Friday, January 20, 2017

What Drives My Continuing Dysfunction

By DavisP
Male, 1940's adoptee, Searched for biological parents and  found graves.  In reunion with half-brothers.

I was adopted over 70 years ago. If this event is affecting me today (and it still has that power) then it must be that I have carried something forward from that time. The event itself was over in a relatively short time.
The point is that today, I am not the victim of someone else’s action that happened so long ago. Today, I am affected by my own deeply rooted beliefs, which I formed back then. Neither my natural-parents nor my adoptive-parents drive my dysfunction. I do.
That is not to say that they didn’t cause the event. Certainly they did and they will always be responsible for that. It would be nice if they and society in general had some compassion for what it is like for adoptees but that seems to be in short supply. The very word adoption hides the issue. The issue is not being taken in by another family; it is being relinquished by our first family.
My favorite saying is “Mind is cause, experience is effect.”  Unfortunately this is true for adoptees, too.
Paul Sunderland, has a very good youtube talk ( ). He talks about adoptees having PTSD. When we have a life threatening event our brain can be rewired. This seems to be especially true for the Limbic System of the brain. It controls our fight, flee, or freeze response. It tries to keep us safe. Since it supports our very survival, it responds quickly and forcefully. The part of our brain that does reasoning and logic is the cerebellum. It takes awhile to analyze, so is not nearly as fast to respond. Our initial response is driven by the limbic system.
When we experienced separation from our mothers it was traumatic. We had no sense of self separate from her. We felt ripped apart and from this trauma we formed a set of beliefs. I suspect that we hold these beliefs in our limbic brain.
Some thoughts:
1   Before we had a concept of self and other, we were ripped apart.
2   Because of 1 we are afraid to trust.
3   Because of 2 we don’t let others be close to us.
4   Because of 3 we are on our own – if we are lucky we find a therapist or spouse that helps us see ourselves. Sometime we let other adoptees see us and that   can help, too.
5   Our trauma occurred preverbal, so the beliefs formed are hard to get at.
I  have uncovered a few of the beliefs that I formed with my adoption trauma.
A    “Feelings hurt. Don’t” 
I shut down my feelings for about 50 years. Recently I heard an interview with Bessel Van der Kolk, who is an expert on trauma. One of the things he said is that trauma often causes a disassociation between body and mind. This felt so validating. I have no memory of trauma, so it is easy for me to minimize the effect it has had on me.
B    “I am a mistake.” 
Toxic shame – not that I made a mistake – I am the mistake.
C    “If you see me then you will throw me away.”
Why I have always been reluctant to let people get close.
D    “I am not lovable.” 
This affects my ability to feel loved. I am handicapped. I may be loved and suspect I am, but it is hard to let it in. This is devastating.
I feel sure there are other beliefs of the same ilk floating around in my subconscious. Even those that I am aware of are still there in a weakened state.
The problem of discovering these beliefs is that they were written in a language without words and the translation does not come easily.
So, as I see it, what drives my continuing dysfunction is me and my beliefs..
A study of WWII vets showed that the memory response over time of vets who had PTSD and those who did not was significantly different.  Those who did not have PTSD moderated their memories over the years. Those with PTSD kept their vivid memory descriptions constant.
We search and search for something to make us whole, or at least stop the pain. We want to fit in somewhere. For some finding our birth families may help, but it seems to me that I don’t really fit there either. There always seems to be a hole, something is missing, we are somehow incomplete. This may be our PTSD frozen memory of being one with our mother. A place we can never go back to.


  1. Thoughts shared by many adoptees. Thank you DavisP

  2. That so explains how I have felt my entire life.

  3. Thank you, it was written for myself, but if it helps other adoptees that is wonderful.

  4. Thank you. You are helping me put my feelings to words. I recently reunited with my birth family, which is a large and close group. I'm having a hard time believing them when they say I'm Family because they still do things that I'm excluded from. I thought I'd feel whole after finding them, but I'm in the midst of grieving the fact that I'll never really be Family.

  5. Thank you. You are helping put words to my feelings. I recently celebrated the 1 year anniversary of reuniting with my birth family, which is a large and close group. I thought I'd somehow feel whole after finding them. Not so much. In fact, I'm feeling more left out than ever since they do things without including me but say I'm family. I feel like I'm grieving now.

  6. Kelly,
    Of course you are grieving. Many of us (if not most) had the unacknowledged idea that finding our b-family would somehow fix us and we would suddenly feel that we belong. Personally, I find I don't quite belong with my b-family either. My sense of not belonging is within me.

    Why don't you join us in our forum:
    It is for adoptees only and you will find people who understand.

  7. Love the article!!I too am a 70 yo male who was adopted at birth, Found my BMother in 1995, she passed in 2012 and would never tell me the name of my bfather and took that to her grave, or didn't know ?


  9. Jack,
    Thank you. DNA testing can find your b-dad and his family. Who knows maybe you have siblings.

  10. Thanks, what solutions have you fiund?

  11. That is the fundamental questions and not simple to answer. I have found the following things helpful:
    1) I have accepted that I experienced a major trauma when I was separated from my b-mom. And this trauma affected me deeply. I have no memory of trauma, but it is real non-the-less.
    2) I have learned to grieve. I did not know that I needed to grieve - indeed that I even knew that I had things to grieve.
    3) I have learned to feel. I shutdown my feelings for nearly 50 years - is called disassociation and is common in trauma.
    4) Joining an adoptee support group and being with other adoptees - sharing our stories and hearing others has been helpful and healing.

    You are welcome to join us in our forum.

  12. Hello!
    I watched the video from Paul Sunderland and realized why my episodes, events, issues and feelings have a reason. Thank you for bringing attention to this. So helpful.

  13. Yes,we are not defective or crazy - we have experienced major trauma and are hurting. Hope you join us in the forum. It helps to talk to people who understand.

  14. Yes, we are not defective or crazy. We have experienced major trauma and are hurting. Hope you join us on the forum. It helps to talk with people who understand.

  15. I love the way you spelled all this out. I have constantly been frustrated by my inability to control the reptilian part of my brain, to understand the things that happened to me when I was preverbal. It takes so much work for me to be happy and ok with myself and if anything is not perfect for me, e.g., I am tired or upset, I lose the ability to use my hard earned skills and coping mechanisms. Thanks for a wonderful post.

  16. Hi Meg,
    I understand. Our reptilian brain can just take over and we lose the ability to think rationally. And it all happens so quickly that it is hard to even understand what happened.

    I invite you to join with other adoptees on our forum where we talk about our shared experiences. It is very helpful both to hear the experience of other adoptees and to share our own. It can be a bit scary at first just because we are not used to sharing our thoughts and feelings.