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The Unconscious Mind and Adoption Loss—Part 1

by Laura on September 5th, 2013

The unconscious mind is not just a theory in a book, not some trumped-up paradigm or overblown fancy, but as real as the nose on your face, as real as a pickle jar. According to Jung, everything in the unconscious seeks outward expression; an inner situation that is not made conscious will manifest in outward events as fate.

The Silent Wife: A Novel by A. S. A. Harrison

All rights reserved by Nine Graphic Design

My children have this amazing radar that alerts them (even if they are perfectly content and playing in another room) if Mommy has the gall to sit down and (attempt) to read or write. It’s uncanny.

Not surprisingly, I read very little while on vacation. So I was pleased to find The Silent Wife with its perfect balance of murder mystery blended with psychotherapy. What does this say about me and my psyche? Rather not go there today.

Now that the kids are back in school/preschool and I’m able to write without two little bodies climbing into my lap, I got to thinking about how apt Harrison’s quote about the unconscious mind is, especially when applied to adoption loss.


Coping with losing a child

Here in Serbia, where non-family adoption is rare and even adoption agencies are illegal; few friends have a direct connection to it. So it’s fascinating listen to their responses when I share my view of adoption. I recently was explaining the Closed Adoption Era and pointing out the following: however much social workers might advise mothers to forget their relinquished baby and move on with their lives, these moms don’t forget.

A friend wondered, “How else could you get over the loss of a child like that, except by putting him out of your mind as much as possible? How could you live your life wondering every day, Is my child eating enough? What is he doing right now? Is he happy? Is he healthy?”

I’ve known and had the privilege to connect with enough first moms to realize that for some, such questions remain close to the surface. They admit that not a day goes by that they don’t wonder what their child is doing, if she’s okay.

Other first moms do in fact put the child out of their mind, the extent to which remains a deeply personal matter of choice, upbringing, ingrained coping mechanisms, and yes, facility at denial.


How “The Unknowing” eventually floats into the unconscious

Some would say that dealing with the unknowing inherent in closed adoption is merely a fact of life.

You have to believe your child is okay, you have to put her out of your mind—or at least into some dark box in the back of your consciousness—in order to function in the real world. Perhaps that dark box of adoption pain is only brought out on the child’s birthday, or through emotional triggers such as seeing another child who would be the same age as the one lost.

Others would comment that living with this unknowing is a form of psychological and emotional torture reserved by society for women it unjustly deems promiscuous and therefore in need of redemption in the form of “giving your child a better life than you could provide.”

Rendering of Jung. All rights reserved by Steve.D.Hammond.

Not being a first mom myself, I would guess that probably both are true, each to a certain extent and variable, depending on the woman’s situation at the time of her pregnancy.It’s not for nothing that Carl Jung’s writings acknowledge that unknowable loss  nevertheless resides in the unconscious. Perhaps this is why, as an adoptee, I appreciate Jung’s perspective–of course I wasn’t congnizant of my adoption when it happened. But it was a loss imprinted on my psyche nonetheless. And, continued to affect me even though the losses weren’t visible, or perhaps even conscious.


From the unconscious, adoption loss triggers outward emotion

From a Jungian standpoint, the more first moms keep the memory of their child locked in the unconscious, the more it seeks outward expression. This is exactly what makes emotional triggers so powerful, and sometimes, so debilitating.

For example, having suppressed the pain and loss, a first mother may react to being around a child of similar age to the lost child. It stirs something in the unconscious—causing the trigger, an external emotional expression. In other words, the unconscious mind manifests the sentiment outwardly–feeling anxiety, shutting down, refusing to interact or perhaps leaving the social situation altogether.

Sometimes the unconscious expresses itself outwardly “merely” with confusion, leaving the first mom to wonder why she’s reacting like this when she knows she loves small children. Truly the loss is buried so deep in the unconscious; it’s hard for those in pain even to understand the feelings they have. Instead, a woman may just come to the conclusion that she doesn’t like that particular child and leave it at that. Further deeper questions of “why” deemed quite unnecessary.

The difficult task is bringing to light the dark places of the unconscious—refusing to take for granted the superficial frustrations and instead looking at the underlying issue(s) at hand. Here I want to acknowledge my thanks to Amanda at The Declassified Adoptee, for educating me on this topic of content issues versus process issues. Similar to Jung, content issues are the surface issues that a person may complain about, but unless the underlying process issues are addressed, the problem rarely goes away.

This leaves us with the question of fate, as it relates to the unconscious mind. As Harrison noted

According to Jung, everything in the unconscious seeks outward expression; an inner situation that is not made conscious will manifest in outward events as fate.

What does fate have to do with the unconscious and adoption loss? Never fear! Today’s post is only Part 1, introducing thoughts on first mother loss as it relates to the unconscious mind.

Next week, stay tuned for my 9/11 commemorative post which will be Part 2—What Happens when National Tragedy and Adoption Collide? I want to talk more about this notion that what is left in the unconscious seems to manifest itself outwardly as fate, and how Jung may not have realized just how devious agencies can be when convincing expectant mothers that their baby was meant to be raised by someone else.

I hope you’ll share with me your thoughts on the unconscious mind, especially as it relates to those dealing with adoption loss.

  1. maybe permalink

    Great post, looking forward to part two!

  2. This theory of Jung's would explain why some first mothers refuse reunion. They are not even consciously aware of their true feelings for their child–they are buried so deep. Or they are only in touch with the negative feelings, associating only the trauma of the events with the child. I find that this is true in my life as an adoptee. I believe abandonment was always in my subconscious mind so I would always be acting out ways in which I am abandoned. I was placed with a-parents who were not emotionally available. I then chose men who would leave me, and have made a grand effort to push my husband away. He just won't leave! I am thankful for him in my life because I am aware of the patterns but they truly never leave my mind — i just have to manage them better. So glad to hear adoption agencies are illegal in Serbia. I bet people over there are shocked at what goes on in U.S.A. with adoption. Glad you are back!

    • gooddaytotry permalink

      women who refuse reunion are those terribly betrayed in the birth. not too repressed to care. they were so abused in the loss they thought they would die. they think these near killers in their life will actually kill them in reuion. dont romanticize baby theft it is indeed murder. if in only most cases murder of the soul

  3. Fran permalink

    My overt reaction to the loss of my first child was irrational anger, bouts of depression, the inability to "enjoy" my subsequent raised children, and unreasonable fear that "something" would happen to them. I thought I had "buried" my grief and loss, but it came out into the open with reunion. fortunately, I was able to come to terms with it through grief therapy.

  4. Great post and something I wish we could educated more people in. Our friends and families can't understand why we act like we do in the adoptee world…
    I was shocked by my own behaviours during reunion! Even though I studied and taught psych still didn't get it until I read A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle and he was describing "the pain body" and triggers. I had been so disassociated until reunion where the triggers were so "in my face" I couldn't avoid them.
    I see clearly now, years later after going to that deep, dark hole that holds the pain but every once in awhile…..

  5. Lavender Luz permalink

    I'm studying the Shadow now in my own work, so I'm looking forward to Part 2, as well.

    And thanks for adding yet another book to my sky-high to-be-read-per-Laura pile! You have such good taste in books that I must take your recommendations.

  6. eagoodlife permalink

    "content issues are the surface issues" and what used to be called in therapy the 'presenting problems' – the deeper issues are the ones that are raised just as the hour is up!
    There are so many reasons why reunion is harder than it needs to be.If we worked hard before reunion was a reality we would all be in much better shape to make it a lasting possibility. It's encouraging to see these somtimes thorny areas beginning to be discussed.

    • gooddaytotry permalink

      reunion is complex. the mom longs deeply for her child, but was told don't interfere. it is illegal and you will be punished and the child is having this great better life. the child is wondering why they were 'abandoned' not stolen as is the case nearly all the time, and may romanticize the mom can recover the errors of the past. there is the added component that children are raised by these 'better' parents to be 'better' like them, so now two people who would be much more alike are a bit more different than expected. reunion is complex. also a mom was completely abandoned for the sake of procuring a child, her family didn't help her, her social workers didn't help her, the hospital didn't help her. she is nearly always completely alone in reunion.

  7. gooddaytotry permalink

    what? I think you are making this up! do actually know anyone that has been a victim and says this? yes the whole of society punishes first moms forever. it is not possible for a person to function in society and repress that they had a child. they may not be able to talk of if but if it is repressed you will also notice a great deal of other normal functioning that is not occurring. what you may view on the outside as repressed is merely an extreme taboo that is causing a victim so much grief they are never safe to even verbalize what occured.

  8. Lil lost mink permalink

    My mommy doesn’t want contact with me and not a day goes by that I want to tell her I don’t hate her even if she had four children b4 me. But gave me up for adoption and nuns and wicked lady raised me. No nurturing in my life. Til I had my own babies who I could love with all my heart thou a single mother in these days is stil made to look as a whore. I never figured out til I was 50, that what people gossip about doesn’t matter to God in the end. I hurt to this day that I have always been a secret and will never no my real father because he died of a broken heart.

    • Laura Dennis permalink

      Oh wow, I am so sorry. But you are right, it doesn't matter what others say. You have your kids, you love them, you raised them and nurtured them. You've broken the cycle, and you should be proud of that!!!

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