PTSD and Adoption Loss

"…restoring a sense of social community requires a public forum where victims can speak their truth and their suffering can be formally acknowledged. In addition, establishing any lasting peace requires an organized effort to hold individual perpetrators accountable for their crimes. … If there is no hope of justice, the helpless rage of the of victimized groups can fester, impervious to the passage of time ."- Judith Herman

Been reading my friend Judith Herman again.  If you haven’t read Trauma and Recovery, you simply must.  Loss of your child to adoption (or your mother for that matter) is a traumatic incident for many, if not all, mothers.

For me, to understand what happened to me, to understand why I feel and act the way I do, has required reading and digesting the psychology of trauma and PTSD.

A friend in Ireland sent me some stuff to read and wow, this stuff blew me away.  First it intrigued me, then it sent me spiraling into the abyss, then the chest heaving deep sobs started.  Get triggered much?

I stopped reading and wrote a friend who would understand. Even still, this stuff has been staying with me all day. I suspect it will for a few days.

Italics are my words.  Non italic belongs to Dr. Herman.  I am willing to be at least one other mother reader of my blog will see herself here.

"The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.

When the truth is fully recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often, secrecy prevails and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom.

Denial exists on a social as well as an individual level. We need to understand the past in order to reclaim the present and the future. An understanding of psychological trauma begins with rediscovery the past.

The fundamental stages of recovery are:

  1. Establishing safety (I am sort of here…sort of safe. But is my child? She is an extension of me. Lacking contact with her, knowledge of her, some part of me feels forever unsafe.)
  2. Reconstructing the traumatic story (Been working on this and this blog is part of that effort)
  3. Restoring the connection between the survivor and his/her community.  (Other than my daughter, as much of this that can be done has been done. I think?)

It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator (the adoption industry!) All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim ask the bystander to share the burden of the pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering. (A tendency to render the victim invisible; to look the other way.)

Psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma, the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force (or coercion or intimidation or lawsuits and promissory notes or maternity homes or, or, or) . Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary symptoms of care that give people a sense of control, connection, and meaning.

Trauma occurs when action is of no avail–when neither resistance nor escape is possible.

Survivors oscillate between:

  • Uncontrollable outbursts of anger and intolerance of rage in any form. (Those bitter birth mother types are not bitter but PTSD afflicted. Hey, imagine that!)
  • Seeking intimacy desperately and totally withdrawing from it.
  • Self esteem is assaulted by experiences of humiliation, guilt, and helplessness.

Vulnerability and Resilience

Individual personality characteristics count for little in the face of overwhelming events. With severe enough experience, no person is immune.

Individual differences play a part in determining the form PTSD will take. It is related to individual history, emotional conflicts, and adaptive style.

Highly resilient people are able to make use of any opportunity for purposeful action in concert with others, while ordinary people are more easily paralyzed or isolated by them.

Some features of highly resilient people:

  1. Alert, active temperament
  2. Unusual sociability
  3. Good communicating skills
  4. Strong internal locus of control

and  GOOD LUCK" (Good luck?  Yikes. I could be screwed. )

2 Thoughts.

  1. It has become obvious to me that every woman separated from her child experiences PTSD. I think when the good folks (she types snidely) at the agency/attorney level share adoption information they need to share information about PTSD instead of a general “grief” discussion with a “you can always have counseling” discussion.

  2. I see most all of these things in myself. That is really frightening. PTSD is something I had never considered before. I suppose considering my past it is entirely possible. I have no doubt that for a mother it is most likely extremely common.

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