Adoption & Duality: Navigating a Liminal Space

By Sue Harding

The Fulcrum, Issue 89 May 2023

The experience of adoption can sometimes feel like the occupation of a liminal space; a sense of floating between two places, times or selves. It is a before and after separation, two sets of families, (sometimes) two different names, and a sense of a silent self. As an adoptee now in my sixties, my work as a craniosacral therapist and Reiki practitioner has helped me understand the duality at the heart of the adoption journey.

This duality means adoptees can have unfelt emotions that surface unexpectedly, leading to destructive coping behaviours used to navigate and manage interpersonal relationships. For example, they can become either people pleasers (with all the resentment that creates) or chameleons to the point where the exhaustion of trying to adapt to others’ expectations depletes them and leads to introversion, unreliability or deceit. Some leave long-term relationships with complete ease and are amazed at the realisation that they were never committed or attached in the first place.

It follows that adoptees sometimes hold two versions of themselves; a public self and a silent self. It is not so much that there is a hidden side, more that parts of the self remain unrealised because they became secondary to the necessity of fitting in with an adoptive family. Resolution requires self-authentication and, for this to happen, all elements of the self need space and kindness to appear, be seen, and explored.

CST can help adoptees navigate the liminal space and find interconnectedness between their pre- and post-adoption selves. In treatments adoptees can often be surprised by feelings that surface and, although this can be painful, more often I have seen great relief and clarity because what has surfaced feels real and right and is unquestionably part of their authentic self. This can then help distinguish between what is right for them, and what is actually the unhelpful over-reactions produced by the amygdala.

For some, part of the journey to self-authentication is finding their birth family, as I did. Sometimes official information about life pre-adoption is incomplete and even when finding birth families, the story is necessarily told from their perspective. For an adoptee, this part of their story isn’t a memory; it’s researched or told second or even third-hand and comes with disconnection.

For those who have clear visual memories of life pre-adoption, this is vital information to work with in treatment as it can help to connect the pre- and post-adoption self. And working with the tides enables the system to produce and navigate authentic memory – be it energetic or sensory – allowing integration to begin. Having been pulled in two directions, the tide guides the system into occupying its authentic self.

Those of us adopted in the 1960s were, to a certain extent, regarded as a tabula rasa, a blank canvas, and given new names to go with our new families. This attempt to eliminate the pre-adoption existence was done with minimal advice to adoptive parents, who were encouraged into the idea of tabula rasa. In some adoptees’ experiences, I see the energetic dissonance this sometimes created between them and their adoptive parents. The best way to explain this is through the idea of a hard drive running with software from a different program – each side doing their best but with inconsistent compatibility.

In treatments, this can manifest as a sense of a silent presence in the system, unvoiced and tentative. Post-treatment time is very important here; a client needs time to see what words they may want to give to their experience, especially if it comes from a pre-verbal place or an experience where they silenced themselves.

Looking back, I can see how shut down I was as a child; not because of my adoptive parents’ influence, but because of the shock of the separation. They had no help or advice about how to deal with that. My own healing has come from an understanding and deep appreciation of who my adoptive parents were in terms of their personal histories, their relationship, and the impact of World War II on their families. To understand them is to understand why they looked after me in the way they did. I now feel part of an extended family in which my history is connected to theirs.

For children who are adopted later in life and who have a background of neglect and/or abuse, distant treatments can be invaluable. A traumatised child arrives in a new home and, despite loving efforts from their adopted parents, will act out or act in their feelings. Often, they cannot consciously remember all that has happened to them and social workers don’t always have a complete picture of events. When a child’s nervous system is overwhelmed, the quiet and calm of a short, distant treatment can be easier to receive than an in-person treatment. I find touch-free treatments reveal a different type of information; without the pressure of negotiating physical space and face-to-face interactions, the system has more space to bring what it needs to the surface.

While the adoption experience and journey to healing is different for everyone, CST can help adoptees arrive at an honest connection to themselves and to other people. Just to feel present in stillness is grounding for anyone who navigates the liminality of duality and disconnection. It can provide a space to slough off the guilt and responsibility they feel for their own perceived failings and to live honestly as their true self.

Sue Harding is a CST and Reiki practitioner with a practice in Manchester. Adopted in the 1960s, she met both sides of her birth family. She is the author of two previous articles on adoption: ‘The Path Taken Away’ (Issue 46) and ‘When Mirrors are Missing’ (Issue 47).

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the CSTA.

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