Lifton, B.J. (1994) Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness. New York: Basic Books. pp259-260
During a trip to Hawwaii, I met a therapist who had been invited to work with a group of adoptees who were in various stages of search and reunion. The adoption experience was new to him, but he was no stranger to grief and loss and pain. He was an empathic man, and he seemed puzzled. He said that the adoptees in his group, and the ones he has begun to see in his private practice, seemed traumatized. They do not shed their symptoms like his other patients. Their trauma seems deeper, as if it were very early - almost as if it were cellular.
Trauma is earlier for adoptees than for most other people, I told him. It begins at birth, with separation from the mother. And it's more persistent because adoptees have no pre-traumatic self. And then I explained what I meant by this.
We know that when adoptive parents have been traumatized by not being able to conceive a child, they already have adult selves that can absorb and work through the shock. So too, the birth mother may have been young when she was traumatized by her unwanted pregnancy, but she had a self to fall back on as she continued her life. But the adoptee, who experienced separation and loss early in life, usually at birth, has no previous self - no pre-traumatic self - from which to draw strength.