The journey of my adopted self.

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.


20 Responses to “The journey of my adopted self.”

  1. 1 suz August 22, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    hmm, interesting. i liked the book but did find myself wondering, as you seem to be, how accurate it is. i find myself wanting to have my daughter read it and tell me if she agreed or disagreed from her own perspective.
    thanks for sharing.

  2. 2 Amyadoptee August 22, 2007 at 9:11 pm

    Keep in mind it was written I think in the eighties. A great deal has changed since then. Like you, I felt it generalized and catered to the aparents. I related to a few things in the book. Like how adoptees are still not treated as being competent to handle family affairs because of course they are adopted. Keep reading though and read other stuff too. Ann Fessler’s book, Rickie Solinger’s stuff is good. It gives a realistic idea of how mothers and women in general were treated. Keep writing too. The only way others learn is for us to write our stuff.

  3. 3 Andie D. August 22, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks for the review – you might’ve just saved me some time.

    I just got through The Primal Wound, and it was no where near as radical as I’d thought it would be. No where near as insightful either. In part because I’m an adult, I’ve faced a lot of my adoptee “angst” already, and I am more educated than I used to be. But if I’d read it right after it was published? Who knows.

    I too like the individual adoptee blogs. None of us are so very alike that we can be lumped. All of the different perspectives helps me learn.

  4. 4 joy21 August 22, 2007 at 11:03 pm

    I read the Primal Wound before it was even published, and I was very young, and in reunion, and yes at the time it was ground breaking. The idea that being adopted was a non-event was just about the ONLY idea around, that giving up your baby was also a non-event, reunion might be mildly interesting but not much more meaningful than a trip to the natural history museum.

    It is weird to me to read things that sound dismissive of people I consider pioneers, but I guess that is natural as it has been so long since those books were published that it must feel as if those ideas were always out there, as if there was always community like we have now via internet for adoptees and their families in reunion, there was no community there was no context. It was very difficult when you are constantly being told one thing, the society sanctioned belief, the adoptive family is the ONLY family, the “birth” relatives are a curiosity but of no importance and have no rights as they “signed the papers”

    And now I feel like people mock those pioneers, when I really feel that to say that at that time, to give the adoptee some context took incredible vision and strength. I feel like adoptees like to make fun of the Primal Wound so that they sound tougher and better, without even any real concept of what that means.

    I have never felt that I had all the adoptee issues that one can have, and have often said adoptee issues are more like a Venn Diagram than a inescapable pattern, and have never felt that adoptee issues may not go away entirely, but can be managed and a certain amount of resolution can occur.

    For example I don’t have low self-esteem, something that is often equated with adoptees, I don’t believe I ever had it, I get on well with the people in my life, have decades long friendships, bully me rah rah. It shows up in other places though.

    Maybe it is not that you aren’t adopted enough, or properly, it is that you are adopted better …

    But trust me it changes, it doesn’t stay the same, it moves around on you. It compounds and calcifies.

  5. 5 iBastard August 23, 2007 at 3:15 am

    Hey, I am not mocking the book. I’m just writing about why I’m finding it rather difficult to read. I haven’t read The Primal Wound yet so I have no idea about that. “Pioneering works that were great for their time” would be acceptable if these titles weren’t thrown around as if they were part of the “adoptee canon” or something other than historical curiosities. I have connected much better to the TRA/IA experiences in Outsiders Within than I have to anything in Lifton’s book so far, even though I’m a domestic same-race adoptee.

    I’m still going to give it a chance, but if things continue as they are you can expect to see it excoriated on this blog.

  6. 6 joyjoy August 23, 2007 at 6:58 am

    Yes, I fully expect the excoriation. Carry On

  7. 7 stewie August 25, 2007 at 12:45 am

    I can see how that is, iB. You’ve got me to revisit the book, I will be picking it up again tonight, I haven’t looked at it since pre-reunion (about 10 mos) Funny thing about adoption “lit” or reading, or any media for that matter. Read it one year, you get one thing out of it. Put it down and pick it up again, there are other things you get out of it or hate about it. I also connect on a very deep level to Outsiders Within…excellent and true and a varying group of writers.

  8. 8 Kippa August 25, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Well, I haven’t read it for seven years, but I liked it quite a lot (more than anything I’ve read by Verrier) – but OTOH, although it was of intense interest to me, it wasn’t about ‘me’, which perhaps made it easier. It also helps that she’s a Janusz Korczak fan.
    However, on a personal level, I do I find it hard to give latitude to stuff that takes a few commonalities and then enlarges them to support an exaggerated idea of universal experiences, so, if that’s what you mean, well, yes, maybe.

  9. 9 Reunited Dan August 26, 2007 at 9:21 am

    I tried reading Journey of the Adopted Self and other similar books but honestly I just couldn’t get through them. I will have to go back and take another look at Journey.

    I thought The Girls Who Went Away by Fessler was one of the best books I have ever read. And I really loved The Mistresses’ Daughter by A.M. Homes also.

    I guess I prefer reading about people’s experiences and drawing my own conclusions. Is it a guy thing?

  10. 10 2B True September 10, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    Hello iBastard – thanks for the review – I am still mustering up the courage to read Primal Wound…

    Ive finally updated my blog…I mean to do so more often. Only thing is when I start thinking about this subject, it drains me from being able to do other things…

    Anyway, my very best to you!

  11. 11 Stewie September 10, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    Hope you’re well….checking in….I know you have lots to chew on at this time but look forward to your next post…

  12. 12 Andie D. September 14, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Hey. Where did you go? I had started looking to you as a fresh voice and now I miss it. You OK?

  13. 13 Theresa September 15, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Chiming in with Andie. Sometimes it takes me a while to realize that one blog or another in my reader hasn’t had that ‘new post’ notifier flagged. Hope all is well.

  14. 14 Possum September 21, 2007 at 2:41 am

    Just dropping in to say hi also.
    Hope you’re ok.
    Thinking of you.
    Possum. xx

  15. 15 Nina September 23, 2007 at 3:24 am


    That’s really interesting. I LOVED that book and everything Lifton has written. That book is on my desk along with the works of Alice Miller.

    But I’m wondering….

    I’m much older (46) and grew up reading books written in a more formal style. And I’m hearing what you say about her making sweeping, authoritative generalizations. Not discounting them, although I have a different take.

    If you don’t like it, you just don’t like it.

    We either connect to a book. Or don’t.

    I ADORE “The Devil of Nanking” by Mo Hayder and everything by Swedish mystery novelist Henning Mankell (shameless plugs), and my husband HATED them. And I adore my husband and think he has very good taste.

    Even if you don’t like Lifton’s book, at least you’ve tried it and have some context for future discussions about the literature.

  16. 16 Andie D. September 26, 2007 at 4:16 am

    OK really now.

    COME ON.

    Where are you? Don’t start scaring us. Don’t let any of us scare you. Please?

  17. 17 2B True December 9, 2007 at 5:47 am

    You still out there?? Looking forward to hearing from you again…


  18. 18 joy21 December 9, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    Weird, I had the second dream I have had since you quit blogging that you came back, only you had changed your heading to green.

    Miss you. Miss your roller LOLZ.

  19. 19 Lillie April 2, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    iB? Where are you? You are missed…please come back to blogland, hope you are okay. Let us know how you are.

    We miss you.

  20. 20 Theresa May 13, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Dude…. seriously. Check in, OK?

    Even if it’s just to send an email saying, “Quit stalking my blog and go away”

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