The term adoption refers to social events in which the law “creates” new family contexts and ratifies new affiliations according to the often greatly differing practices of diverse regions and time scales. All too often the background to an adoption is muddled and confused; even when there have not been any misadventures or drastic separations involved, still many puzzles remain to be solved (Cyrulnik, 2009). Each character in this adventure may give quite a different meaning to his or her experience.
In this issue our aim has been to allow these different perspectives to emerge, in order to develop new ideas and to outline new theoretical and clinical ways of critically examining the subject of adoption.
We have tried to take as broad and encompassing a view as possible, from different vantage points, in an attempt to present a group experience that we hope will give rise to creative dialogue between the different ways of regarding the subject.
In dealing with adoption, the homogenous group is heavily invested with the myth of birth and has proved to be a privileged environment within which to foster the symbolic dimension of being adoptive parents, “a place of psychic identification” where one identifies oneself socially as a parent (Saottini in Corbella, Girelli, Marinelli, 2004).
In the words of Antonino Ferro (in Artoni Schlesinger, 2006) we may say that adoption, for the adopter, means having the capacity to receive and transform elements of “unthinkability”. As the adopted child “comes from a place where we were not, at a time when there needed to be someone there, someone there to take on these tangles of unthought/unthinkable sensory experiences urgently in need of the available mind of the other” (p. 5) we must take on the “remains” of the past, those elements which only partly primitive and, like “black holes”, let through no glimmer of light.
We wonder, then, if bonds which have been badly formed at the outset can in some way be repaired. The desire to adopt starts out with precisely this vocation for reparation. Nevertheless, when the parents themselves are not serene, they are unable to meet satisfactorily the needs of their adopted children. From their primary experience, the children have learned problematic (if adaptive) models of relating which have made them impervious to emotions and able to give an impression of “feelings of great coldness” (Cyrulnik, 2009 p.191).
In the face of such behaviour some parents become discouraged, or are perhaps unaware that the child possesses his own resources. The successful outcome of the adoption lies in knowing how to go beyond what is one’s own and what is the other’s, and in making them familiar; the specific task of the adoptive family is to create an “ours” capable of containing both. The way in which children and parents speak of themselves is telling: “a precious indicator of the form – either dialogue or monologue – with which the adoptive relationship gets under way is the narration of the first encounter between adoptive parents and child – a metaphor for the actual building of the relationship” (Greco, 2006 pp. 153-154)
Anne Loncan’s paper is the first in our collection and she emphasises that “when there are no biological links, the filiation link is built on the sole basis of symbolic functions, which are fully needed for the necessary affiliation process to occur”. The author examines the detrimental effects of falsification and mystification and the way these distortions fuel hidden ghosts and representations, hindering the sense of belonging and the formation of new links. Psychoanalytic Family Therapy (PFT) “contributes to redevelopment in the psychic space of the family envelope in formation”. In this therapeutic setting, where vast psychic work occurs, defences can be let down to make way for a more cohesive group illusion”.
Evelyn Granjon introduces the concept of affiliation-filiation: the links with the new family are founded on a symbolic and narcissistic process, “so that adoption is not a banishment but allows the nascent (or established) psychic life to become attuned to the family and social environment that welcome it in”. And yet from the new alliance the child inherits unconscious family aspects of the “denegative pact”, his presence re-evokes “unprocessed remains of the past” and the unknown part of his origins disturbs mysterious shadows of family history. The therapeutic project put forward by the author, a PFT, proposes “that those aspects that are beyond the reach of the family and that alienate its members, be transferred to and retrieved from within the neo-group” (Granjon).
Ivana De Bono gives an account of the voices of children she met in Ukrainian institutions and comments on the consequences of their abandonment trauma. The author highlights the need to search for and maintain “a thread of continuity between the before and the after, between roots and their fruits, between unutterable emotions and the possibility of being able to make them communicable and meaningful”. This sense of continuity can be thought of as a zip which fastens together past and present experiences. The adopted child needs a space where he can keep his origins alive, if only on a symbolic level. For adopted children, the retrieval of their original nucleus of sensory and emotional memories is a starting point from which to retrieve a real sense of their own history, of their own Self. The adoptive family, in continuous evolution, plays a fundamental and lasting role in repairing traumatic experiences. The post-adoption group, in its function as an environment that is conducive to reflection and exchange, is “a gym where we exercise the ability to tolerate frustration and uncertainty […] and the ability to nurture positive expectations even in the absence of immediate results”.
Fiorenza Milano presents a case in which the adoption becomes part of a story of unrecognized violence marked by mistreatment, abuse and abandonment. The author notes the way that the young patient represents, “for his family of origin, a tragic family myth where suspicion of incest is interwoven with the trauma of violent death. But even during the adoption he continues, for the adoptive family, to represent a guilty and shameful secret that has been locked away and is active on a profound level, influencing the process of adoption and affiliation”. During therapy, therefore, it is essential to work through the reasons for his being taken away and to work through the ghosts of his origins. This involves overturning the violent stereotype of adoption as being a wiping out of identity, a traumatic break with a past which is nonetheless a part of the child. It is fundamental rather, according to the therapist, that within the adoptive family and the extended family network there be the capacity to transform hostility and persecution by working through the various stages of life, including its traumatic aspects.
The perspective of attachment has highlighted the importance of childhood attachment relations in determining the mental framework that will organize an individual’s experiences, behaviour and emotions throughout his life (Internal Operative Models, IOM). The contribution by Giulio Cesare Zavattini, Ester D’Onofrio, Cecilia Serena Pace, Viviana Guerriero, and Alessandra Santona, through their presentation and discussion of a clinical case study, stresses the importance of the adoptive mother’s qualities of parenting and caregiving and her capacity for reflection. Adoption may be a positive relational experience which can help the transition from an “insecure” pattern of attachment (characterized by feelings of fear of the other) to a “secure” pattern (characterized by a capacity for trusting and entrusting oneself to the other), recognizing one’s need for care and attention. The authors maintain that a “secure” model of attachment and a good Reflection Function in the adoptive mother is the basis for parents being able to establish positive interaction and to understand those mental states which may be the source of aggression and rejection in late adopted children.
Laura Dallanegra and Lidia Vitalini focus on couple relationships. The authors maintain that for the relationship to function well, each partner must achieve the capacity for oscillating between a narcissistic position (not necessarily pathological) and a position of object investment, in relation to an object who is, in turn, able to reactivate the oscillation. Through a clinical case, they illustrate how intrapsychic dynamics and individual relations in the adoptive couple unwind and intertwine, co-determining and conditioning the couple’s functioning.
Jenny Sprince’s contribution centres on the internal world of the late adopted child and on the development and formation of internal figures. According to the author, the task required of parents in a late adoption is that of bringing into the “family” not only the adopted children, but also the figures who inhabit the internal world of those children, invisible figures that exert a powerful influence. Through the study of clinical cases she explores the difficulties that may be encountered during this process of assimilation.
From another perspective, i.e. that of an experience with a group of adoptive parents, Giuliana Mozzon’s work focuses on the difficulty of accepting a family identity in the absence of biological roots, uncertainty as to the child’s affective attachment and the threat posed by the ghost of the child’s natural parents.
Both of these authors give a thorough account of their clinical experience. For Jenny Sprince, the group of therapists in a residential setting provide an opportunity for creating a space for thought and reflection, supported by clinical supervision. For Giuliana Mozzon, the use of a group space allows the adoptive parents to give voice and find answers to their mute questions, and creates a mental space that provides the right conditions for gaining access to an internal dynamic of representation and processing.
Susanna Messeca tells of an adopted girl with symptoms of autism who refused to engage in any type of narration, and of her journey toward retrieval of the capacity to narrate her own story. The author explains that during infancy adopted children experience a fracture in their continuity of existing which is closely connected to the maternal care they have received and which provides their primary sensory skin. Nobody can give back to these children the tales of their early infancy or the period before they were born. This theft produces a rip in the mind, a deprivation that fuels a distressing emptiness, for which they cannot find a meaning. In this particular case, even the adoptive parents were unable to tell the truth about the adoption. Only over the course of taxing unconscious work did the girl begin to make contact with her own emotional truth. With the help of the therapist and a conducive environment she will begin to recover her sense of continuity, allowing herself to narrate her fantasies and her feelings.
Continuing the theme of narration, Ondina Greco speaks of the double origin of the adopted child and his lasting connection to his original world. The pain of abandonment is indescribable and its being covered over or removed are compounded by the adopting family group. The feeling remains confined to secret spaces, we might say contained in a cyst, along with his past history, while his view of the family picture is monochromatic. The author presents two significant cases of two adopted young boys who, through a mark on their skin, find a way to connect with that secret space: for them, the tattoo represents an indelible sign of “officially absent” affection. The article suggests that there is a need for intense and laborious psychic work that will assist in creating a meta-familiar space, where a family representation can be built which includes both parental nuclei (the new and the original). Sooner or later, the full force of the excluded third element makes itself felt and puts shaky adoptive link to the test.
Similarly, Ermanno Margutti and Fiorenza Milano examine the increase in the incidence of crisis in families with adopted adolescents. Their thesis is that an adoptive family is built on syncretic links, called by the authors a “relationship of mutual alienness”, an aspect related to family. Unconsciously, adoptive families, in exchange for a hurried and precarious family relationship, deny the originality and authenticity that make them what they are, starting a process of what the authors call “absorption of the alien”. If, at the outset, this phenomenon aims to consolidate the couple and the family, during phases of transition and during the child’s adolescence it proves to be a boomerang that jeopardises the sense of belonging and family identity. The adoptive family may go through critical phases and transitory phases of development, veritable structural dis-organisation and re-organisation; hence the theory of the interminability of adoption, which Brodzinsky and colleagues (1993) similarly describe as an experience that lasts a lifetime.
In issue 28 of Funzione Gamma, Andrea Sabbadini observes that “some films are particularly suited to a psychoanalytic interpretation and to providing therapists with useful observations and intuitions for their clinical work”. In the same way, Maria Teresa Palladino makes some considerations based on the analysis of three films. The film narrative may give an insight into the possible family backgrounds from which adopted children often come. These are stories of adolescent girls, whose pregnancies express, in different ways, the same uneasiness at having to grow up and become women, which seems to be connected to their wish to overcome difficult relationships with their own mothers. Their pregnant tummy therefore seems to be an object of transition, a declaration of emancipation from highly problematic family relationships. Clinical experience, however, teaches us that children born in order to unconsciously fill a gap very often find that they are neglected, like their own mothers were. The author also draws attention to the fact that male figures (fathers and partners) are “out of the picture” in situations of complicated relationships and underlines the importance of the father figure when the mother-daughter couple separates.
Vittorio Lingiardi and Nicola Carone, in addressing a very complex and delicate subject, wonder whether being adopted by a same-sex couple creates further difficulties in the evolution of a child who has a history of abandonment. The authors prompt us to examine new family narratives critically and they make us aware of the problem of psychosocial acceptance of diverse family structures and their need to work through their situation. To this end they examine the question of adoption from the perspective of the Oedipus myth, which tells of abandonment and adoption, evaluating aspects of the Oedipus complex in relation to the experience of homosexual parenthood.
In dealing with the topic of adoption, we felt it was important to include some research on medically assisted reproduction, as couples who have difficulty conceiving may, among the many options, turn to these techniques. The paper by Laura Volpini and Manuela Melis sets out to examine the representations of assisted reproduction and the drop-out risk of couples within a general sample group. Their research was conducted through a focus group made up of university psychology students. It is becoming increasingly obvious that, in order to give optimum support to these couples, there is an urgent need to understand why there is such a high drop-out rate and how to intervene or to limit the phenomenon. The findings of the research show that the subject of assisted reproduction is one which is quite particular and has not been given much attention and that, even in scientific circles, it is little known and there is a lack of knowledge of the matter. Couples harbour doubts about the procedures and there is a considerable lack of information available to them. This research demonstrates the need for greater attention, on a social and psychological level, to the problems related to infertility and the Italian law no. 40 of 2004. There is no adequate reliable information about the prevention of infertility or methods of early treatment, nor is there sufficient training available for those operating in the sector and specialising in the needs of the couple.
As was our objective and as can be gathered from this brief introduction, the contributions to this issue, each in its own different style, cover a vast range of problems and therapeutic approaches related to the subject of adoption. We have tried to create the conditions for each author’s piece to be as personal and original as they wished, in order to compile lively and stimulating material for thought.
Artoni Schlesinger, C. (2006). Adozione e oltre. Roma: Borla.
Brodzinsky, D.M., Schechter, M.D. & Henig, R.M. (1992). Being Adopted. The Lifelong Search for Self. New York: Anchor Books.
Cyrulnik, B. (2009). Autobiografia di uno spaventapasseri. Milano: Raffaello Cortina
Greco, O. (2006). Il lavoro clinico con le famiglie complesse. Milano: F. Angeli.
Sabbadini, A. (2012). Introduzione al numero di Psicoanalisi e Cinema: “Come in uno specchio”. Funzione Gamma n. 28. Reperito in https://www.funzionegamma.it/
Saottini, C. (2004). L’intimo straniero: filiazione e affiliazione in un gruppo omogeneo di genitori nell’adozione internazionale. In S. Corbella, R. Girelli, S. Marinelli (a cura di), Gruppi omogenei. Roma: Borla.
Translation: Roma O’Flaherty