Thursday, August 26, 2010

Stockholm Adoptees

One of my dear adoptee friends made a comment on my  blog that had me doing some digging and research. She said that, while many adoptees strongly resist being compared to victims of Stockholm Syndrome, she found the similarities too real and too alarming to ignore. This was in response to  portions of a blog where I spoke about the adoptees feeling responsible for the emotional welfare of those who adopted them. This is the other side of the coin from mothers who suffer from PTSD and also suffer from the same emotional stress suffered by families of service people missing in action. For us it is suppressed, unresolved grief and anxiety. For the adoptee, it is survival and adaptation. All of the above is based on fear.

Per Wikipedia: In psychology, Stockholm syndrome is a term used to describe a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express adulation and have positive feelings towards their captors that appear irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims. The FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly 27% of victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome. The syndrome is named after the Norrmalmstorg robbery of Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm, in which the bank robbers held bank employees hostage from August 23 to August 28, 1973. In this case, the victims became emotionally attached to their captors, and even defended them after they were freed from their six-day ordeal. The term "Stockholm Syndrome" was coined by the criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot, who assisted the police during the robbery, and referred to the syndrome in a news broadcast. It was originally defined by psychiatrist Frank Ochberg to aid the management of hostage situations.

The Wikipedia page goes on to explain: In cases where Stockholm syndrome has occurred, the captive is in a situation where the captor has stripped nearly all forms of independence and gained control of the victim’s life, as well as basic needs for survival. Some experts say that the hostage regresses to, perhaps, a state of infancy; the captive must cry for food, remain silent, and exist in an extreme state of dependence. In contrast, the perpetrator serves as a 'mother' figure protecting the 'child' from a threatening outside world, including law enforcement’s deadly weapons. The victim then begins a struggle for survival, both relying on and identifying with the captor. Possibly, hostages’ motivation to live outweighs their impulse to hate the person who created their dilemma.

My friend called herself an "AdAptee," readily adapting to whatever situation in which she found herself. It seems to all come down to survival and doing whatever it takes to make the most of the life into which they were placed. Even those adoptees who are the most devoted to their adopters will acknowledge the feeling of not fitting in with the rest of the adoptive family.

While I have no right to say that all adoptees suffer from a form of SS, I still have to say that this answers a lot of questions for me about some of the adoptees I know. That some would take this dependence on the good will of the adopter past the grave only shows how strong the conditioning can be. I remember being urged to consider the feelings of the adopters and thinking, very rightly, that the adopters sure weren't being urged to consider my feelings. If we dare say anything negative about adopters or adoption within the hearing range of some adoptees, we can expect a furious reply. Defending everything the adopters do, right or wrong, becomes, for some, a life-long vocation. It is a form of self-validation for many. For others, they are protecting the adopters' "as if born to" fantasy by stating, "I am of them. I am not of you. All you did was give birth to me." Even after all barriers are down and the truth is staring them in the face, they still cling to the image of the created 'family' over the blood bonds to the mother.

So, when we challenge or question any of the adopters' words or actions or even, as I did, relate our own, personal experience with adopters, the adoptee can react out of a learned fear for their survival and identity. These adoptees take upon themselves the duty to do battle in defense of the adopters as a matter of course, never stopping to ask themselves if the adopters really did do or say something outside the realm of decency. They believe it is their job to stand guard at the gates to the fantasy and only let those in who will support the illusion.

There is a new breed of Stockholm Syndrome survivors. These are the good beemommies (Such as the Birthmom Ministries group on Facebook) of today who praise the Lord, rail against abortion and simper about how glorious and good giving your own child to genetic strangers can be. It isn't just the adopters who perpetrate that dependence, but the industry as well. The clever facilitators, especially in the church-based agencies, know that they have to manipulate the mother's perception of their loss to show something they can live with..heroics and sacrifice and loving, if quickly deleted, motherhood. It's not just the adoptees who praise the takers and revile those who recognize that the Emperor is naked.

I have to thank my friend. I wish her honesty were catching. But she gave me more vital information that helps me understand my own adult, reunited children. That may not bridge the gap or reverse the damage, but it helps me, and hopefully, others, mothers and adoptees, to understand that the results of our experience have deeper and more complex roots than we knew in the beginning.

I don't have any answers to this dilemma. I am back to the truth that we can only, each, heal ourselves by accepting the truth and looking within.

That is a lot harder for some than for others.


Lori said...

Robin, thank you for the post. I had and do still wonder exactly how many adoptees live in those conditions for life. The part that they don't put in Wikipedia is that sufferers of Stockholm Syndrome often spend a lifetime attempting to heal but only once they have been released from their captive state and are in a more normalized situation. No offense to anyone, but that truly sounds like most adoptees in many ways.

As always, I would love to link this post to the Adoption Edu Blog! So, let me know if you don't want me to and I will remove it.

Anonymous said...


Have you done any research into "Parental Alienation Syndrome"? I think you may find some interesting connections...

Great post, BTW. :)


Robin said...

Well, if you can relate the adoptee being told bad/untue things about the natural parent to the denigration of a non-custodial parent by the custodial parent in a divorce, then yes, I can see the similarities. Thanks for the reference.

Sandy Young said...

I have wondered, too, if mothers who were incarcerated in maternity homes don't suffer from this, as well. Some mothers who are so deeply in denial, perhaps are identifying with their captors too.

Good blog, Robin. I think that this theory has validity, but I have hesitated to bring it up, for fear of being bitten. Glad you had bigger ovaries than I!

Chris said...

""I have wondered, too, if mothers who were incarcerated in maternity homes don't suffer from this, as well. Some mothers who are so deeply in denial, perhaps are identifying with their captors too.""

Remember the stories we use to hear from actual, real live nmothers who wished for Reunion events at the maternity homes they were imprisoned in way back when? That to me was like wanting a Reunion at the prison you were once incarcerated in...too include tea and scones!! A few of these women/mothers even saying they had 'good memories'of! Also the kids that have been kidnapped and then defend their 'kidnappers' when they are adults. Remember that news story about that guy where finally his kidnappers were charged years and years later...and the young man defended the 'only parents he ever knew'?! Can't find that story right now...was about 4 or 5 yrs ago.
Here's some examples..
""He said his stepdaughter had developed a significant emotional bond with Phillip Garrido, and the girls cried when they learned of their father's arrest. ""

Von said...

Lori's comment "but only once they have been released from their captive state and are in a more normalized situation" can adoptees heal.
The death of adopters is indeed wonderfully liberating and allows healing, once it is acknowledged that the relationship is finished and the damage will not continue.This may take a long time.
However no adoptee can ever be in the 'normal' situation of a non-adoptee whatever that is.There is no undoing some of the damage and there is still Adoption Syndrome and PTSD to consider.
Hopefully using the concept of Stockholm Syndrome will be a useful way for mothers to view adoptees and understand why they act the way they do sometimes.
The propoganda of the adoption industry is powerful and hard to shake.

Robin said...

I agree Von, but only if the adoptee faces and accepts the deaths and then accepts the role the adopters played in their trauma. For some, they might as well have never died or else the keeping of the shrine has replaced caretaking of the adopters' emotions.

Chris said...

Actually Von...the liberating part is also for some of us nmothers, a problem and a god-send. I didn't fully engage in a full-scale search for my daughter until AFTER my own mother (bio) died. I can't give you conscious reasons for that, but as much as I still miss my mom, as much as it was 'liberating' for me after her death. Believe me, when I tell you I believe that there are also some nmothers that are just as thoroughly "programmed" as some adoptees, I believe I was one of them. I never felt 'liberated' enough to ever bring the 'subject' of about my first pregnancy nor the loss of my firstborn. No one told me in outward words...but somehow, someway, I did receive the message...never to be talked about, not in my family, nor with my friends. I have to say I found my daughter AFTER my mother's fact a year and half later. And since reunion..I definitely have been fully "liberated"!! I think I truly do understand the possible unconscious quagmire that many adoptees find themselves in..especially after I had a long talk with a younger sister of mine, yesterday, in regards to our mother, at the time of my pregnancy and surrender...when I was a child-less mother.

Sandy Young said...

You are right! I had forgotten about those women who desired a reunion at the homes! I couldn't understand it then and still don't today, since it was so far from the experience I felt at the time. I KNEW that I was incarcerated. I KNEW that they didn't have MY best interest at heart, and that the ONLY helped me to help themselves to my baby. Why would I want to celebrate with them? Seemed crazy then, but perhaps it was a form of Stockholm Syndrome...