Splitting sickness: the invisible pain of adoptees

I contributed the chapter Mending The Hoop in this new anthology
I contributed the chapter Mending The Hoop in this new anthology LINK

By Lara/Trace

There is no time machine to transport you back to the moment you were abandoned. You can’t erase how you felt or how it feels now.  Or how it controls your life.  Or how it breaks your heart into a million pieces.  You don’t know how to stop feeling this way. You pray you’ll find your family, someone like you, who gets you, who looks like you. You want to put the pieces of your life back together, but you don’t know how.

These were thoughts I had writing my memoir One Small Sacrifice…. There are many adoptees who feel this way yet never get to say it. No matter how much love and care we are given, the truth is – we are (and will always be) someone else’s children. We’re usually not able to say this to our adoptive families.

Not one doctor diagnosed me (an adoptee) with post-traumatic stress disorder, or birth trauma or my splitting sickness. Splitting sickness is what Indians define as the survival instincts of children who have experienced great stress and trauma at a young age. It’s very difficult to heal. Therapists today would simply recommend drugs which would only deaden the senses, missing the whole point.  As an adoptee I didn’t want to feel more dead; I was already dead, or at least part of me was.  I desperately wanted to feel alive!

I went though counseling twice. Neither really worked.

Instead I just shut down. Power off. Seriously. Off.

This invisible pain I describe as a dead zone, a black hole. Others call it the ADOPTION FOG… It was not visible on the skin, and you can still function and hold down a career because it’s an emotional sickness.

About 5 years ago, I heard about another adoptee, a doctor who graduated from Harvard. He was unable to meet his natural mother before she died.  He never had the chance to connect with someone in her family. His wife told me he was not able to get the information to find his birthfather, or discover that part of his ancestry and identity.  (Now I would suggest DNA tests for anyone in this situation.)  Regardless of this man’s education and advanced medical training, this invisible pain wounded him so badly he couldn’t function as a partner to his wife, show love or have a successful relationship with his children.  The birth trauma was buried deep; he really couldn’t see it.  His wife explained she told their therapist about his being adopted and his searching, how part of him was clearly shut down. Even after intense marriage counseling, it didn’t save their marriage. Their therapist thought his early adoption trauma was too much for him to deal with; trying to work on it might kill what was left of him.

(That defines the splitting part of our condition, what we did to survive as adoptees and how difficult it can be to heal as adults. Many don’t even know that they are split and sick.)

When the baby scoops of closed adoptions began, officials and doctors apparently weren’t able to scientifically measure stress or trauma in a relinquished (orphaned) baby. Infants were thought to be perfectly capable to adapt and adjust to adoption.  That idea has changed in recent years.  Doctors have definitely noted symptoms, injury and trauma in adoptees living today. There are new hospitals devoted to caring for international adoptees who develop symptoms like PTSD, reactive attachment disorder and severe narcissistic injury.  Scientists have also developed birth psychology, further evidence of a mom’s importance to a growing baby’s health and brains in the womb. Yes, babies have intense feelings, too; early trauma can (literally) be life-changing and life-threatening.

We know that much of who we are today is created in the womb. We know that mother and child are a single entity, profoundly connected physiologically, emotionally and spiritually – even through early infancy.  A baby does not understand that he or she is an individual until at least nine months after birth.

Losing our mother via abandonment and relinquishment ends our life with her and deadens us emotionally.

What matters now is healing this invisible pain and that is still a mystery for many adoptees.


  1. Fantastic observation. Everyone here reading this needs to understand this is all true. Closed adoptions wreck emotional havoc on any human being and a marriage. My wife is the same. She splits rapidly from a conscious self to a defensive unconscious self within seconds if I put her in a confrontational conversation. However she litteral has no conscious memory of what the other part of her just said seconds before . It’s absolutely mind blowing and she is unaware that she does it. I would please warn anyone attempting to marry one involved in an early closed adoption to not do so unless those wounds are healed. I feel so bad for her knowing that she is very sick and doesn’t realize it, however I know I will have to end our marriage soon.

    Please read this book for complete understanding. It’s helped me tremendously.

    The Primal Wound, 1993. Nancy Verier

    Your mind will be blown away after realizing how strong these emotions are.


    • I don’t think it is helpful to use issues such as adoption as an excuse to leave. Ask yourself why you married her. Many people have issues. Adoptees can at times court situations where they will be abandoned. Are you a person who abandons others? It is empowering for many people to be the one who leaves. Maybe, you need to look at yourself.


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