Published on March 20th, 2009 | by


Reunions and Expectations and What to Do About Them: A Weekend with Joe Soll

This is an account of the weekend workshop facilitated by Joe Soll on Vancouver, B.C. in October 2008.

Joe Soll believes that adoption is a trauma for both birth mothers and adoptees. Considerable neonatal research and anecdotal evidence support this conclusion. He postulates that it is an event that, for all intents and purposes, is as traumatic and irrevocable a loss as death. It differs from a real death only in the reaction that others have towards it. This denial of loss and subsequent derailment of the grieving process creates havoc in the psyche of those who have such an experience.

Joe’s main point in this workshop is that in order to heal and move past our pain, we must face our denied feelings: bring them from the shadows and allow ourselves to experience them honestly. Only through direct access to our feelings can we make conscious the unconscious drives that control us. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So why aren’t we all walking around fully healed and filled with peace and self-acceptance?

Joe advocates that successfully approaching this healing requires a person to set aside time and space with an enlightened witness and cry until there are no more tears left to cry. This is the first part of the first stage of healing. Some of the participants felt safe enough in the presence of the group to allow their deepest feelings to emerge using “I feel …. because…” statements. Contrary to their fears, the end result was not annihilating, but rather, cathartic. The remaining portion of the stage of healing include allowing the expression of other feelings common to the adoption experience such as anger, shame, guilt and fear. He advocates learning how to do inner-child work, practicing anger management, replacing blame with compassion, using affirmations, informing yourself through reading, finding a helpful counsellor/therapist, and attending support groups. All these things can help transform your inner landscape, and prepare you for the second stage of healing.

Joe is adamant that until the first stage of healing – that of the self – is embarked on, there is little possibility of finding a satisfying reunion. And even if self-healing has been done, there is no guarantee that the reunion will be all you hoped for. Just as unconscious feelings are likely to prevent us from personal healing, unconscious expectations are likely to be an impediment to a successful reunion. As with the first stage of healing, it is critical to make the unconscious visible, to see the truth that lies in our hearts and minds.

One of the more obvious truths is identifying what we hope to gain from the reunion. In many cases, each party is hoping to give to or get from their “other” what was impossible at the appropriate time and so they attempt to do so when it is no longer appropriate. This requires that we set limits for ourselves and for the “other/s”. Enmeshment is not healthy for adults. Allow space and time for processing, even if it means putting your own needs on hold temporarily.

It is common for a “honeymoon” state of perfection to characterize the early part of a reunion relationship, but at some point it will almost certainly end. It need not mark the end of the relationship though. It is hard to accept that we may not be to our “other” what they might have hoped and vica versa. The full spectrum of reality will eventually overshadow the rosy glow of fantasy. Get comfortable with reality. Empathy and understanding go a long way towards easing your pain and that of everyone involved.

Learning to communicate effectively is an ongoing challenge in life. It is made even more difficult if we are not aware of the unconscious needs that may be undermining our efforts in reunion.

Can you identify what emotions are getting in the way if things aren’t going as you hope? Do a check and see what comes up. Go back to self-healing: care for yourself and the rest will take care of itself.

Expect that all parties may regress emotionally to the time at which trauma occurred. Seek help when it is needed. Be aware that “rejection” by another party in the reunion represents an emotional withdrawal in response to pain, and need not be taken personally.

If anyone has led you to believe that reunion is a panacea for adoption pain, then you have been misled. However, reunion does offer a huge potential for healing. More importantly whatever you invest in healing and preparing yourself for a reunion will pay enormous dividends in attaining peace and contentment. Time does not heal all wounds, but it does put them in perspective.

I highly recommend reading Joe Soll’s book titled Adoption Healing: A Path To Recovery (2000, Baltimore, MD, Gateway Press) which is a more detailed and expansive coverage of the same topics presented over the weekend.

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