Pacer-adoption.org posted a short synopsis of Betty Jean Lifton’s work in this article: The Inner Life of the Adopted Child: Adoption, Trauma, Loss, Fantasy, Search and Reunion.
I could quote the whole thing, but this part resonated with me right now:
… Early on [the adoptees] get the message that they cannot grieve for their lost kin, that they must commit themselves to the adoptive clan if they are to keep their adoptive parents’ love. Already abandoned by the birth mother, the child feels no choice but to abandon her. By doing so, he abandons his real self. This early potential self that is still atteched to the birth mother is often unacceptable to the adoptive parents and, therefore, must become uacceptable to the child.
Karen Horney (1950) stressed that there is no more consequential step than abandoning the real self. The child forced to give up the real self cannot develop feelings of belonging. There is instead a feeling of basic anxiety, of being isolated and helpless. For this reason, adopted childen often try to shut out the subject of adoption. This means that they are separating one part of the self from the rest of the self – a pattern known as dissociation, disavowal, numbing, or splitting.
The artificial self looks like the perfect child because he or she is so eager to please. These children are compliant, put everyone’s needs before their own, and suppress their anger. But deep inside they feel like a fake and an imposter, feelings that may overwhelm them as an adult. Having cut off a vital part of themselves, they sometimes feel dead…
I’m like many adoptees – I feel like I don’t have a “self”. I’m middle aged now, and have been trying to “reinvent myself” – to actually come up with a “real self”, but due to my family’s needs and personalities, it seems impossible. Maybe I can work through some of that here.