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A professional family constellations facilitator recently asked for advice on facilitating a client who is adopted. I have written this post with experienced therapists and constellation facilitators in mind. These are simply aspects that I have noticed over time, and are offered as compliment to the knowledge and practical experience of facilitating constellations that you have. Some of the terms mentioned, such as ‘orders’ and ‘bow’ will probably only be familiar to facilitators. Still, in the spirit of demystifying processes, I’m posting it here and hope it may be of value to non-professionals.

It is possible that the effects of being adopted are not the client’s main issue or maintaining cause, but this is unlikely. In every family system that I have worked with that has adoption, there has been significant trauma.

Many people who were adopted, experienced existential trauma, the immediate threat of annihilation as soon as their separate sense of self incarnated. If this is so, life can feel extremely unsafe.

Adoption can save a person from a traumatising family system of origin.

Being adopted is as perfect a set of circumstances for full incarnation and realisation as anyone else’s circumstances.

In terms of advice to you as a facilitator, move very slowly.

For a person to be able sit with someone who knows that there is nothing wrong with them and for them to experience this can in itself be a revelation. You can make this available with your presence.

Presence can help foster:

The return of safety.

The reestablishment of basic trust.

A complete down-regulation of the system, releasing it from the need to stay in a state of hyper-vigilance, catalysing the way for paradise to become unpaved.

Instead of entering into more complex work, it can be enough to invite the person to choose four people in a group to represent their parents, natural and adoptive, at least for their first constellation. They can sit in front of their parents. There is no need to bow. They may have had a lifetime trying to see them all together, which may have been an impossible task. You can facilitate this for them. Let the parents do the work.

You can also set up the family orders.

Either or both of these processes can be enough.

Inviting ancestors to stand behind the parents can be profoundly resourcing and connecting, but for these first steps it may be that you sense it could be more than needs to happen, for now.

The further you go, you need to be aware and have the expertise with multiple traumas: identity trauma, physical trauma, the trauma of love, the trauma of sexuality, and victim-perpetrator dynamics.

Use the client’s language. If at the beginning they call their adoptive parents their ‘real parents’ then follow this, or maybe you can call them ‘parents’. You don’t need to change their words. They already have the answers. Having four parents can be confusing enough. If they call their natural parents their ‘birth’ or ‘biological’ parents, then honour this. You may feel that you know better, but always let them lead, as these terms are all just labels. They may have had their original name taken from them, so this can heighten sensitivity. All will eventually fall into place.

Work with tenderness, sensitivity and humility. Help the person to realise the exquisite level of care that they have always had for themselves. It will be there.

Confusion of identity can be significant, so you may be moved to address this first, or along with any love/relationship related trauma that is present. The relevant family members will appear from this inner landscape.

Some further aspects of adoption that I’ve noticed:

We may assume that one or both parents actually gave their children up for adoption. We should check this. Sometimes this is true, but they may have been coerced or had their baby stolen from them with officials having falsified records. My face to face clients are mostly in Ireland, so I have had to learn these truths from personal experience. If we don’t know that the parents freely gave their child away, then I suggest we should refrain from saying something such as “when a mother gives up the child for adoption they relinquish their rights as a parent”. If a child was stolen by the church or state and recorded in the records as adopted, has the mother still lost her rights as a parent?

There is a strong possibility that physical birth trauma occurred. The birth is often difficult and can involve intervention such as forceps delivery, and/or anaesthesia. If the mother has advance knowledge that she will be relinquishing her child, it is unlikely she will be in a healthy state when she goes into labour. Knowing what is to come, she may feel that this is her last chance to hold on to her child. The effects of the physical trauma on the child can exacerbate the psychological trauma that occurs when their parents go on to relinquish them.

In between the time of the child being relinquished by the mother and the adoptive parents receiving/taking the child, there will often be a caregiver of some sort, a nun, or social worker. Maybe this person was kind and loving to the child, or possibly cold and unemotional. However short this relationship, this is the one that came immediately after the natural mother. Representation of this person may reveal an extraordinary resource that the client can connect with, or something else. Deep-seated issue with authority? This person may have been experienced as a perpetrator. After all, it can be understandable if the child feels that this person stole them from their mother and that the adoptive parents then saved them. So we can give this ‘intermediary’ a place in a constellation. I would love to hear how many family constellation facilitators have done this and what has been seen.

I was adopted at eight weeks old from Ireland to England. Thankfully my secretly pregnant mother saved up for a plane ticket to get to London. If she had taken the ferry, she would have been stopped by Catholic ‘guards’ who used to wait at the English ports to escort the young women back to Ireland to be locked in a Magdalene laundry/ mother and baby home. Ireland had what has been accurately referred to as ‘The Adoption Machine‘, termed by Paul Jude Redmond, author of the book by the same title. What happened in Ireland was nothing less than a nationwide church and state-sanctioned human trafficking operation on a vast scale. As legislation changed in Ireland and other western countries, this has become a recognisable structure in other countries where helpless babies are more readily available.

There are few adoption-specific pages on this website and also an interview I did with the author Anne Heffron, who like me, was adopted as a baby. The conversation spontaneously evolved into a constellation. It will show just how such a small step in facilitation can make something significant happen for someone who was adopted. https://danielburge.com/interview.

Adoption is highly complex, and society has done a very effective job of glazing a vast set of assumptions over the lens through which we see it.

I hope this has made the lens a bit clearer.

on adoption and having two mothers

Sarah is my natural mother. My mother of origin. The mother of my origin. My birth mother. My biological mother. She lives in the Irish midlands, just a few miles from the very centre of the country. I was conceived within her, inside a white Ford Zodiac, parked up along a quiet country lane one evening. I grew inside her, and she gave birth to me. She had travelled to England when she was 7 months pregnant. She hid the pregnancy from her family, including my grandmother.

8 weeks after I was born we were separated and I was adopted.

Wendy is my adoptive mother. She raised me, with her husband, my very dear and now sadly deceased dad Bill. I never wanted for her love. She was always wired to give, as she still is. Age has now gifted her with blindness and disability, but her love, joy and gratitude for life are unabating.

Sarah came first. Wendy came second.

I’d wondered all my life about where I was from and when I was 26 I set out to find my natural mother. I found her very quickly, in another country, and a month later I flew to Ireland and met her, and soon after we met I went into complete turmoil.

I had grown up to know only one mother, my loving, kind mother Wendy, and now I had two mothers. But having two mother’s isn’t possible, and my body and head kept reminding me of this biological truth. I was almost constantly tormented by thoughts, streaming tumultuously forth and entangled with consuming physical aching and wrenching pain, as my soul surged and attempted to withdraw and I struggled to make sense of it all. I knew it was impossible to have two mothers, but now I had two, so it must surely be possible, but much as I tried to resolve this in my mind it was an impossible task. It was agony, and it was overwhelming.

For a few years this was on repeat. How could I have two mothers when we can only have one mother? Sarah was my mother, she had conceived me, grown me and birthed me. That was clear. But somehow I had another, Wendy, and she had been my mother as long as I could remember, giving me everything I ever knew a mother could.

I knew that this was core to my journey and to my very being. I didn’t try to exclude Sarah. I didn’t try to exclude Wendy. To do so may have palliated how I felt and may have brought me some semblance of peace or resolution, but I knew that however painful and difficult, and no matter how much I suffered, I knew I had to stay with it, even though it was splitting me and tearing at my soul.

One summer’s day many years ago, and years after I had found Sarah, I was laying in the grass in the grounds of friend’s parent’s stately home in Norfolk, England. It was a gloriously sunny afternoon. All the land as far as could be seen had been designed by the 18th-century landscape architect Capability Brown. Every tree that surrounded me had been chosen by him when still a sapling, knowing that it would be many generations until the full splendour of his creations would be enjoyed. The lake alongside me was the fruit of a monumental and considered excavation, dug without machines by the hands of thousands of workers. The totality of it all harmonising with the ground beneath me. I was in the company of many friends, making merriment and playing around.

I started thinking of my Irish mum. I was thinking of her married surname ‘Flower’. I was wishing that I could have been a Flower as well, but I knew that this could never have been, as she had conceived me with my father, the man she had laid with before she met her husband. The resisted familiarity of feeling a partial belonging to many families but not feeling that I truly belonged to any family pulled me away from any rest that I had.

And suddenly and literally out of the blue, I received a direct visitation. An unmitigated encounter with the divine. Not a vision nor a dream, but a cocooning and embracing by a cloud base that had come from nothing. And out of this sublime softness, she appeared, rising up and revealing herself to me. I was seeing her with my heart. She was the mother I had been yearning for, but not Sarah or Wendy…she was the mother, the source of everything, the divine mother, the source of all mothers. I met her and the source of her. The glowing mother from which all mothers manifest as beautiful facets, each reflecting her original luminosity and love. And in that moment she directly connected with me, and I saw and recognised her with my heart, and I felt my heart simply, gently and with such loving kindness, directly inform my head, and all the turmoil of my inner storm was gone. She showed me through direct experience that Sarah and Wendy were not separate, but are simply aspects of the one Mother, the Goddess, each expressing what She is in their own unique ways. Both of them perfect and complete. And as soon as I knew this in my heart, in the most exquisitely economical way she immediately merged back into the softness and left. As soon as she knew that I knew her she was gone.

And there I was again, simply laying on the grass, in the sunshine. It had all just taken a moment and my life was changed forever. And although I hadn’t moved nor made a sound, after some time I realised that everyone around me had also gone quiet, and as I lay there with my eyes closed my friend asked me “what was that that just happened?!” And through the tears that were running down my face, tears that had washed my vision clear, I told them that I had just met the mother, our mother, and that I was now at peace.

And that night I danced ’til dawn.

I was interviewed about adoption by the author and screenwriter Anne Heffron.

“I have been putting off writing this post because I can’t possibly do the topic justice. I feel like I’m going to try to describe a beautiful baby to you by just showing you the arm.

But what the hell. Here goes.

I read a post on Facebook where a guy, Daniel Burge, was talking about helping an adopted person heal by giving her a dose of oxytocin.

Did someone say oxytocin?

I thought you had to hug or eat chocolate to get that stuff, and there Daniel was dosing someone with it! I wrote to him immediately and asked if he’d let me interview him for a blog post. I didn’t know he was in Ireland. I didn’t know he was a homeopathy practitioner and that he worked with family constellations and adoption and identity trauma healing. All I knew was that he had dosed someone with oxytocin. I was like a dog hot on the scent of a bone: wild, intent, hungry.

I’m going to start at the end. Daniel was one of the most joyful people with whom I have ever spoken, and when we finished our conversation, I went into a funk. It had to do with three bottles of ketchup. I’m still so upset I had to pause right now to regroup. I just want to get those bottles and smash them up and get ketchup all over the walls like blood, but I haven’t figured out a good space to do this in and so these feelings are still in me, waiting to go berserk. Writing before I’ve done the ketchup carnage is difficult, but I want to get this out.

Daniel is adopted, and he talked about how we as adoptees go through something so epic—the transformational experience heroes go through in their journeys–something that causes the ego to fall away and a new, supercharged being to emerge, but because we are so small, we don’t have the brainpower to process this and what makes a hero a hero as an adult can leave us feeling damaged, flawed. Like an outsider. The loss experienced in being relinquished offers a taste of enlightenment, but we are too young to incorporate it into our being in a healthy manner, and so we, often, suffer.

But it is in us, this experience, this transformation, and it makes us amazing people. The trick is to realize what happened to our brains when we were young and to use what damaged us to our advantage.

Daniel explained to me the difference between stress and trauma. Normally, when someone gets stressed, the cause of the stress goes away and the person returns to stasis. What makes a situation traumatic is when the source of the stress doesn’t go away. So, for example, when a child experiences the loss of the mother and the mother doesn’t return, the stress can get intense because the child believes he won’t survive the situation, and he survives by splitting his brain. Now there is a healthy part, a traumatized part, and a survival part, and for the rest of his life, he lives from the survivor part. From then on the person is never really there as he is always waiting for the horrific thing to happen again.

(Not everyone experiences this, and so we have the word “resilient” to describe the ability to experience what others would interpret as trauma but to not interpret it as such.)

But, Daniel says, heaven on earth is available for everyone, even for those who are not now fully present. As a homeopathy practitioner, he works with the healing properties of plants and minerals, and I will write about this in a follow-up post because Daniel is like a Ted conference—there is too much life-changing information to get it in one sitting. How can I possibly talk about the plants when I am focusing on the ketchup?

This brings me to the time in our conversation when he mentioned family dynamics. And this is where things started to get me all worked up.

I don’t even want to write about it. I just want to throw my computer out the window, but because I care about you and I want to share what I learned with you, I’ll try to act like I’m in control of myself for a few more minutes.

I have never been a fan of ketchup, so I am very surprised it has been the object of my furied attention these last few days. I keep thinking about where I can smash the bottles, how it will feel to smash them, how I will feel after I smash them.

So let’s get to the why do I want to smash them part.

Daniel says he keeps a box of faceless figures in his office, but he said I could do this exercise with anything, ketchup bottles for example. Working with what he called soul movements (the important stuff, he said, moves slowly, and so we should connect to where we feel most deeply and move from that place), I can take one bottle and look at it as my birth mother and place it on the table. I can then take the second bottle, my birth father, and decide where it will go on the table, and the third bottle, as I’m sure you can guess, would be me. I could place that where I think it belongs.

As soon as Daniel mentioned “ketchup bottle” and “birth mother,” all I could picture was smashing the bottle against the table as hard as I could, repeatedly, ketchup and glass flying. When he mentioned “ketchup bottle” and “birth father,” I saw myself smashing the two bottles together (the birth mother bottle was miraculously whole again so I could do this), repeatedly, ketchup and broken glass flying. I could not even imagine where I would place the me bottle. I would just smash it against the edge of the table to get rid of it.

Well.

That was not expected.

I had thought Daniel and I were going to talk about oxytocin and how I, as an adopted person, could, frankly, get high.

I told him what I pictured doing to the ketchup bottles and he made some happy Daniel noise. “That’s the beauty of this work,” he said. “It lets you access murderous rage.”

Murderous rage? I had thought I’d pretty much come to terms with my birth parents, the whole adoption scenario. Good lord. What was going to happen when I brought my mom and dad and brothers into the ketchup situation? I can’t even get my brain to go there yet. I have to actually go out and do the first scenario to get it out of my system.

The thing with working with the bottles is that my brain is given images to work with, which is powerful in a way that straight talk-therapy does not access. I had never smashed anything in therapy. Never even thought about it.

Thinking about the bottles shows me that I am so angry with my birth mother for giving birth to me. I am so angry with my birth father for impregnating her, and I am so angry with myself for existing. This is heavy stuff. Maybe it’s part of the reason my stomach hurts much of the time. Maybe it’s why I get irrationally angry when things trigger me. Maybe after I smash the bottles I will be better able to access the sheer joy of being alive, better able to live out the miracle of the fact that two strangers had to meet and have sex in order for me to be born. Maybe then I will better be able to feel just how happy I am to be on this planet, to be me.

So I’m going for it. I’m going to do it outside somewhere tomorrow, on Thanksgiving. It’s the perfect day to make a mess in order to find the joy beneath it all.

I’ll tell you more about Daniel’s work soon. I feel so lucky to have found him”.

Anne Heffron and Daniel BurgeAnne Heffron is the co-writer of the movie Phantom Halo and the author of the memoir You Don’t Look Adopted. She blogs about adoption, writing, and motherhood at anneheffron.com.