ΑρχικήΨηφιακή ΒιβλιοθήκηΆρθραΆρθρα (Αγγλικά)ΜΑΡΙΑΝΖ ZERVAKI -WIDDERSHOVEN- 'The Trauma of Abandonment in an Adopted Child"

ΜΑΡΙΑΝΖ ZERVAKI -WIDDERSHOVEN- 'The Trauma of Abandonment in an Adopted Child"

 

The Trauma of Abandonment in an Adopted Child

 

ΜΑΡΙΑΝΖ ZERVAKI -WIDDERSHOVEN

 

 

 

In the psychotherapy of adopted children, the therapeutic space functions as a "home" (estia)for these children, through which they can reflect on their feelings, their anxieties, their fantasies and the trauma resulting from their abandonment by their original home.

 

The use of the dollhouse within psychotherapy functions as a transitional space, where home, body and family all meet at a psychological and mental level.

 

The dollhouse is used in the treatment of children as a therapeutic tool. It includes a wooden house, furniture, dolls and animals. The dollhouse, with its walls and roof represents the inner world of the child and becomes the home of his soul.

 

The way in which the child sets up and uses the dollhouse, reveals to us the child’s sense of his/her body as well as his/her internal and external world. Importantly, it also reveals the child’s feelings towards his/her therapist. Through the dollhouse, the child expresses, on a symbolic level, his/her representational and emotional state, his/her dynamics, and the child can also reveal previous traumatic experiences.

 

The therapeutic space becomes a containing space, an external home, where internal spaces are created.

 

The child learns about the space of his home (estia) through his/her own body and that of his mother; from a very young age, he/she is aware of his internal state and his home.

The adopted child that has possibly undergone traumatic experiences in his first home—a home which abandoned him/her without offering him/her the opportunity to create internal representations—may use the therapeutic space symbolically, as a new home. By using the dollhouse he/she can invest psychically and mentally in a real home that offers him/her a way of dealing with his/her loss and of investing meaningfully in his/her new home, estia and his/her new family.

 

Goddess Estia was protector of home and family. Estia is positioned at the center of the altar but also at the center of the home, the city and Ancient Greece; she is in the fire of the Earth, and at the center of Earth itself. She stands firm and unwavering.

 

Estia, sitting in a throne or standing up, is always shown in a state of complete immobility—an image which corresponds to the characteristic features bestowed upon the Goddess. However, in some cases of adoption, the security of the home, the Estia, is lacking. The child exhibits behavior problems as well as difficulties in primary attachment processes . The child leaves one family and must be integrated into another family, to which he/she does not belong. The lack of stability and the abandonment by the original home may have the effect of trauma on the child, while consequences may include anxiety, insecurity and difficulty to invest in the space of the new family.

 

For these children, psychotherapy, the therapeutic space and the therapeutic material can function as a transitional, as well as a containing space that might help the child integrate into his/her new family and home.

 

I will present some aspects of the psychotherapeutic treatment of an adopted girl, who manifested intense separation anxiety, fear of abandonment, and problems with sexuality and aggression.

 

In the therapeutic space the girl used the dollhouse to work through her fantasies and anxieties relating to her original home, but to also to hope for a better future in her new home.

 

Hara, age 10, was referred to psychotherapy, with the main symptom that for the last 4 years she insisted on acting like a dog: she would walk on all fours, went down on her knees, bark and leave the house to play with homeless dogs, returning hours later without any sort of excuse. It is very likely that through this behavior she was trying to show that she herself felt homeless—abandoned.

 

The adoption took place when the child was 7 days and his foster parents 55 years old. There was no other child in the family.

 

The foster parents belonged to a low socio-economic group and had met each other at the age of 35. They could not have any children and they received the child through the process of private adoption. They said that they had always wanted a girl, so she can take care of them and their home when they grew old.

 

Some information from the personal history :

 

 

The biological mother was married and the pregnancy took place under very difficult social and familial circumstances, especially because the biological father was in prison. The pregnancy had been unplanned and undesired. There were already two other children in the family. The adoption took place when the child was 7 days old and her psychomotor development was described as normal.

 

In the family, Hara was raised by the 2 parents and by the mother’s younger sister when the mother was working. She displayed strong symptoms of separation anxiety when they tried to send her to nursery school, at the age of 2,5, and she refused to go.

 

These symptoms had not changed by the time Hara was 3 years old, when her parents tried to stop using the nursing bottle and tried to get her to sleep on her own. At the age of 4 she developed a fear of dogs. At the age of 7, following her own personal enquiry to her parents, she was told about the adoption.

 

Because of these symptoms and difficulties in her relationship with her mother, her aunt, her father but also other children, she had started psychotherapy twice before. Her parents decided to end both treatments, the first after 8 months and the second after 1 year, because they had not noted any improvement.

 

 

We can imagine that Hara experienced the trauma of abandonment not only in leaving her first (natural) home but following this, in the separation from her foster mother, as well as in ending the 2 treatments and the therapeutic home-spaces.

 

The foster parents maintained quite a good relationship between them. They thought that not they, but the biological parents were responsible for the child’s current state.   In this way, they tried to deal with their own feelings of rejection towards Hara. They felt disappointed, because they had imagined her ‘differently’, more mature, more cooperative and more capable of taking care of them in their old age.

 

 

Some elements in the course of the therapy:

 

 

From the start of the therapy Hara decided to play with the therapeutic material and the dollhouse. Her game, especially with the doll-animals was at first always extremely aggressive, sadistic and destructive: the little animals had a penis and breasts (she made these using clay) and they would bite and hurt one another to such an extent that they often induced images of cannibalism. At the same time, she would always watch for my reaction, in case I rejected her. Also, she often made attacks towards me. As the object of her instincts and her anxiety, my own anxiety grew. I felt pressured and overwhelmed in these first encounters, because the content of the game showed only too clearly the intensity of her instincts. I was also frightened by the way that Hara expressed her feelings.

 

 

 

At our next meeting she stuck a piece of clay on the horse’s belly and placed it on top of another horse. She told me that they ‘stick’, meaning they ‘make love’. She then tried to attack me with the horse so we can ‘stick’ too. As a challenge, she showed me her clothes, her stomach and her breast. I felt that I was the object of her sexual instincts and aggression and I felt the confusion that existed within her and consequently, between us.

 

When the therapy was interrupted for the first time for the holiday period, she reacted in the same way as she had in the past. The separation anxiety in the transference was manifested in her dog-behavior: she walked on all fours, barked, hid under the table, licked objects, growled and bit my shoe. She used this behavior to express her anger and her anxiety, because she was not able to talk about these feelings like a human being. In the counter-transference, I was upset by her aggression but also her intense anxiety that she might lose me; this frightened me because it seemed to me that the therapy would never reach an end.

 

At our next meeting she started to touch upon the subject of adoption and played the following game: she divided the dogs into homeless dogs and pets. She worried about and tended to the animals that had no house-home or parental care. She pretended that the mother and father dog had small puppies that they were abandoned on the street. She tried to imagine what would happen and who would take care of them, but mainly she tried to understand why their mother and father had abandoned them and where they would find a new house-home (estia).

 

Soon afterwards, her parents decided to get her a puppy. But the puppy had to sleep outside during the night and it cried because it was lonely. During therapy, Hara identified with the dog and tried to face her own fear of the dark, of loneliness and rejection. When her parents decided to give the dog away because neighbors were complaining about the noise at night, Hara identified with the bad dog, whose parents gave it away because they could no longer stand it; at which point, she again began to behave like a dog.

 

 

 

In transference Hara always assumed her dog behavior when she sensed that I might abandon her, for example when I had to cancel sessions or during the holidays. Her fantasy of losing the therapeutic space built up so much stress, fear and anger inside her, that she acted like a frightened and angry puppy. The omnipotent game of the dog was always intense and in counter-transference made me feel weak, insecure and stressed—as if I was the abandoned puppy. However, at the same time I admired her rich and intricate game. It was hard to withstand her projections and instincts. On the other hand, I felt her dependence on me, which was something that scared me, while the thought that she might ask me to adopt her also frightened me.

 

 

 

In the second year of therapy, Hara could deal with the subject of adoption in a more organized way. She introduced a second mother to the therapeutic space and expressed the wish that her biological mother (the mother who gave birth to her) be the same as her foster mother (the mother who raises her). She said that the first mommy gives birth to children, while the second mommy has a husband and knows how to raise children. In her game, she made the 2 mothers do the same things and she also fantasized that the one mother takes care of the other and thus the two are at peace and tended to.  

 

 

 

As the therapy progressed, Hara would set up 3 houses in every session. She would name the first one ‘the old house, the old home’,(estia) where she was born; the second would be the ‘new home’(estia), where she lived at the moment; and finally, she would name the third house ‘the other house’, which was the space, or the home(estia) of the therapy.

 

 

During the holidays she tried to express her separation anxiety in a more mature way, by expressing her wish for me to visit her home at Easter and meet her friend.

During the summer holidays she tried to lock me in my office so she can preserve my image in the ‘other house’, in the ‘other home’. In counter-transference I felt more at ease with the way in which she expressed and dealt with her separation anxiety and it was easier for me to handle the situation.

 

At this point, she not only wanted to talk about the past, but she also wanted to think about her present and her future, when she would be grown up and in a position to leave her home and stand on her own to feet.

 

She wanted to discuss movies whose subject was adoption and started to concern herself with matters of separation in transference, through teenage songs.

 

In this way, she started to think about the final stage of termination of the therapy (after 2,5 years of intense psychotherapy).

 

 

Conclusion:

 

Hara’s symptom begins when she asks and learns about the story of her own adoption at the age of 7. However, there were also earlier signs of difficulties in bonding with her mother, separation fear and the trauma of abandonment. It seems that Hara experienced each loss or separation, as confirmation for her fantasy of abandonment and consequently as a trauma. In adoptions, the primary relationship between mother and child is interrupted, while the primary tie with the mother-home (estia) and the absence of the biological parents as well as the primary home (estia) , may be experienced as a traumatic event for the child. The people who become his/her parents are Others—strangers from the biological parents.

 

The stability and continuity of the Goddess Estia, symbolizing the unity of body-home-family, is interrupted and destroyed and may cause the child primary anxiety.

 

 

 

In adoptions, the process of creating a new relationship with the foster mother and the foster family, may be accompanied by a sense of loss but also recovery.

 

The child feels that he/she belongs to the mother, the family, the home (estia), when that mother can offer him/her emotional security and containment. The mother who is caring can replace the mother who is absent.

 

Hara needed the transitional space of therapy and the therapeutic material to process, use reparation and heal from her primary anxieties. She could not speak about these, but only express them through action. There were no words, thoughts or representations. Yet, her actions and behavior helped her express her primary anxieties and the therapeutic process led her to build an internal representation through the experiences with the new parent, the new space and the new home (estia). It was necessary that she reshape her internal objects by negotiating with the objects that take care of her so as to recover her trust in the mythical form of the Goddess Estia.      

         

                  

         

Ινστιτούτο Ψυχικής Υγείας Παιδιών και Ενηλίκων

         

        

                  

       

 

The Trauma of Abandonment in an Adopted Child

 

ΜΑΡΙΑΝΖ ZERVAKI -WIDDERSHOVEN

 

 

 

In the psychotherapy of adopted children, the therapeutic space functions as a "home" (estia)for these children, through which they can reflect on their feelings, their anxieties, their fantasies and the trauma resulting from their abandonment by their original home.

 

The use of the dollhouse within psychotherapy functions as a transitional space, where home, body and family all meet at a psychological and mental level.

 

The dollhouse is used in the treatment of children as a therapeutic tool. It includes a wooden house, furniture, dolls and animals. The dollhouse, with its walls and roof represents the inner world of the child and becomes the home of his soul.

 

The way in which the child sets up and uses the dollhouse, reveals to us the child’s sense of his/her body as well as his/her internal and external world. Importantly, it also reveals the child’s feelings towards his/her therapist. Through the dollhouse, the child expresses, on a symbolic level, his/her representational and emotional state, his/her dynamics, and the child can also reveal previous traumatic experiences.

 

The therapeutic space becomes a containing space, an external home, where internal spaces are created.

 

The child learns about the space of his home (estia) through his/her own body and that of his mother; from a very young age, he/she is aware of his internal state and his home.

The adopted child that has possibly undergone traumatic experiences in his first home—a home which abandoned him/her without offering him/her the opportunity to create internal representations—may use the therapeutic space symbolically, as a new home. By using the dollhouse he/she can invest psychically and mentally in a real home that offers him/her a way of dealing with his/her loss and of investing meaningfully in his/her new home, estia and his/her new family.

 

Goddess Estia was protector of home and family. Estia is positioned at the center of the altar but also at the center of the home, the city and Ancient Greece; she is in the fire of the Earth, and at the center of Earth itself. She stands firm and unwavering.

 

Estia, sitting in a throne or standing up, is always shown in a state of complete immobility—an image which corresponds to the characteristic features bestowed upon the Goddess. However, in some cases of adoption, the security of the home, the Estia, is lacking. The child exhibits behavior problems as well as difficulties in primary attachment processes . The child leaves one family and must be integrated into another family, to which he/she does not belong. The lack of stability and the abandonment by the original home may have the effect of trauma on the child, while consequences may include anxiety, insecurity and difficulty to invest in the space of the new family.

 

For these children, psychotherapy, the therapeutic space and the therapeutic material can function as a transitional, as well as a containing space that might help the child integrate into his/her new family and home.

 

I will present some aspects of the psychotherapeutic treatment of an adopted girl, who manifested intense separation anxiety, fear of abandonment, and problems with sexuality and aggression.

 

In the therapeutic space the girl used the dollhouse to work through her fantasies and anxieties relating to her original home, but to also to hope for a better future in her new home.

 

Hara, age 10, was referred to psychotherapy, with the main symptom that for the last 4 years she insisted on acting like a dog: she would walk on all fours, went down on her knees, bark and leave the house to play with homeless dogs, returning hours later without any sort of excuse. It is very likely that through this behavior she was trying to show that she herself felt homeless—abandoned.

 

The adoption took place when the child was 7 days and his foster parents 55 years old. There was no other child in the family.

 

The foster parents belonged to a low socio-economic group and had met each other at the age of 35. They could not have any children and they received the child through the process of private adoption. They said that they had always wanted a girl, so she can take care of them and their home when they grew old.

 

Some information from the personal history :

 

 

The biological mother was married and the pregnancy took place under very difficult social and familial circumstances, especially because the biological father was in prison. The pregnancy had been unplanned and undesired. There were already two other children in the family. The adoption took place when the child was 7 days old and her psychomotor development was described as normal.

 

In the family, Hara was raised by the 2 parents and by the mother’s younger sister when the mother was working. She displayed strong symptoms of separation anxiety when they tried to send her to nursery school, at the age of 2,5, and she refused to go.

 

These symptoms had not changed by the time Hara was 3 years old, when her parents tried to stop using the nursing bottle and tried to get her to sleep on her own. At the age of 4 she developed a fear of dogs. At the age of 7, following her own personal enquiry to her parents, she was told about the adoption.

 

Because of these symptoms and difficulties in her relationship with her mother, her aunt, her father but also other children, she had started psychotherapy twice before. Her parents decided to end both treatments, the first after 8 months and the second after 1 year, because they had not noted any improvement.

 

 

We can imagine that Hara experienced the trauma of abandonment not only in leaving her first (natural) home but following this, in the separation from her foster mother, as well as in ending the 2 treatments and the therapeutic home-spaces.

 

The foster parents maintained quite a good relationship between them. They thought that not they, but the biological parents were responsible for the child’s current state.   In this way, they tried to deal with their own feelings of rejection towards Hara. They felt disappointed, because they had imagined her ‘differently’, more mature, more cooperative and more capable of taking care of them in their old age.

 

 

Some elements in the course of the therapy:

 

 

From the start of the therapy Hara decided to play with the therapeutic material and the dollhouse. Her game, especially with the doll-animals was at first always extremely aggressive, sadistic and destructive: the little animals had a penis and breasts (she made these using clay) and they would bite and hurt one another to such an extent that they often induced images of cannibalism. At the same time, she would always watch for my reaction, in case I rejected her. Also, she often made attacks towards me. As the object of her instincts and her anxiety, my own anxiety grew. I felt pressured and overwhelmed in these first encounters, because the content of the game showed only too clearly the intensity of her instincts. I was also frightened by the way that Hara expressed her feelings.

 

 

 

At our next meeting she stuck a piece of clay on the horse’s belly and placed it on top of another horse. She told me that they ‘stick’, meaning they ‘make love’. She then tried to attack me with the horse so we can ‘stick’ too. As a challenge, she showed me her clothes, her stomach and her breast. I felt that I was the object of her sexual instincts and aggression and I felt the confusion that existed within her and consequently, between us.

 

When the therapy was interrupted for the first time for the holiday period, she reacted in the same way as she had in the past. The separation anxiety in the transference was manifested in her dog-behavior: she walked on all fours, barked, hid under the table, licked objects, growled and bit my shoe. She used this behavior to express her anger and her anxiety, because she was not able to talk about these feelings like a human being. In the counter-transference, I was upset by her aggression but also her intense anxiety that she might lose me; this frightened me because it seemed to me that the therapy would never reach an end.

 

At our next meeting she started to touch upon the subject of adoption and played the following game: she divided the dogs into homeless dogs and pets. She worried about and tended to the animals that had no house-home or parental care. She pretended that the mother and father dog had small puppies that they were abandoned on the street. She tried to imagine what would happen and who would take care of them, but mainly she tried to understand why their mother and father had abandoned them and where they would find a new house-home (estia).

 

Soon afterwards, her parents decided to get her a puppy. But the puppy had to sleep outside during the night and it cried because it was lonely. During therapy, Hara identified with the dog and tried to face her own fear of the dark, of loneliness and rejection. When her parents decided to give the dog away because neighbors were complaining about the noise at night, Hara identified with the bad dog, whose parents gave it away because they could no longer stand it; at which point, she again began to behave like a dog.

 

 

 

In transference Hara always assumed her dog behavior when she sensed that I might abandon her, for example when I had to cancel sessions or during the holidays. Her fantasy of losing the therapeutic space built up so much stress, fear and anger inside her, that she acted like a frightened and angry puppy. The omnipotent game of the dog was always intense and in counter-transference made me feel weak, insecure and stressed—as if I was the abandoned puppy. However, at the same time I admired her rich and intricate game. It was hard to withstand her projections and instincts. On the other hand, I felt her dependence on me, which was something that scared me, while the thought that she might ask me to adopt her also frightened me.

 

 

 

In the second year of therapy, Hara could deal with the subject of adoption in a more organized way. She introduced a second mother to the therapeutic space and expressed the wish that her biological mother (the mother who gave birth to her) be the same as her foster mother (the mother who raises her). She said that the first mommy gives birth to children, while the second mommy has a husband and knows how to raise children. In her game, she made the 2 mothers do the same things and she also fantasized that the one mother takes care of the other and thus the two are at peace and tended to.  

 

 

 

As the therapy progressed, Hara would set up 3 houses in every session. She would name the first one ‘the old house, the old home’,(estia) where she was born; the second would be the ‘new home’(estia), where she lived at the moment; and finally, she would name the third house ‘the other house’, which was the space, or the home(estia) of the therapy.

 

 

During the holidays she tried to express her separation anxiety in a more mature way, by expressing her wish for me to visit her home at Easter and meet her friend.

During the summer holidays she tried to lock me in my office so she can preserve my image in the ‘other house’, in the ‘other home’. In counter-transference I felt more at ease with the way in which she expressed and dealt with her separation anxiety and it was easier for me to handle the situation.

 

At this point, she not only wanted to talk about the past, but she also wanted to think about her present and her future, when she would be grown up and in a position to leave her home and stand on her own to feet.

 

She wanted to discuss movies whose subject was adoption and started to concern herself with matters of separation in transference, through teenage songs.

 

In this way, she started to think about the final stage of termination of the therapy (after 2,5 years of intense psychotherapy).

 

 

Conclusion:

 

Hara’s symptom begins when she asks and learns about the story of her own adoption at the age of 7. However, there were also earlier signs of difficulties in bonding with her mother, separation fear and the trauma of abandonment. It seems that Hara experienced each loss or separation, as confirmation for her fantasy of abandonment and consequently as a trauma. In adoptions, the primary relationship between mother and child is interrupted, while the primary tie with the mother-home (estia) and the absence of the biological parents as well as the primary home (estia) , may be experienced as a traumatic event for the child. The people who become his/her parents are Others—strangers from the biological parents.

 

The stability and continuity of the Goddess Estia, symbolizing the unity of body-home-family, is interrupted and destroyed and may cause the child primary anxiety.

 

 

 

In adoptions, the process of creating a new relationship with the foster mother and the foster family, may be accompanied by a sense of loss but also recovery.

 

The child feels that he/she belongs to the mother, the family, the home (estia), when that mother can offer him/her emotional security and containment. The mother who is caring can replace the mother who is absent.

 

Hara needed the transitional space of therapy and the therapeutic material to process, use reparation and heal from her primary anxieties. She could not speak about these, but only express them through action. There were no words, thoughts or representations. Yet, her actions and behavior helped her express her primary anxieties and the therapeutic process led her to build an internal representation through the experiences with the new parent, the new space and the new home (estia). It was necessary that she reshape her internal objects by negotiating with the objects that take care of her so as to recover her trust in the mythical form of the Goddess Estia.      

         

                  

         

Ινστιτούτο Ψυχικής Υγείας Παιδιών και Ενηλίκων

         

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