Irina Dedele (Latvia). Mysteries of Adaptation and Other Family Secrets: Child’s Experiences
The idea of this article was suggested by a series of supervision cases dealing with family secrets and adopted children.
Cover-up of a child’s personal history does not protect him from traumatic experience; on the contrary, such concealment can cause various pathologies, which later may persist over few generations.
Among these consequences are: lower self-esteem, lower level of abstraction, frequent psychosomatic diseases, subliminal identification with ‘inferiority’ of one’s parents and associated asocial behaviour, difficulties in building close relationships, etc.
Although parents often resist and fear the discovery, they are aware of importance of such impact on the life of their child. The main problem faced by parents are manifestations of abnormal physical activity, aggression, disobedience and protest of the child. The psychiatric diagnosis is oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), characterised by aggressiveness and inclination to irritate and abuse others on purpose.
The article considers six main types of children’s reaction to the presence of a mystery in a family (according to N. Olifirovich), and particular model cases from therapeutic practice are used to illustrate the types.
Very often parents do not tell the child he/she was adopted for two reasons: first, because the parents think the child will consider him/herself abandoned and, second, because they suppose that their child, having found out the truth, will leave them to seek his/her biological parents.
Both reasons present difficulties of communication both for the parents and the psychologist, because daily life proves that such fears are have certain ground: children start feeling abandoned and alienated from their parents. But is it true?
Fears are very strong. They feed on rich stocks of stories heard by parents from their friends and the media about how children respond later in life to the news that they were adopted. These stories are mostly negative. Parents prefer to suppress such emotions and fears, and they raise a child with this burden.
In a sense, this secret hinders the child’s and parents’ genuine affection and acceptance of each other. A child cannot process the experience of being abandoned, which he/she bears deep inside the unconscious, and build relations with new parents.
Seeking psychological help should make the process of revealing the secret as painless as possible. However, revelation of family secrets can be as destructive as their concealment if the intensity of related emotional processes is underestimated.
Inability of a family to face a secret often becomes a serious handicap for psychological assistance. Commenting on a child’s play during a session, a psychologist helps to define the issue that has to be concealed in real life in line with the rules agreed with the parents. Nonetheless, play therapy provides an opportunity to express and process painful awareness without challenging the current family situation. Stable therapeutic contact between a family and a therapist is facilitated by delicate work with the parents, which helps them to relieve of the secret, but no sooner than they are prepared for it.
In working with a secret, it is important to avoid imposing, scaring, offering one’s explanations, offering instead thoroughness and depth. In the first stages of the therapy, it is not the content of the secret that is essential, but the motives and feelings that make the family hold the event ‘under carpet’.
A question that often comes up is ‘HOW’: ‘How will we tell him, while avoiding trauma, shock and negative consequences?’. In reality, they fear changes and openness, fear life without a protective wall. The longer a secret is kept, the harder it is to reveal it…
Revelation of family secrets usually heals the wounds. In most stories, it brings order to the mind and the soul, ensuring balance for the whole family. Indeed, the process of revelation is often painful, and, for a time, it can lead to ‘fever’. But, when the revealed truth is integrated, the family and its members usually become healthier and stronger.