Saturday, 24 August 2013

Adoption PTSD and Self-Forgiveness

For most of my adult life, approximately 30 years, I have been navigating my way through the perilous and vastly unexplored terrain of adoption, and its impact on my life and on the lives of other adoptees.

When I watched the lecture by Paul Sunderland entitled Adoption and Addiction-'Remembered not Recalled', I learned something more about my life as an adoptee. It is as though I am still 'waking up from the great adoption sleep' as BJ Lifton wrote in her book 'Lost and Found'.

Paul explains that a large number of adoptees are in fact suffering from post traumatic stress. Perhaps this is what BJ Lifton was referring to when she wrote "it is as if the act of adoption put us under a spell that numbed our consciousness." Paul goes on to say that we [adoptees] believe that PTSD is part of us, because we have no pre-trauma, comparison experience, or pre-trauma personality. We are unaware that we are adapting to and coping with post traumatic stress. This is true for me. For many years I was an addict, trying to soothe my anxiety and deal with my depression, but I didn't know that I had depression and anxiety because I had never known any other way of feeling.

Adoptees are massively over-represented in treatment and on the BDI scale that measures depression, adoptees often score a very high 30 when it is usual for someone with a score of 22 to be on medication. An interesting comment that Paul makes is that adoptees with depression present very well and seem very together, you wouldn't know that they have depression. I can relate to this as I'm sure many adoptees can. We have become masters of disguise, having learned to cope with and conceal our real feelings in favour of fitting in and being accepted. Pretending was something we became very good at.

Paul says that adoption is actually one of the only conditions that doesn't describe what happened. Rather it is a denial of the relinquishment / the wound. The word adoption suggests a happy-ever-after scenario.The reality is that there is no adoption without relinquishment and trauma. Adoption is in fact saturated with immense grief.

There is the catastrophic severing, shock and grief of the baby who had bonded and attuned to the mother in utero. There is the grief of the mother who acted against her biology when she let her baby go. And then, in mine and many cases, the adoptive parents' deep and unresolved disappointment and grief associated with their inability to have their own child.

Listening to Paul's talk caused me to reflect again on some of my past irrational behaviour in relationships. I thought of the situations when my fear and pain of loss and abandonment would be triggered and I would become flooded with anxiety and anguish...all the times I withdrew, rejected, and ran away in a flight response. With hindsight, new information and new awareness, I can assuage some of the chronic shame I have carried, knowing that I have been haunted by the memory of a traumatic abandonment at the beginning of my life, a memory so deeply embedded that it could not be recalled. How can I blame myself in light of this discovery.

When I look at my mistakes and struggles in my life and relationships within the context of living with the undiagnosed condition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I find a new level of self forgiveness.

It is not our fault that many of us have had to live with post traumatic stress.
Our separation at birth was a life-threatening loss of the most important person to us and part of us...our mother. We can forgive ourselves if we have acted unconsciously from an un-recognised and unattended wound, and inadvertently hurt others. It's no wonder that an adoptee's longing for intimacy can be contrastingly filled with a terror that will sabotage what we most hunger for...lasting, loving connection.

There is so much in Paul's lecture that clarifies what we have experienced and how it has affected our brain development, our neurological, chemical and emotional pre-disposition to stress. With more information now shining light on the real effects of adoption we can validate and forgive ourselves for the consequences of relinquishment and post traumatic stress.

I've posted the link to Paul's lecture on the ShiningLight FB page.
Comments welcome!

In love, peace, and forgiveness.


  1. holy shit I could have written that. Thank you I've been realizing and coming to that understanding for the past few years

    1. I a was always lead to believe that it was something personally wrong with me and forced to take anti depressants at a young age...9yrs old. I wouldnt wish adopted life on anyone. It was a nightmare