I’ve been trying to read Lifton’s Journey of the Adopted Self on and off for a while now and I’m thinking of just giving up on it. On the one hand, I really want to agree with Lifton that adoption causes problems with the adoptee’s development, and that these problems are not irreversible but do need to be addressed or at least acknowledged. On the other hand, I feel like this book is filled with a great deal of conjecture. Lifton really wants to theorize this thing to death, and I really don’t feel like it’s necessary to do that.
Part of the problem I have with this book is that it’s written for a general audience, or at least a “cross-triad” audience. This results in various adoptee disclaimers being printed on almost every page, and a great deal of text dedicated to reassuring adoptive parents in various ways, even when they’re being criticized. I’m so tired of stuff like that, even when I do it myself. Of course, considering how long ago the book was written I can understand how it turned out that way, but it’s still rather annoying.
But the biggest problem I have with it so far is that it seems like Lifton is trying to describe the adoptee experience. She abstracts individual experiences into theoretical claims about adoptee psychology that I find highly questionable, while the actual experiences that might be useful to me in understanding myself vanish over the synoptic horizon. The few vignettes she provides lack sufficient context, and only serve to back up her theoretical approach.
I don’t mean this as a review or critique–I haven’t even made it halfway through the book–but rather an explanation for why I find it so frustrating. When I’m reading this book, I frequently feel cut off from other adoptees when my own experiences don’t match her generalizations or the representative examples she provides. I feel like this robs me of authenticity in some way.
I have only a hazy memory of when I was first told I was adopted, and I honestly don’t remember my reaction to it. I don’t remember which details were volunteered and which ones I had to ask for. I don’t remember what, if anything, I asked about my natural mother, or what explanations were offered for my relinquishment or how I felt about those explanations. I’m sure I asked questions and I’m sure I was offered explanations, but really my clearest memory about my early conversations about adoption is my a-dad taking me for a drive in his old Oldsmobile Jetstar I (I think that’s what it was) and telling me it was the car they’d brought me home in. Even as a preschooler I could tell it was a pretty bitchin’ ride, so I thought it was pretty cool to have it as part of the story of my origin. Not exactly a primal wound.
I’m not saying being adopted wasn’t painful for me back then, or that I didn’t spend a lot of time wondering about it. I just don’t remember it that well. And it makes me worry, was I just not paying enough attention? Have I buried a bunch of memories? Am I doing “being adopted” wrong?
I think the individual stories told by adoptee bloggers are more interesting and useful to me, because I can find ways in which our experiences are related without feeling like I have to be squished into some theoretical mold of what the adoptee experience is like. Artificial Self, Forbidden Self, Prenatal Self, Replacement Self, Emerging Self, come on, why should I buy any of this crap? And even if I do, what does it get me?
I guess I should be more patient with this book and see where it goes, but it’s very, very frustrating.