Understanding Rejection in Adoption Reunions
Carlini Institute for Therapy, Research and Transpersonal Education
Understanding Rejection in Adoption Reunions
Copyright Heather Carlini, C.M.Ht.2005
Having worked in post-adoption counselling for twenty –five years now, I have seen both adoptees and natural mothers experience rejection at the end of a long search (for each other).
Nothing is more devastating … it is like a vexation of the Soul. I believe that the mother and child have a Soul Contract on a spiritual level, a subconscious yearning to meet each other so they can heal the pain of separation.
Unfortunately, these healing journeys are not always done together, in which case, both adoptee and natural mother must then finish their healing journeys alone.
However, if an adoptee does find his or her natural mother, she is not always prepared for this happening and may go into shock, followed by a state of fear. This reaction on her part will come across as "rejection" to the adoptee. What has happened is that for that moment, the younger fragmented self that was buried deep inside her has reawakened. This is the part of her that holds the fear.
As a young woman she may have been coerced into adoption by past cultural attitudes towards children born to unwed mothers. Since there was no support system such as we have today, she believed she had to do what others insisted was best for her baby. She relinquished the child in spite of her misgivings and need to nurture it.
To live with this decision of separation and cope with the emotional pain in her psyche, she buried the pain within herself and fragmented this part of her from her outward personality. To hide the truth from both herself and those around her, she took on a façade. For example, she may have maintained a personality as a people-pleaser, which would gain her acceptance and approval from others.
However, convinced she was unworthy of keeping her child and never having known where her child was, the fragmented side of her personality remained in a state of fear, anger, sadness, unworthiness, guilt and shame. These feelings can remain locked up in the subconscious mind and on a cellular level for years, unless she finds some way to heal.
In many such cases, the natural mother feels this psychosomatic body pain on anniversary dates such as her child's birthday. Sadness, depression and anger rise into her conscious mind, but it is unlikely she knows what is causing these emotions unless she is consciously able to acknowledge her hidden pain.
If her relinquished child suddenly calls her years later, the fragmented self within her brings all the cellular memories to the surface. Unexpectedly, she is reliving the surrender of her baby. Hearing the adoptee's voice suddenly reawakens this alternate reality. Every cell in her body is recognizing that familiar emotional chemistry from the past trauma. As each emotion has its own chemistry code, those same emotions she experienced at the time of relinquishment are now surfacing and the pain and fear are overwhelming her.
The emotions of sadness, anger, unworthiness, guilt and shame are all awake and she goes into momentary turmoil. In some natural mothers the first emotion to awaken is fear and this is what the adoptee sees as rejection. Unfortunately, he/she does not understand that the natural mother is re-experiencing the abstract feelings that are left over from the disenfranchised grief that she was never permitted to handle in the past. For that moment she feels like that young woman of years ago when she felt herself unworthy of being able to respond to a call from her child.
She may also fear that the adoptee is going to be very angry with her for the relinquishing him or her as a baby when it was at their most vulnerable stage in life.
She searches her memory banks for a reference point that will tell her how to handle this situation in the present, but she can't find one. As a result she may experience one of three types of symptoms. The first may be hyperarousal in which the lower emotions of anger, fear, guilt and shame are felt to the extreme. These are the emotions she experienced when she had to surrender her baby, that were locked into her body cells and are now reawakened.
She may then go through a stage of intrusive symptoms in which she needs to tell the story over and over to anyone who will listen, looking for validation and support. The truth is finally out and it has become "real". The third symptom is constriction which makes her feel powerless so that she goes into a state of surrender, shutting down all her emotions. These three stages are classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Most natural mothers experience them to some degree when faced with reunions. These symptoms will oscillate from one to the other until she finds a way to heal her inner pain.
Consequently, rejection isn't always what is seems. It is really about the fear the natural mother is experiencing along with the other hidden emotions from the past that she was never given permission to heal. In some cases the natural mother may regress to a state in which she is living out of the emotions of the fragmented younger self.
If you wonder why some natural mothers react so harshly while others are delighted with the idea of a reunion, the source of the problem lies in the ways she coped over the years with her loss and whether or not she was able to talk about it with others. If she allowed herself to discuss the past and had read books on adoption issues she will be delighted with the idea of a reunion. But if she locked away the pain so deeply within herself, she may have created a mental block that parallels amnesia. When the memories of the relinquishment resurface, she begins to experience the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her outward behaviour now represents a negative overreaction to what should have been a joyous event.
The adoptee should be prepared not to judge her for her initial reaction, which appears as a rejection. The natural mother needs time to find support and validation for her trauma. To accomplish this she may require counselling that will help her manage her feelings towards a reunion before it is attempted. It would be advisable for her to copy down the adoptee's phone number and/or address, enabling her to contact him/her once she has regained her composure and knows how she wants to handle the reunion.
The natural mother's initial reaction to reunion is an abstract of mixed messages clouded by fear. She should be encouraged not to turn away from her child. The pain and insecurity she feels will disappear with time and acknowledgement of the grief. If the reunion cannot be accomplished successfully, she must at least go on heal to her own trauma that the adoption has caused her over the years.
I believe we need to heal adoption issues on four levels, mental, emotional, spiritual and physical, with the guidance of a qualified counsellor. Once these issues are healed, the final process of forgiveness for herself and others will take her out of the past and into the present moment. If both mother and child can reach the point of forgiving the past, they can develop a healthy relationship and leave the past behind. Trying to intellectualize and make sense of what happened to them in the past is counterproductive to their growth in the moment. It is better that they let go of the pain and allow compassion to enter their hearts, leaving the lower emotions in the past.
copyright Heather Carlini2005