Posts Tagged Developmental psychology
I was in my early forties when I told my adoptive mom Carol Louise that I was gay. She said to me, “This doesn’t mean I’m going to see you on the news marching in those parades in San Francisco, does it?” She was genuinely distraught – as if the mere announcement of my gender propensity would create radical behavioral changes in me, and my topless promenading figure would soon be front-page news.
As I contemplate the idea that my adoptive parents were ‘psychologically abusive’ by any google-able definition of the term in their chronic lying about our true biological origins, I also realize that this label, like that of being gay, does not annihilate other qualities they possessed. Their management of our rearing was unskillful. It caused suffering. They ‘missed the mark’ – which, interestingly enough, is the literal translation from ancient Greek (according to Eckhart Tolle) of the word “sin”. As an archer who misses the target, to sin means to miss the point of human existence. It means to live unskillfully, blindly – and thus to suffer and cause suffering.
“Skillful living” is about as easy to come by as a neighbor who has not worked on the Sabbath. I gotta believe this is what Jesus really meant when he pontificated about sin and forgiveness, and not putting to death that Sabbath ‘sinner’ (Exodus 35:2). [Am I morally obliged to kill him myself?]
My adoptive father is long dead, and my mother is slipping farther down the Alzheimer’s abyss by the week. For the past several days I can’t stop looping through this song by Don Henley, with a new meaning to his lyric:
I’m learning to live without you now, but I miss you sometimes.
The more I know, the less I understand. All the things I thought I’d figured out I’m gonna have to learn again.
I’ve been trying to get down to the Heart of the Matter but everything changes and my thoughts seem to scatter.
But I think it’s about Forgiveness.
“I’ll bet you made that appointment with your therapist right after I left and felt like you could cancel it after I got back,” my partner Margie challenged after returning from a recent trip. I used to beg my ex husband in our early years together not to travel; but I didn’t want to go with him. Once pointed out to me (okay, more than once), I could own a clear pattern of behavior: you leave, I get anxious; we leave together, I get anxious; I leave alone, I get anxious; you threaten to leave for good, I go ballistic.
The researcher and therapist in Margie compelled her to google search separation anxiety/abandonment issues. You can guess the word that began appearing with these search terms: adoptee. The next day at work she sent me this article, which launched a reading marathon. Separation anxiety is but one of a constellation of ‘traits’ that are common among adoptees and others who are separated from birth mother (separation anxiety and the many means of numbing it). And then there’s plain old garden variety anxiety, also common.
It is the mother’s role to prevent the occurrence of traumatic events that might hinder normal psychological development. Inadvertently the birth mother may set the stage for her child’s future inability to integrate with success events related to separation and loss. And since few adoptive parents know their baby is experiencing loss, they can’t be expected to minister to it.
It’s a good thing I’m a fan of paradox. For the other side of the coin which commonly manifests in adoptees relates to the development of a premature ego survival mechanism, stemming from the adopted child’s experience that the caregiver may disappear at any time. As they can’t count on anyone, self-sufficiency is a must. Paradoxically, I am nothing if not-self sufficient!
A little over fifty years ago, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus. Not long afterward the Federal Interstate Commerce Commission banned segregation on interstate trains and buses. A half century ago there were only solitary voices suggesting there was something special that transpired between a mother and her baby that cannot be learned or acquired by even the best of substitute mothers.
Why here, why now? Certainly not to place blame on biological or adoptive parents. One week ago I was none the wiser about the roots of my “quirks”, a characterization I borrow from an “incubator baby” I chatted with while getting a hair cut yesterday. This is an odyssey of self discovery fueled by a sense that with some openness and education, we can do better than we did fifty years ago.