Paraphrasing Dr. David Rock, Keith Evans talks about neuroscience and how we relate to others and the world around us:

… [Our} basic neurocircuitry is calibrated to our multi-layered and complex social networks.  Absent the activation of another circuit, we will understand experiences in the world according to their social and relational consequences….

Dr. Rock further explained that there are five important, connected social domains or circuits in the brain:

  • Status – always understood in relative terms and connected to our survival instinct.
  • Certainty – craving predictability in all things is one of our strongest impulses.
  • Autonomy – our anxiety goes down as our sense of control goes up.
  • Relatedness – we function more effectively when we work on shared goals.
  • Fairness –  the value we place on being treated fairly is so strong it is actually correlated to health outcomes.

So let’s see this through the eyes of the adoptee.

Status – We’ve gone from, say, daughter to abandoned/relinquished daughter, adopted daughter. Neither are full status positions, equal to those who remained or who were there first (i.e. a biological child of our adoptive parents).  Even if adoptive parents say there is no difference, there IS a difference.  At the very least there is a huge biological difference and I think our subconsciouses know it.  And lets not forget how we used to be known as “illegitimate” and “bastard.”

Certainty – When your own mother gives you away, you will forever live with uncertainty to some degree.  “If she could do it, what is stopping absolutely ANYONE else from walking away?”   This is terrifying for a child.   Those tracks are very hard to break out of as an adult, where it only matters socially and not life-or-death that someone walks away from a relationship to you.  But as this article suggests, “only matters socially” is still a big deal.  There are also the lies told around adoption – from the seemingly kind “your mother loved you so much she gave you away” to the outright falsehoods of adoptive parents names on birth certificate, any lies told by the agency (and even in “good adoptions” I’m finding at least some lies.)  We also have to live pretending we are our adoptive parents biological children. Talk about lies.

Autonomy – adoptees live with a lessened sense of autonomy even as adults in many states.  We are treated as naughty children — can’t have your birth certificate and know who your own mother and father are because you might “bother them.”  They are given all the rights, we are given none of the rights.  As children something traumatic happened to us and we couldn’t do anything about it. We often can’t even get others to listen to that pain.

Relatedness – working on shared goals.  Hmmmm, my goal would have been to be with my own flesh and blood, as all babies want to be.  Everyone in my life worked against that goal. We also are often not like our adoptive families in temperament, gifts, etc.  The artistic family with the scientist kid is just not going to gel the same way.   And our sense of NONrelatedness is quite in-your-face…we are truly “not related” to those we live with.

Fairness – I did not know humans demand a sense of fairness as he states above (“so strong it’s related to health outcomes.”)  But I believe it, because I feel it. I thought it was just me.   Adoption is very unfair as seen through the eyes of the small child. Why didn’t I get kept like my friends did? Why don’t I get my birth certificate?   Losing your mother is like a million times more “unfair” than getting a smaller piece of cake for dessert, which is enough to send a child into a fit of jealousy…so I’ll let you take that to its logical conclusion.   At least I was so damaged (or “matured”) by that that I didn’t really care too much about the little things.   Kinda sad, though, that I was not allowed to be a kid who got upset at cake like all the other little kids.

And it goes without saying that adding ANY sort of mental health issues to adoptive parents and you add gasoline to this fire.  I’m learning that narcissistic tendencies are quite common in adoptive parents, at least from the adult adoptees I have contact with (including myself).  An adoptee having narcissistic parents is particularly damaging.

So we have all five important domains damaged severely by adoption. I’m still trying to make sense of that and build a healthy human spirit at 47 years old.