The Orphan’s Call

I’ve been writing about real mothers, mothers who authentically fulfill not only the letter of the archetypal laws of motherhood, but the spirit of it as well. I used the child adoption realm to discuss the wounding that people carry with them, wounds that sometimes obscure truth and may keep a person stalled during his or her quest for individuation or wholeness. I write about these issues because I encounter more people stuck in their individuation process who have histories of abandonment than any other sort of stuck person. While most are not adopted (ironically enough), many were. The adopted stuck seem to remain stuck longer, and I think one possibility is that they remain stuck because they receive so much support for being, and remaining, stuck. They are told that they are wounded, and thus stuck, forever due to some primal wound caused by separation from their birth mothers, a wound that cannot be healed, really, making them perpetual victims and always children who cannot be in control of their own destinies.

Well, of course I think this view of being adopted is hogwash. But it does illustrate one view of over-identification with an archetype, and so next I’ll be writing about what this means, what it looks like. As I’ve explained before, I believe that healing is spiritual and much of what needs to be undertaken to heal the broken-hearted is spiritual work, work with the unconscious. What we need is a shaman to shake the rattle, a dance danced around the fire, an ecstatic experience, rosaries prayed, prayer wheels spun, someone to slap us on the forehead and shout, “BE HEALED!”

After introducing my subject, I next  turned to commenting briefly about the insatiable desire for a child that is created by the barren womb, using a Biblical basis to do so. Perhaps later I’ll write in depth about this, for those who cannot have children often identify with the Mother or Child archetype, and it may be useful to some to understand this theoretically so that they can try to avoid the pitfalls associated with identification with an archetype. They can become more whole and authentic if they’ll do this. But since my first aim was to differentiate between “real” love and the appearance of love, I merely touched on the high cost of infertility in emotional and financial terms, and commented about the adoption industry.

Next in this series, I pointed out that adopted people have often been raised by adoptive parents, mothers in particular, who are not whole people themselves, and whose wound of infertility expanded to swallow the adoptee alive, when the adoptee became the solution to the problem. As many of us who are adoption involved have pointed out, when the adopted child is the second choice for a couple, the child knows it. What sort of a pain is created when we know we’re second choice, second best? This is the wound out of which adoptees struggle to grow. It is their wound that needs healing, but because so many adoptees are raised by emotionally and spiritually stunted adoptive parents, once they have reunions they are in poor positions to judge the inadequacies of their birth parents. They will accept statements such as “if I had it to do over again, I’d choose an abortion rather than adoption” without confronting the fact that their mother has just admitted she would kill her own child rather than suffer through relinquishment again. It is still all about Mother. But, because the adoptive mother has already trained the adopted child in caretaking, the adoptee is still stuck, suspended between two mothers and two families, everyone with their demands on him or her, unable to break loose and individuate and so suffering like a prisoner for years, even a lifetime.

Finally, I arrived at my point about what real love is, and about how it behaves. I know that I sometimes need to remind myself about what real love is, or else I may become awash in a sea of sentimentality that sounds right, but acts wrong. Recalling to mind the characteristics of real agape love is one way of taking care of the inner waif. In the end, we ourselves are the only ones who can restore to the waif the lost parents, hearth, and home, and give the orphan a place from which to leave on her grand Quest to individuation.

The Quest for the Non-Orphan

For those not familiar with quest mythology, think about The Lord of the Rings. Someone is living happily in his home village, doing whatever it is that most people do in that village. He receives a call to adventure that will require him to leave his hearth and home, go into the wilds, the woods, the deep water, the jungle. There, he will meet monsters and witches (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!), and someone will give him an elixir or a talisman, or lessons on surviving the dragon battle still ahead. He will journey across or through water-a river, a lake, a swamp, an ocean-and there he will be overcome by the waters or by something that will re-create for him the gushing out from the womb. Like Jonah or Pinocchio, he may spend three days and three nights in the belly of the whale.

He will arrive at the place where the dragon or where his nemesis is, and a fight to the death will occur. He may live, and bring away the dragon’s heart or treasure, or the magic elixir that will save someone else; or he may die in a Christ-like move, offering his life as a ransom, or returning from the dead.

In the end, he returns home with his wound or scar, and with the treasure or elixir. He will never be the same again, for he will have individuated, become a man, grown up, become more whole and more wise.

The Orphan’s Quest

The quest does not work so for orphans, which accounts for why we have had a fascination with orphan tales from time immemorial.  Jung wrote that the child must evolve toward independence due to its potentiality, but that “this it cannot do without detaching itself from its origins: abandonment is therefore a necessary condition, not just a concomitant symptom” (Archetypes of the Unconscious). In a 1985 Chiron article, Patricia Berry-Hillman explains the universality of the archetypally abandoned child, writing that

We are indeed all, in part, orphans, and it is through the suffering of this archetypal fact of abandonment (and abandoning) that we can join together in community. This communal feeling, based on a recognition of our mutual aloneness and suffering, is a religious emotion, an existential reality, and a return to the world with a recognition that the world is all we have, and that maybe it is ‘good enough.’

The word abandonment means literally “not to be called.” As Woodman explains, “‘Abandonment’ comes from an Old English verb bannan meaning ‘to summon’ (O.E.D.). To be among those summoned was to relinquish oneself to service. Abandonment means literally “to be uncalled,” symbolically, “to be without a destiny.” This meaning is a compelling one in light of the mythical quest symbolism of archetypally interpreted literature.

As Joseph Campbell writes in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (a book I think every educated person should have read), the archetypal hero’s quest begins with a call to adventure, an initiation into the quest. However, the abandoned child is left without a calling or invitation to adventure because the orphan has no origins from which he can detach; he was abruptly detached from the umbilical cord and his destiny was chosen for him. Without this call that urges him to leave his original home and hearth, there can be no quest, no treasure, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; no destiny, no meaning to his life, no definition, no identity, no wholeness. Thus, although she does not suggest the possibility of the abandoned child as an archetypal figure, Woodman coincidentally identifies an aspect of the abandoned child’s function: to illustrate the possibility of being, and remaining, uncalled, uninvited, and thus uninitiated.

The stuck person, then, cannot move forward in individuation, nor can he go back, for soon enough his home village will be unpopulated because his peers, all of whom were raised by their own mothers and fathers, will have left on their own adventures. There he sits, stirring the soup, his adoptive mother puttering around him, always so nice, always so loving, wondering why he feels so trapped.

Even if his birth mother somehow reappears or is magically transported into his village (this never happens in fairy tales and myths, by the way, but let’s suppose anyway), he is still stuck and even doubly stuck, because now he has two mothers weighing him down, anchoring him to the soup through their puttering and fussing and loving, and his confusion is so great that in the part of himself that needs to be able to hear the faint call to adventure coming from the outskirts of town, he is stone, cold deaf.

He may stir that soup forever, and never feel that he is grown up. He may have to wait for his call until both parents are dead, and only then might he hear the call. I have known a few abandoned folks like that.

Identification with an Archetype

There is an archetype of abandonment that some have contrasted to an archetype of an abandoned child. The archetype of abandonment is associated with the terrible mother, the witch, the hag, the one who eats her young. An outward symptom of being identified by an archetype of abandonment may appear as stagnation, symbiosis (two people being stuck, together, and feeding off one another), and the fear of being truly related. This explains why so many adoptees or former foster children, or in fact anyone who was not truly loved by his or her own mother, fear true intimacy and thus cannot sustain long-lived relationships or commitments. They don’t want to let themselves go into authentic, deep, emotional intimacy because they fear the loss of all they have left, which is the remnants of their original selves, the selves who survived that violent tearing away from the first mother, survived days or weeks or months alone in a crib, fed by people who were paid to do it (fed without love), and then who had to live with one or more replacement parents before finally, if they were lucky enough, being adopted by a couple who became the adoptive parents.

But even that didn’t turn out very well, for as we shall see when I write about it later, many, many adoptive parents are so wounded by their inability to fulfill their dream of reproducing a biologically-related baby that they don’t have what it takes to give the adopted baby (or child) what she needs to heal from the awful wound of abandonment. And so the wound persists and becomes what some people, like Nancy Verrier (an adoptive mother), call “the primal wound.” But this wound is a wound that might have been healed, had the adoptive parents done their jobs as human beings and as parents. This is a wound that has a cure, a cure that few lay people know about because they have identified with The Mother archetype and are even caught in the throes of identification with their own abandonments. They help themselves to long bouts of depression and alienation because everyone around them, particularly the adoption-involved, keeps telling them that the wound is permanent (eternal!) and there is no balm in Gilead.

There is a Balm in Gilead

Well, of course I think the nay-sayers are wrong. There is a cure for everything, for “love never fails.” Good enough love, good enough therapy, good enough friends or spouses, and a lot of hard work can heal that wound. Orphans can rebuild the hearth and home for themselves, and this they must do if they hope to become whole human beings. They must become spelunkers into the depths of their own abandonments until they have plumbed them to the core; when they come out again, they are able to establish their own hearths and homes, and they can hear the call to adventure, leave both mothers and go on the Quest that will help them become whole human beings. If they do this, they come to internalize and carry authentic parents inside themselves, thus establishing their own temenos and are, finally, adults. After this, they can make what they will and what they are able to make out of the real, flesh-and-blood people who are their birth and adoptive parents and relatives.

They will no longer be stuck, trapped, depressed, unhappy, divided, and periodically overcome with vast loneliness or anger or overcome by anything but love. They can become, perhaps, more luminous than their unwounded counterparts, like Jacob after wrestling with the angel: walking with a limp for a human lifetime and yet the founder of nations, recipient of the blessed birthright.

18 responses to “The Orphan’s Call”

  1. Bethany Reivich Avatar
    Bethany Reivich

    Thanks for the thoughtful writing. I was an orphan myself and have had quite an adventure working to heal.

  2. Thankfulpeach Avatar

    Eve ~
    The insights in this post are amazing…thanks for writing this.

    I think the one thing that needs to be separated out, though, when talking about adoptees, is that there is definately a need to become “unstuck” in our psyches~ yes. BUT the fact is that the way adoption IS in America makes it a huge uphill battle for adoptees to individuate and actualize. The fact that the “business” of adoption is based on supply/demand principles is appalling. That principle alone DRIVES the “business” and in effect, completely envelopes adoptees from their beginnings. The “positive” adoption language used, the refusal of so many to admit to the loss that adoptees experience, all because they are WANTED by adoptive parents, their identities are changed to reflect that, etc.
    I think a lot of adoptees on the web are accused of being “stuck” when inside we may be the most “unstuck” of them all, and we are finally courageous enough to face our losses and begin to heal. Our “anger” is at the big picture…kind of like the black people who were “angry” at being flogged, beaten, and denied civil rights equal to their white counterparts.

  3. Eve Avatar

    Tina, ah I see. I want to say “ugh,” and then wonder if I even dare to have a look at the adoption tags. Do I, do I not? . . . you’re brave, my friend.

    Well. I will go read your blog instead. The title alone is intriguing.

    For anyone else who’s interested, Tina’s post is here. I’ve been reading her blog via Google Reader for some time now, but just realized that she wasn’t on my blogroll! Mea culpa! I have fixed that problem, Tina.

  4. imtina Avatar

    People use or read into the bible and other texts to prove or disprove what they want. We see what we see in life with lenses. Sometimes that lens is the bible.

    I read the tag surfer function on wordpress and what I find a lot is adoption in terms of:

    1. Pets
    2. All humans are adopted in the eyes of God
    3. The adoptive parent I mention above

    If you have time, go read my recent post on ‘If you are about to adopt, reset your compass’

    Again, too lazy to link it here…sorry!

  5. Eve Avatar

    Tina, I’m sorry to hear that “more of the adoptive parent as savior” is happening. I’m guessing that you follow adoptive parent blogs or forums? I can’t stomach that much, because if I do happen to read the wrong thing, it sets off a week-long series or several blogs, and then my whole aim here is derailed in a way.

    Although I guess that even a meandering path can get you where you’re going.

    I think that when I do mention a Biblical thing, people react to Biblical, period. I haven’t even seen that they are reading for comprehension. I do not see the Bible as being pro adoption; in fact, researching the treatment of the orphan in the bible shows very clearly that people were supposed to care for their own. If both parents died, then family members were to take on the care of the orphan. This thinking continues into the New Testament.

    I think the problem is, in part, that the Bible has been used wrongly so many times in so many ways, that people just shut their minds against it, when in fact it’s not at all like so many fundamentalist type adoption agencies have used it. I would not want to be them and have to explain to God about what I was doing with those words.

    You will never see me justifying adoption through the Bible. However, I do justify caring for the widow and the orphan in their distress. In my opinion, if a child is truly an orphan–no living or available parents–and no birth family has stepped up, or will step up to raise that child, then adoption could be an option. But I don’t need the Bible to explain how sensible adoption is in that case, do I?

    I think what the bible teaches on greedy, baby-selling reprobates is far more interesting than any so-called connection between biblical doctrine and adopting children.

  6. imtina Avatar

    You know, the bible being thrown about constantly in reference to adoption is annoying to me too, I have to be honest. There is a lot done in the name of Jesus in regard to adoption and it’s part of the machine that is still very much being fed. There are many Christians who adopt and blog about it. They seem to assume even more future personal glory and, therefore, a seat closer to the dessert table in heaven. The wave of Christians who are adopting and blogging about it in this way, buying into old ideas that love conquers all, and more of the adoptive parent as savior is definitely happening.

    My message in adoption and advice to adoptive parents is that it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. I recently wrote a post about this.

    And I know that you’re not necessarily throwing in references to the bible in quite the same way on your blog, but I know that adoptees in large numbers really don’t need to hear any more justification for adoption from the bible, which gives adoptive parents more justification for adopting, and then feeling superior for doing it.


  7. Eve Avatar

    Tina, I don’t know how to spell it either. I’ll throw in “gamut” and see if that works, haha.

    Yes, I agree, there are many reasons why people become, and stay, stuck. Sometimes, even, being stuck is part of what a person needs in order to later move forward (if that makes sense). Perhaps it’s part of their process along the way to wholeness. If so, I can’t really knock it.

    Willful stuck-ness that hurts dependent children bothers me, though. I think it will always bother me and be a weakness I have. I guess I had better post a disclaimer somewhere on this blog to that effec, because I can’t seem to stop feeling this way when it comes to defenseless children. As an adult, I can defend against other people’s stuck-ness and take care of myself if they insist on being rigid and withholding. But children depend on their parents for so much; it can’t be right to insist on being stuck when a parent might do something about it. Can it? That’s the way I’m thinking at the moment about it.

    I could sigh with relief to read you write, “I think that it’s unfortunate to have this personality type or parenting style for adoptive parents in particular.” I so agree. Though I seem to be driving people mad lately by my frequent allusions to the Bible, it reminds me of how somewhere in the New Testament it says that weaker parts of the body receive more care or honor, and the stronger parts receive less, so that balance is achieved.

    I see the adopted child as arriving with the pain of losing his mother and father, and so he needs extra care from his adoptive mother and father. That’s a plain way of putting it.

  8. imtina Avatar

    I didn’t mean all adoptees are stuck too. I just balked at the idea that those who are stuck, for good reason, aren’t necessarily stuck because of people helping them stay stuck, or even implant the idea of woundedness if it isn’t there. I think it runs the gammut. Gammit? I’m too lazy to do spellcheck…lol.

    Anyway, I agree with you about how you surmized my parents. They weren’t exactly in tune with their children and they wouldn’t have been either if they’d have biological children, but I think that it’s unfortunate to have this personality type or parenting style for adoptive parents in particular. So, yes…I do exactly what they didn’t do. I bend to my children, rather than my demanding them to bend to me. ‘Bending’ is a kind of familial term I use in my life to refer to how we interact with others. I think that to ‘bend’ means to listen, and consider feelings, see the individuality.

    Anyhoo…interesting set of posts lately…


  9. henitsirk Avatar

    Rudolf Steiner talked about the crisis of individuation that comes at age 9. The child suddenly has the realization on some level that they are separate from the world. Before that the child is typically really “one” with the world and outer and inner experiences do not have clear boundaries.

    At 9 the child can really start to see that they are an individual and as a result often experiences anxieties and moodiness. One of the “remedies” for this in Waldorf education is the 3rd grade curriculum of practical work–gardening, woodworking, caring for animals–which helps to ground the children and give them renewed self-confidence.

    Also the child may really begin to challenge authority because they suddenly question whether adults really know their stuff, and they can really ponder spiritual and moral questions. For this, Waldorf schools typically include Old Testament stories as a way for the children to wrestle with moral questions in an imaginative way.

    It’s really as if the child has been cast out of heaven, or even abandoned by the security of their parents and the rest of the world.

    I wonder if many people don’t come through that time having found any (or enough) inner strength, and so they get stuck in that wounded 9-year-old stage?

  10. Eve Avatar

    Tina, I don’t think all (or even most) adoptees are “stuck.” When I wrote this article I wrote about those who are; see the difference? About the only thing I might say about “all” adoptees is that all have experienced the loss of their mothers, fathers, and families. I hope that makes sense. I am not generalizing when I write, but if it seems as though I am, I always welcome being corrected.

    Your parents denied your feeling because, in my opinion, they were not being very authentic or loving in their parenting. Normal and typical, yes, but truly loving and c ompassionate toward you, the adopted child? Well, pardon me, but hell no! No wonder you were stuck. I’m so sorry. You had to fight your way out of stuck-ness alone. Your parents ought to have helped you (and maybe later they did, I don’t know). This is my opinion as a fellow adoptive mother. If your parents had parented you the way you parented your adopted child, would you not have felt more help along the way? I’m going to guess, “yes.” It takes a lot of personal wholeness to be able to see things from your child’s perspective if your child happens to have been adopted, as some of mine were. I think I was very fortunate to have suffered a great deal myself, in childhood, or I might have been blind to my children’s suffering, too.

    I agree with what you wrote about categories. I wonder if it’s ok with you if I put truly stuck people into stuck people categories? They may also be in the artist, dog-lover, optimist, and coffee lover categories; but if they’re stuck, isn’t it ok if I just say “I see you are stuck”? Or not? If not, why not?

    I see being stuck as typical and normal for all of us at different times in our lives. Adoption can provide many reasons for being, and remaining, stuck. My only objection is to people who over-identify with one aspect of being human, and stay stuck forever. They never pass GO because they stay stuck. They do not achieve wholeness, but they become one-dimensional caricatures of human beings. In so doing, they will cripple their own relationships, and their own children. To whatever extent we remain stuck, we injure the ones we love the most. This is what I’ve come to believe because this is what depth psychology teaches, and I believe it. I have seen too many people become whole and heal after the most serious injuries and traumas to believe otherwise.

    Go have your coffee and, if you’re willing, let me know what you think of today’s article. I was a little nervous about publishing it, but there it is. It’s published, and now I sound like an angry person.

    I still haven’t gotten to my original, intended point in this series, but hopefully by tomorrow I will. In the meantime I’m interested in what you think.

  11. imtina Avatar

    I’d like to clarify the beginning of my comment when I am refering to the people you are referring to, those who you write of that keep the adoptee stuck. At the end of my comment, I’m refering to other people who keep adoptees stuck in a different way…parents, clergy, television.

    I don’t see the ones you refer to as negative, while I definitely see the latter as oppressive.

    UGH, does this make sense? Haven’t had coffee yet.

  12. imtina Avatar


    I’m not so sure I agree with the idea that adoptees are stuck mostly because they are told that it’s their lot in life. I think it’s much deeper than that. I felt stuck from a very young age, and from parents who denied any feeling I had about anything if they couldn’t see or understand it. Only until my teen years did I understand that other adoptees feel very similarly to what I was feeling about my life.

    It’s too much of a generalization to put that point in the way you do because I think there are too may factors. What is the inherant personalilty of the child who is adopted? How are the parents raising the child? Is the adoptee adopted from a different race? How does the community receive this child? How are shame and/or secrets dealt with in the family? Is the adoption open? Closed?

    Adoptees have historically been reduced to convenient catagories by society and by their adoptive parents into boxes labeled ‘angry’ or ‘maladjusted’ amongst others. We don’t need to keep doing that today when we know so much more about adoption, right?


  13. Eve Avatar

    Lamby! Wow, long time no see indeed!

    How have you been?

  14. Eve Avatar

    Alida, I imagine we all know people like this who are not adoption-involved. The fact of adoption–two sets of mothers–simply casts into sharp relief issues that are normally more difficult to see.

    I’m going to keep on ranting, er, writing I guess. I had intended to wrap up this series today, but a rant on adoption-as-kidnapping rolled up inside me so I guess I’ll go finish writing that.

  15. Lamberakis Avatar

    Hi Eve! Long time, no see. I dropped by and enjoyed reading your latest post.

    See you again sometime.

  16. Alida Avatar

    Wow! It’s funny reading the through the whole series, I kept thinking, I know people like this or that…only they aren’t adopted.

    I only knew of one child that was adopted when I was growing up. It was all very hush-hush.

    Thanks this has been enlightening.

  17. Eve Avatar

    Charlotte, it is probably idealistic of me to believe that adoption should be a first and best choice for the parents, at least; but I have met too many parents for whom it was, and they parented their children differently.

    As for adopted children, adoption can be best only after the original family has somehow failed to sustain the child. Even when children choose their own parents (it happens), they only get the impetus to make such a choice after mother and father both have failed the child (and usually the rest of the family, too). Although I can’t imagine a situation in which adoption would be a “first choice” for the adopted person, I’m open to the idea of it. Best choice under the circumstances, I can see; first choice? Probably not. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need family bust-ups, would we?

    Thanks for sticking with me on this series. I realize it may appear that I’m meandering along, forgetting what I actually intended when I started this blog, but I haven’t. In the end it’s still (for me) about progressing on that archetypal journey toward individuation.

  18. charlotteotter Avatar

    Thank you for your summary, Eve. I have found your series very moving and interesting, though I have not commented. I see though, that adoption shouldn’t be the “second best” option, for it really to work it should be the best option, both for the parents and the child.

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