Posts Tagged Psychological abuse
I consider it a great privilege to be able to explore my black bag of shadow material (ala Robert Bly) with an experienced professional who has a lifetime of working with the ‘adoption triad’ and who is herself an adoptee. Like my sister and me, my therapist “Kay” (as I refer to her in this blog) was not told until later in life that she was adopted, which I learned in this week’s session. She said she actually considered this a gift. Unlike adoptees who know throughout childhood and inevitably cook up fantasies about their exalted biological parents, waiting at the curb for their real mom to whisk them to safety after every skirmish with their adoptive mom, this gets circumvented when you are not told until, say, forty. For me personally, it seems much more like a double-edged sword.
Never is this more apparent to me than when we attend to my favorite coping mechanism: shutting down when a hurtful zing sails in. Recently I have been more conscious and have managed to stay present to some degree. Instead of immediately going to “thinking” and relying on intellect to solve “the problem”, I am beginning to sit with my feelings. No need for reaction or even action; in fact things go better without that. It’s trite in this age of Eastern philosophical influences to say “Breathe and Stay Present”, but there is a reason the phrase is so often echoed. The view is much clearer from there.
I felt as if another epiphany was burbling up. I imagined my shoulders hunched over in a protective posture when confronted with negativity. I could see the mechanism as if viewing myself on a movie screen. Body in shamed demeanor, wondering what I said or did that was wrong, needing space and time to ‘think about what just happened’ and to weigh whether it was them or whether it really was me who crossed a line, impulsively grabbing the escape route from feeling my feelings and being present with them. For the first time I got it in my body: I’ve done this since I was a child.
I realize many children have their intuitive feelings invalidated by secret-wielding adults who tell them “No that’s wrong” when in fact it is right. Nor do I believe my adoptive parents’ denial of our adopted status was the only killing field of intuition from my childhood. One teacher in particular, the principal of the private parochial school we attended until high school, ruled her minions with an iron will. And she appointed me the official class snitch. I often found myself in her office facing the unsavory choice of telling her which boys were popping the girls’ bra straps at recess or who brought The Woodstock Story Book to school in exchange for release from the solitary confinement she threatened.
So it is that we must undo the sins of our ‘role models’ in order to clear the path.
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.
Yesterday I had my first full-blown session with “Kay”, a retired therapist who specializes in adoptee issues. Again, as with the first consult, I sobbed my way through. And while I characterized that first consultation harshly (see “I’d Rather Be Quilting”) I absolutely loved what my friend Kathy said about the tears – and I quote: “I love it when those trapped emotions emerge. Like a spring rain.”
So it was that the unexpected deluge recurred. As I began to weave the verbal tapestry of my past, a shocking label emerged from Kay. ”Carol, by repeatedly lying to you and your sister all those years, even when you asked them outright if you were adopted, and by compelling their family and friends to secrecy, your adoptive parents were emotionally abusive. When an adult in a caregiver role continuously invalidates a child’s internal intuitive knowing, that is emotional abuse.” It was stunning for me to hear this. I had never thought of my adoptive parents, Carol and Del, as anything but ‘good’ parents who were religiously and politically misguided. It required someone emotionally objective to connect the dots for me.
All the years of not nestling up to my adoptive mother made perfect sense in an instant. And in the mysterious way that life has of offering up opportunities for reparation, I have evolved from a distant and mixed heap of feelings about mom to loving the dickens out of her now that she has lost her mind. As I said to Kay through tears, “If there’s ever any question that this ‘dropping attachment to form’ bull* is just some new age spiritual guru‘s book-selling ticket to nirvana, think again.”
So in addition to identifying the people pleasing and the going underground with hurt feelings for fear I’ll be left – which taps back into that original trauma of bio-mom actually leaving for no apparent reason other than the fact that I must not be lovable - I have a new piece to work with.
As I have observed through past painful experiences, healing is not a linear affair. Like the punch line to a joke I love but can never remember, I am learning to deliver the truth with better timing.
Today I had two small victories. When my partner Margie asked me this morning after an exchange, “What’s wrong?” – I gave my standard response, “Oh, nothing.” Then I walked the dog, came back home and said, “When you asked me what was wrong earlier, I invalidated your intuition by saying it was nothing – and I don’t want to do that.” We talked.
Later I got another crack at it. Margie said something hurtful to me and again came the inquiry a half hour or so later, “Is there something wrong?” By now I was an old pro and I didn’t need a dog walk to get to the straight dope honestly and without a charge.
Later as we walked the dog together, Margie commented, “See, you told me how you feel and I’m still here.”