"Most of us have a tendency both to overestimate the importance of dispositional qualities and to underestimate the importance of situational qualities when trying to understand the causes of other people’s behavior." p.8, The Lucifer Effect, Philip Zimbardo
I am half way through the book by Philip Zimbardo titled The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. While I joked in a separate post that I purchased the book to understand how the broker who sold my child could have become so evil, the truth is that I bought the book in an attempt, a hope, to understand my own wicked ways.
The book focuses on two real life stories – The Stanford Prison Experiment and the heinous actions of the US military at Abu Ghraib. The authors position in citing both cases is the related systems must be held responsible as much, if not more than, the individual perpetrators. The author was part of the defense team for soldier(s) in the Abu Ghraib trials and argued that others, higher up the chain of command, and the military framework as a whole, contributed to, and should also be held accountable for, the crimes those soldiers committed.
There is a great deal of research provided on situational influences versus dispositional. How our environment, our authoritative bodies, parents, officers, church, etc. can influence a normally good decent person to do something criminal – even when he or she knows it is wrong. The author provides a vast array of examples from history that illustrate how presumably good people or causes can turn out to be quite evil.
I cannot help but reflect on my experiences as I read the book.
For more than twenty years, I felt that I committed a serious crime in surrendering my daughter. I mean, I knew it was wrong (why would others tell me to keep it a secret if it wasn’t something to be ashamed of?), I knew it was not what I wanted to do, yet I stifled my voice and I signed those papers and handed my infant child over to complete strangers. That to me is a criminal act (it would be if I left her in a mall but since I abandoned her in a hospital under the umbrella of "adoption" it is somehow legal and supposed to be morally acceptable.)
I feel I committed a crime against nature and against my child’s soul. As the years went by and I learned what was truly done to me by the brokers who sold my daughter, how I was lied to, coerced and intimidated with promissory notes and threats of lawsuits, about primal wound, and more, my agony increased. The older my daughter got, the more I matured, the more real the crime became. With my own maturity came a greater understanding of the crime I had comitted.
Being ignorant of the law does not make you exempt from it. Consider me guilty as charged. Yes, I am my own judge and jury.
Many feel that abortion is a criminal act against the unborn. I consider adoption, an adoption like my daughters, a criminal act against the born. If abortion is an act of murdering a body, adoption is murdering a soul – but only in part.
For me, the circumstances that lead to the surrender of my daughter to adoption was a crime and one far was worse than aborting her. For me, I feel that in effect, I did abort her. My actions, however misguded, forced her (and I) to walk around as living abortions. She, as a living aborted child and I, as an aborted mother. I aborted the child she was supposed to be and forced her to live a dual life. One with two sets of parents, two names, and a tremendous amount of conflict and anxiety.
When I ponder adoptees or first mothers who are struggling, the artist in me sees a person walking around with abortion goo all over them but smiling and acting happy about it. We are supposed to be so grateful that we were "saved" from that horrible life we would have had if we kept our children. Our children are supposed to be thrilled that they were abandoned and they should never, ever, point out the red elephant of adoption/abortion goo that dribbles down their face as if they were Carrie at the prom.
Go ahead, be shocked and horrified at my description. It should show the depth of my own horror and what I have lived with for twenty years. I did that. I caused that walking abortion for both of us.
But why? How? How does a honor student, smart girl, with "potential" from a middle class family make such a terrible decision?
I have worked hard for many years to manage my guilt and shame at doing such a horrible thing to my child. I have spent countless hours in therapy. I have read books. I have caressed, spoken to and danced with my inner child. I have attended support groups. I have taken anti-depressant medication. All this and more to manage the anxiety attacks,panic disorder, nightmares, flashbacks, irregular sleep patterns and corrosive feelings that attached themselves to my soul after I spent 5 months in a maternity home and surrendered my child to strangers. Why do I suffer this way? Why must I?
Because I did a bad thing. A very bad thing – a horrible thing. The church said so, my parents said so, the agency said so and most importantly, my heart said so.
Over the years people told me to blame the system not myself. To look at the forces that were at play and what was done and said to me. They urged me to look at how I was dehumanized, vulnerable, abandoned, and alone. They encouraged me to read up on Stockholm Syndrome and compare that to indivdiuals who are held captive in a maternity home with no familiar person or object around. Add the hormones of pregnancy and youth and please, good golly, Suz, forgive yourself.
Intellectually I understood their point and understood their attempts to make me feel better (and even make themselves feel better if they were part of the crime). Emotionally, deep inside my soul, I could never agree. No amount of reading, writing, Verrier or Fessler worship could lessen the pain. I should have known better. I should have been smarter, stronger, wiser. I should have used my voice.
This book has made me really see.
I had no voice. Sheet, I had no name. (I was directed by the maternity home director not to tell anyone my full name and not to ask anyone for theirs. We had babies – not names, not identities. We were not people. Maternity home version of "don’t ask, don’t tell". Walking incubators for someone elses child.). How could that shell of a person, the shell created by others have a voice?
Since starting to read this book, I felt something start to shift. I see now, I mean I really SEE and FEEL how I was part of a larger system. An evil system that dehumanized and deindividuated me. Thank you, Phil Zimbardo.
I am only half way through with it. Even at this stage of the book, I see,and finally believe, how situational and systemic forces can indeed make good men or women do horrible things, I am finding it easier to look at all the factors that were involved in my situation. It doesn’t make it right – but it makes me understand it and hold myself a little less accountable.
I am taking notes as I read the book and intend to draw parallels to how the examples in the book (Stanford Prison Experiment and the crimes of the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib) share similar themes with woman who are sent away, reconditioned, asked to signed relinquishment papers and then left to blow in the wind as their heart bleeds for a lifetime. More importantly, I hope to highlight how the larger system of the adoption industry can make good people like me, do a horrible thing, like surrender a helpless infant to a baby broker.