Rewriting the fairy tale: Adoption is trauma stored in the limbic brain - expert
- Adoption is trauma and creates a wound that is stored in the limbic 'emotional' brain says psychotherapist Paul Sunderland
- Sunderland says in his work as an addictions counsellor he has seen that adoptees are overrepresented in addiction counselling
- November marks Adoption Awareness Month around the world
It's time to reframe traditional narratives around adoption as being a 'win-win' for everyone in the adoption triad and instead acknowledge the reality that adoption is, for many adopted people, a very real trauma.
So says Cape Talk host and adult adoptee Sara-Jayne King who shared her own experience of being adopted in her best-selling memoir Killing Karoline (Melinda Ferguson Books 2017).
On Weekend Breakfast, King was joined by psychotherapist and addictions counsellor Paul Sunderland who agrees unequivocally that adoption is trauma.
Sunderland says the separation between mother and baby creates a wound so deep that it feels 'life-threatening and catastrophic' to the adoptee.
He says his interest in the 'pre-verbal trauma' and relinquishment wound began several years ago when he began to notice that adopted people were overrepresented in addiction treatment facilities.
Adoptees were coming along with, often what we tend to call now love addiction, but relationship problems, often at the end of a relationship, desperate for me to tell them how to get back into the relationship.Paul Sunderland, Psychotherapist and addictions counsellor
The first problem, says Sunderland, is that the word 'adoption' does not aptly describe what is happening. A more appropriate term, he says, would perhaps be 'relinquishment'.
The word 'adoption' is a cover-up. It makes everything seem jolly nice and it gives the impression that life began at that moment, but there's all sorts of memory in the infant, especially in the third trimester.Paul Sunderland, Psychotherapist and addictions counsellor
Sunderland talks about the trauma of the separation between biological mother and child and explains that the 'wound' is stored in the limbic part of the brain.
The trauma is pre-verbal, happening often, so early in the child's life that they have no words to recall and describe it.
The brain registers that separation as a catastrophe, life-threatening and that's why the instances of suicide are so high for adoptees.Paul Sunderland, Psychotherapist and addictions counsellor
These pre-verbal traumas are complicated because they are remembered but not recalled.Paul Sunderland, Psychotherapist and addictions counsellor
There is no pre-trauma personality.Paul Sunderland, Psychotherapist and addictions counsellor
For the adoptees with relational problems, they are presenting with this real hunger for attachment, but at the same time there's this contradictory fear of rejection.Paul Sunderland, Psychotherapist and addictions counsellor
In addition to being overrepresented in addiction treatment, according to a University of Minnesota study conducted in 2013, adopted people are four times more likely to have attempted suicide than non-adopted people.
They are also overrepresented in jails, and psychiatric facilities.
Those thoughts of suicide are actually a flashback to the feeling of 'I'm not going to survive' [the separation].Paul Sunderland, Psychotherapist and addictions counsellor
Click above to listen to King's conversation with Paul Sunderland on the link between adoption and addiction.
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