When Mirrors Are Missing

By Sue Harding

The Fulcrum, Issue 47 Spring/Summer 2009

In ‘The path taken away’, The Fulcrum 46, I explored the idea of ancestry and the shadow  self within the context of adoption. This article examines the role of mirroring in the  development of self-awareness. In this context self-awareness is taken to mean a felt and seen identity. This relates directly to the idea that an infant separated at, or soon after, birth loses not just its mother but the opportunity to develop an essential part of its self. The  mother is the first visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory mirror the baby has – the loss of these mirrors so early on is a quiet but annihilating loss. There is no crime, no bloodshed, nothing newsworthy, but it is a trauma on a massive scale. Its severity is matched only by the silence which comes with it – the baby’s inability to verbalise its loss.

An absence can be felt as strongly as a presence

With infant separation, the mirroring which comes automatically with blood relatives is not  available. Mirroring is a given for those who grow up in contact with blood relatives, as is seeing one’s own face in a mirror. When one has that like-ness around to see, it is completely taken for granted in the sense that it is not consciously processed. Mirroring is a confirmation of the nature and appearance of one’s self. We see ourselves through others because our features, voices and habits are mirrored back at us. On a much deeper and implicit level it is confirmation of existence, of belonging and of one’s right to be here.

Craniosacral therapy was the mirror with which I could ‘see’ myself, or rather observe the nature of my self. My first cranial treatment unlocked a cemented sacrum which released forty years of held emotion and really put me here for the first time. It was the beginning of the end of a holding pattern. The mirroring which became a part of subsequent craniosacral treatments allowed me to witness my own absence. This void, or lack of meaningful connection with anyone (myself in particular) was very pronounced. As we know from when someone close to us dies, an absence can be felt as strongly as a presence. I was mourning someone who had never been here in the sense of a developed self. It raised the question: where was I? I was here but I didn’t really exist in the sense of having my identity – face, voice, movements, gestures, reactions – confirmed by a like-ness in someone near to me. I could look in the mirror the same as anyone else, but didn’t really connect with the reflection, as the face I looked at lacked reference points.

In searching for my birth parents years before this, I was definitely on the ‘who do I look like’ trip, but without any idea of the profound and multi-faceted nature of like-ness (only its absence). When I first met my birth mother I was struck by her laugh because I at last heard my own through hers. In hearing her laugh I became more conscious of the nature of my own. Auditory mirrors are as important as visual ones.

As with non-adoptees I was happy with some aspects of my ‘inheritance’ but not with others. In treatments relating to my birth process I was gradually able to separate out the strands of energy and beliefs that were mine, and those which were my mother’s. Naturally some beliefs have become mine through acting on them for so many years; these have proved the really difficult ones to shift. They of course stem partly from the pregnancy, birth and separation experience but also from the woman who found herself in that situation and dealt with it the way she did. Some of the beliefs she carried were amplified by the pregnancy – the idea that there is never enough, scarcity is an ever-present threat to one’s survival, a baby without the father’s income is a burden; then her relinquishment of her baby became further proof that there is never enough, and that this causes pain. Stepping out of that cycle is hard as it both presupposes and delivers scarcity.

In one treatment I felt that I had been forsaken at the point of conception and left alone from that point on. All was blackness and dread. Everything I have found out since about the circumstances around my conception confirm this. My biological father rejected any responsibility for me by denying he was the parent. My mother relinquished me as a result. The power of craniosacral treatments to accurately evoke these formative moments is  tremendous – as is the system’s inherent wisdom in presenting them to us. My feeling of nothingness clarified through treatments into a sense of separation.

Craniosacral treatments also revealed to me my physical position in utero. An intense scrunching and turning inwards, my head tucked into my left side squashing my face, my left arm behind my back, and all saturated through with the emotions of shame, apprehension and fear. During treatments this would manifest in physical movement and intense emotion, along with a sense of indecision – do I try and get out again or not? Do I have the energy? If I don’t I will surely die in here. Do I or don’t I? A physical sensation of being held back by my mother, but a dread of the ‘outside’ at the same time. This information provided by the treatments has enabled me to identify certain tendencies which have developed from this experience. One is finding the energy or impetus to follow through on projects, the other the almost subconscious habit of keeping myself separate. I remember my yoga teacher saying to me during my first session that she felt I was ‘in a cage’. In a way she was right because energetically I had the imprint of not having the space or the right to manoeuvre. And this had manifested in various structural hindrances (scoliosis being one). Through many treatments with my cranial practitioner I have finally been able to get to a place where the life-story itself has been treated through releases in the left hemisphere. The plan is to boost the hydraulics of the third ventricle – to help find my impetus. This I feel will assist my sense of thwarted will experienced and imprinted at birth. The major work is of course to be done by me.

Having revisited the birth process I then knew why my reunion with my birth mother did not fill that void, heal that wound; instead it highlighted the enormous work needed from within me to understand how to really be here.

We can inherit states of mind, laughter, facial expressions, and gestures. What about our written language style? As an English teacher I cover children’s language acquisition with my A-level students. As we were looking at Chomsky’s theory of innate grammar skills, I started to wonder how much of our linguistic ability is in our genes. I know that dyslexia is often considered hereditary. If Chomsky is correct in proposing that part of the brain has the ability to acquire grammar, then could it follow that those ‘deep structures’ as he calls them have similar design features written in from our parents’ DNA?

In the last few months I have had email contact with my biological father. Initially I sent him a letter; when we eventually had phone contact he said his son had commented that the style was so similar to his father’s that he could have written it. When I look at our emails I see what he means – what linguists describe as a ‘linguistic fingerprint’. Reading my biological father’s emails is effortless as he, like me, tends to write compound sentences, some asides, and short exclamations – all very similar to my style. And neither of us sees email as an excuse to drop punctuation. I can drop right into the energy of what he intends, while the prose flows in the same rhythm and structures as my own.

The role of the biological father in adoption reunions is often seen as secondary to that of the birth mother for obvious reasons. In my experience, contact with my biological father has been invigorating. He looks to the present not the past. We have not yet met (he is in South Africa) but the medium of emails has afforded us the chance to have regular contact at a safe distance giving us the time to think about what we want to say. In our first telephone conversation he somehow knew exactly what I needed to hear: ‘You are my daughter and you are welcome.’

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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