This weekend, I started reading “Coming Home to Self: The Adopted Child Grows Up” by Nancy Newton Verrier, author of “The Primal Wound” (a classic in adoption literature). And can I just say, wow! I’m eager to read it. “Coming Home to Self” is written as an exploration of the impacts of early separation (between adoptees and their birth mothers) on how adoptees relate to self and others and explains how adoptees can use this knowledge to become more empowered in their lives – which I have to admit, I like a lot (though I’m still not sure what to make of the fact that she is writing as an adopted parent, and not an adoptee herself).
According to Newton Verrier, separation trauma is at the core of understanding the adoptee experience, and thus healing from adoption. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, separation trauma refers to an infant or child’s inability to cope with the sudden disappearance and/or loss of their birth mother. Which makes sense when we take the more general definition of trauma into account:
Trauma is “an event in the life of the victim which overwhelms her ordinary human adaptations to life.”
Considering stages of brain development, which Newton Verrier discusses at length, but which is beyond the scope of this post, infants and children might then be considered least likely to adapt to an event such as a sudden loss, because their coping strategies are less developed and are more likely to be overwhelmed. Hence, separation trauma.
Some results of separation trauma might include: the development of a false self which is then used by the adoptee to bar against what might then be perceived as further rejection and abandonment, anger, rage, fear of change and intimacy, and reluctance to accept joy and authentic connection.
Although I am only three chapters in, there is already so much about this book that I find helpful. Quite briefly I am wondering how, if at all, the premises of “Coming Home to Self” apply specifically to the experiences of those transracially placed. Certainly the experience of racial and ethnic difference adds its own unique dimensions to the aforementioned effects. Deeper critical insights are something I hope to unpack as I read further into the text.
And while I don’t think it’s necessary to pathologize the issues presented in the book, I do think that a basic understanding of separation trauma provides an optimistic and empowering framework for understanding the impacts of adoptee loss on relationships and healing, not just for adoptees, but also for anyone who seeks to support us.
Those are my initial thoughts. More to come.