:
1) There are a great deal of behavioral issues that Verrier attributes to the Primal Wound of being separated from one's birthmother and subsequently adopted. These range from acting out and testing the adoptive parents to acting out and testing the adoptive parents to becoming detached, to future inabilities to maintain healthy relationships as an adult.
--------As an adoptive parent, my experience is that virtually every 'behavioral issue' that Verrier discusses in The Primal Wound existed in our family. We were not aware of Verrier's work until our daughter was almost 20 years old.

Behavior often reflects and projects pain. The adoptee often displays such behavior issues as a way to escape reality and to 'dodge' the bullet/pain of abandonment and loss. There were many 'markers' that clearly presented themselves as 'behavioral issues'. There was separation anxiety---staying at preschool, Brownies or a friend's house--- sabotaging of celebrations like birthdays, Christmas or Thanksgiving.

There was much anger--which come to find out--is a defense against sorrow. Adoptees seem to have poor frustration tolerance and impulse control. It seemed to us that is was easier for her to try to control all the rest of the family than it was to control herself. She frequently acted 'out of control'. She often 'made us' give into to her behaviors to avoid confrontations over mundane things. It was a complicated balance of wanting to 'support her' so that we didn't appear to not 'care enough'. She never took responsibilities for her actions/behavior.

Another manifestation of the trauma of abandonment is that of being unable or unwilling to allow anyone who is perceived to have abandoned the adoptee back into his life. When our daughter was just short of three years old, my husband had to move (6 months earlier than the rest of the family) to a new town for a new job. He came back to visit every other weekend. From the day he left, our daughter's relationship changed forever with him. We spent years and years never understanding why she refused to 'be with him' without me there. She wouldn't go to the park, on a walk, or anywhere with him. She often acted as if he just wasn't there.

One of the ways in which our daughter tried to prevent future losses and abandonment was to be in absolute control of every situation. Having been manipulated at the beginning of their lives makes adoptees manipulative and controlling. This need to defend against the possibilities of other losses intrudes into almost every other relationship. Our daughter often functioned under the 'rule' 'Do unto others first that which you fear they are going to do to you.'

She also virtually refused to get a job when it would have been appropriate. I would never have connected this to the adoption until Verrier stated that it was a response on adoptees behalf so that they wouldn't have to be rejected by the interviewer or boss. For us today (our daughter is 23 years old with two children of her own) there is much of the time that is consumed with a 'lack of trust in the permanency of our relationships with her' that keeps her placing 'things' in our path to test us to see if 'we will leave'----still.

Are adoptive parents ill equipped for fall out from primal wound? Did you fee prepared to address that sense of loss that your child might experience? How did you prepare yourselves? How did you help/plan to help your child resolve his/her feelings about his/her adoption?

Our adoption took place just over 23 years ago. There was absolutely NO mention of such a wound or issues of abandonment or loss. We were totally unprepared. In all honesty I doubt that there is any more preparation done by most adoption agencies today. I guess it is a difficult thing to talk about or discuss with prospective adoptive parents that they may/will face such problems. It is rather a 'downer' wouldn't you say?

I am not sure how I would tell an agency to approach that topic, but what I am sure about is that if one (person or agency) is committed to adoption being all about the child and not the adults/parents, then one MUST include Verrier's work so that when the 'need' arises (and it will) the parent(s) will be able to define what is happening and get the proper help for the child and themselves. Without those definitions/ knowledge, you all will definitely flail around, meet failures and frustrations at every level. Having that knowledge doesn't assure you that you will have smooth sailing but what it will do is give you the tools to at least proceed with some understanding instead of 'traveling down the dark alley with no flashlight'.

The best (certainly not single) example of this is the experience we had when our daughter was about eight years old. Her grandmother had passed away and subsequently we began to see many problems arise. It was hard to tell whether the problems/ behavior issues were just 'normal age related' ones or if we had crossed the line into behavior issues that we needed to pay more serious attention to. We were living in a different state than the one we adopted in. I had some contact with the adoption agency in our new state that did comparable adoptions as ours. When I called and asked the director for some recommendations for therapists so that we could ascertain if we needed special help, she said that they didn't really have a recommendation in our city for anyone except a therapist that did bonding and attachment therapy. I responded 'That certainly isn't what we need. My daughter is bonded to me at the hip'. Thanks anyway.

Now that I look back on that moment (with all the knowledge that I gleamed from 'The Primal Wound') that therapist would have been a perfect fit for our 'needs'. Perhaps we could have gotten 'therapy' that would have allowed us to 'see' and respond to the 'wound' that our daughter carried around in her 24/7. Understanding that wouldn't have given us the ticket to 'perfection', but it might have given us enough facts to develop a plan of support for her and ourselves. I therefore think it is essential for any measure of success in adoptions (for the adoptees or their adoptive parents) that all parties be given all the information surrounding the existence of the primal wound and how to (best) work towards healing (it).

A recurring message throughout the book is that adoption should be in the best interest of the child and not the adults, something that I think very few people would argue against. But should the adoptees feelings always trump everyone else's in the triad even when the adoptee is grown up?
We are 23 years out from the adoption. My daughter is married now with two small children of her own. I still get up almost every single day and ask myself that question in one way or another. That statement is not an exaggeration. We have one biological child who is 10 years older than our daughter. I am pretty sure he asks that question frequently also. I know that my husband does.

We traversed through most of the last 15 years or so of our daughter's life with her 'in control'. Of course, the truth/fact is that she couldn't be in control (although she tried and thought she was) of our lives because she'd had no control over anything in her life since birth. We went through 'behavior issues' (like running away, drugs, attendance/grade issues in school and ultimately dropping out, most holidays ruined/sabotaged by her, stealing, lying and anger-anger-anger). Much of the time we (my husband and I) walked on the thin ice between holding her responsible for her actions and not wanting her to think we weren't supporting or did not 'care enough'. We went through all that with her and never walked away or 'left her'. I say that not to pat us on the back at all, but to make the point that even though we 'never walked away or left her', she often (still) gives us the message that if our opinions differ with hers, she will never see us or talk to us again.

All that said, she will also frequently say, 'I love you and I don't know what I would do without you.' It remains a roller coaster ride. There is never a 'real/secure' period of time that we operate in a 'relaxed' state. The other shoe is always in waiting of being dropped. Having said that, I also hope that there will be a time when her 'feelings' won't trump everyone else's.

To continue to the next leg of this book tour, please visit the main list at The Open Adoption Examiner.


Leigh said...

It sounds like you and your family have been through a lot. I hope that the reading of this book has/will help you all, at least in terms of identifying maybe where some of your daughter's actions originated from. Our closest family friends (best friends of my parents) have one daughter, whom they adopted. I see a lot of their struggle in the story you share about your family. I wonder if I should recommend this book to them? Or would they find that offensive maybe? I just think it may help to explain a lot of things about their daughter, b/c I know they've been very hurt by things she's said and done, and maybe if they knew about the Primal Wound they could better understand her. ??? What a sensitive subject though...

Lora said...

Marsha, I know I am repeating myself in recommending Verriers second book. But it was written more for adults and those who love and live with them. She talks more about how to deal with it and how to get over it, how to stop being that wounded child and be a more fully functioning adult.

It might be helpful for your family and one day for your daughter. But I do know as one who took 45 years to come to terms with it, that people do it on their own time and in their own way.

Lavender Luz said...

Sounds like Verrier's second book will be as helpful as the first.

"It was a complicated balance of wanting to 'support her' so that we didn't appear to not 'care enough'."

This is a tough one for parents of a spirited child.

I wish you'd been better prepared and better supported in your efforts to help your daughter through her trauma

Thank you for sharing your insights. I hope Lora's suggestion helps both you and your daughter.

OpenAdoptMomof3 said...

Thanks Marsha for sharing some of the challenges you have faced in your family. I think you are right that adoptive parents are still unprepared for the impact of adoption on the child they begin to parent.

Thanks for pointing out your experience with a therapy recommendation. Hard to second guess at this stage, I am sure. Some therapy can be helpful, but frankly I think it can be hurtful too - unless you have the right therapist, and finding one can be a nightmare itself. Even if they purport to specialize in adoption.

Sadly, I think truly qualified therapists in this area are few and far between.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and best wishes to you as you continue to navigate what it means to be an adoptive parent.

My name is Andy. said...

Thank you, we don't hear often enough from adoptive parents whose children are now grown up. Your hindsight can be very helpful to the rest of us.

AdoptedGirlz said...

Oh wow. The way you describe living with your daughter is like how I imagine it really felt for my parents even though they would hesitate to admit it. I always had an issue. However I have fought long and hard for my healing. I have a sister who is much more bitter about her life and holds a lot against our parents. I've always felt 'The Primal Wound' in my soul and although I acted out towards my parents, I never held them responsible for my struggle. They really tried, as unprepared as they were, to help me and my sister. If we had known about this book then we could have had more peace knowing the root cause of the issues, so we would not have had to feel personally attacked by each others actions. Your post reminds me of the anger I used to glad I have released it.
In response to the adoptee's feelings "trumping" everyones elses feelings. My feeling is that the reason this happens is because there is no awareness of the Primal would which leaves everyone 'traveling down the dark alley with no flashlight'. The adoptee is certainly lost and for good reason. The real need for her is to be validated by acknowledging her pain and grief from having been separated from her birth mom. This should 'trump' all other feelings. This is the part that needs to be addressed, and having been addressed I believe this would give back the natural balance to the family dynamic. At least I know it would have for me. I felt insane emotions inside on a level that I did not know how to cope with. Parents taking the time and having the tools to guide their adopted child through 'The Primal Wound' should "trump' their feelings.
Thank you for your great post. It has given me even more clarity into how my parents and siblings have struggled through the effects of my 'Primal Wound'
Like with my sister I am frustrated to hear that your daughter keeps you walking on egg shells. I don't feel that is acceptable. You have always been there for her, like my parents have for my sister. I hope that your daughter will get a chance to understand the Primal Wound and find some healing for her and your family.
It is a process worth every frustrating, painful, emotional moment. The other side is peace.

battynurse said...

It does sound like you went through a lot and continue to do so. I think you are very right in that people who are adopting need very much to be given the information necessary to deal with the potential issues as they arise.