What Psychology Taught Me About Being Adopted
If there is one thing I’m glad I was able to do at school (there weren’t many) it was the chance to study Psychology. I took the subject out of pure interest and naivety, I didn’t know what to expect but it turned out to be one of the best things I did for myself. One module in particular really resonated within me and gave me a deeper understanding into my own life and opened the door to some level of acceptance about such circumstances. That being, ‘Attachment Theory’.
Although this module didn’t cover a topic directly related to adopted children, naturally I found it difficult to not make direct links between the two.
The key message about this theory is that as infants, we form attachments with our caregivers be it mothers or guardians. We have a biological disposition to seek out a primary caregiver from whom we expect to receive an immediate response, close proximity, protection and security. We are dependent upon the physical and emotional availability of those we deem our caregivers. It is this desire for closeness that promotes healthy attachments and in the long run stable relationships leading into adulthood.
“Their [babies] relationships with adults are crucial to their trust of other people, their understanding of relationships generally and their feelings about themselves”. Simmonds 2004
The basis of a secure attachment starts with a caregiver who is sensitive, responsive and attentive to an infant’s changing emotion and behaviours. A caregiver who is consistently there and who responds to these behaviours will ultimately become a highly signifiant figure for the infant and eventually a strong attachment bond will form. Such attachments however, have the capability of becoming disruptive.
In cases of adoption where the ‘critical period’ for attachment is already disrupted, maltreated children are likely to have negative expectations of adults thus the opportunity for new attachments with new adopted families will be harder to blossom. As a result, the relationship as well as the adoptees childhood experience suffers and lends itself to a sense of loneliness, feelings of anxiousness and a possible identity crisis. This holds truth in the fact that a lot of adoptees generally feel less bonded to a single significant figure and find it hard to build relationships because the most important one wasn’t able to securely form. In severe but uncommon cases the adoptee may well go on to develop Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-reactive-attachment-disorder#1
This doesn’t mean to say that no positive relationship will ever grow from interaction with an adoptee. Rather, this theory taught me to understand that the detachment commonly felt amongst adoptees - not just in relation to their family but every aspect of their personal life - is underlined by latent memories of grief, general disruption due to continuous transferral in a short space of time and memories of inarticulate loss. The struggle to identify any emotion created by adoption means that it is likely to just be suppressed and this disconnection fuels the withdrawal into a state of isolation adding to the difficulty of creating secure relationships within their lives.
A secure attachment usually allows for trust to be built, and a child will feel comfortable exploring the world whilst knowing that if they ever need help, feel anxious, or unsettled they can return to this secure ‘safe base’. Children who are lucky enough to have formed a secure attachment are believed to usually have higher levels of self-esteem and empathy, faster memory recall and higher impulse control. Additionally, they are more confident, reliable and are likely to be popular with others. Something important to remember is that it is not a case of whether a child is attached or not - all children whether their caregiver is abusive or caring - become attached - rather, the concern is in relation to the kind of attachment in which forms.
For adoptees, either their relationship with their caregiver was never a secure one in the first place i.e. the cause for adoption or although their caregiver tried to be as attentive as possible the consistent bouncing around of different places such as family centres, foster homes and eventually their adopted home, means that the critical period was severed through discontinuity of care. Ultimately, a disrupted critical period means as infants grow older it becomes harder to form close and trusting relationships and what they have or have not learned from the initial failed attachment bond will reflect in how they approach new environments and relationships.
If you’re interested in this topic read further about how an adoptive father’s heartbreak lead him to truly understand his adopted daughters attachment needs - “As much love and attention [is showered] could it ever make up for the loss? It’s a void that for so many adopted children is ignored and misunderstood; some may not see it themselves. Oftentimes loving them enough isn’t enough. Babies are not blank slates who simply adapt as many believe” - http://attachmentparenting.org/blog/2014/09/14/an-adoptive-fathers-epiphany/