I was reading your post last week on jealousy mimicking childhood patterns, and it really resonated with me – especially since I’m also an adoptee! I wanted your opinion on the correlation and confusion between nurturing and sexuality from a 41 yr old man who never received maternal nurturing growing up.
Once I met met my biological mother at 26, I began to fantasize about both from her. How can I learn to nurture myself and seek out and receive nurturing from platonic relationships without getting caught in the torturous and guilt ridden fantasy of turning it sexual? Thanks,
Mr. Having Confusion About Intimacy
Dear Mr. HCAI,
How confusing for you. There’s several issues at play here (and probably many more which I can’t cover as your mail doesn’t explicitly mention them).
People aren’t really clear on what experiences adoption entails and tend to relegate it to the presence or absence of a piece of paper. But experiences commonly defined as adoptee experience can occur without formal adoption and sometimes in families which do not experience ‘adoption’ at all. What do I mean?
- An early separation from the biological mother
- Growing up with few or no genetic mirrors
- Stressed baby in the womb (hormones passed via the placenta) and early childhood
- Adverse Childhood Experiences (of which I believe adoption in and of itself can be one)
- Lack of identity and sense of self
These and more experiences can occur without adoption but are more predisposed to occurring together within the adoption setting thus compounding one another. But.
A friend of mine is not adopted had an anxious Mum who suffered post-partum depression and was therefore emotionally absent from her daughter. Another friend was a stressed baby and child; in looks she is a throwback to her dead grandmother and consequently without genetic mirrors feels like an alien in her family. Her mother was narcissistic and suppressed her daughter’s sense of self. Thus although many more folk are not adopted, they have several of the experiences we might otherwise consider to be exclusive to adoptees. My advice in all cases is to look at your experiences separately in order to better trace their impacts, before aggregating them to see how they interplay.
- Concerning nurturing vs. sexual intimacy…
Your particular circumstances occurred as a result of your adoption, but many experience a lack of maternal nurturing. And many more children, including me but disproportionately I would say male children, confuse nurturing – the need for caring, non-sexual physical touch – with the need for sexual intimacy thanks to our gendered society which outlaws nurturing touch for men as a female trait and a ‘weakness’.
That you confuse the need for nurture and the need for intimacy (however that is expressed) is very common. If you missed maternal nurture as a child, you are more likely to seek it as an adult. And there is absolutely no guilt needed for that.
- Concerning fantasies about your bio-Mum…
Surely this is exclusive to adoptees! Well no. Any situation where a child grows up with few genetic mirrors may encounter what is commonly known as genetic sexual attraction (GSA) if they meet relatives as adults (it has many more effects which I can’t cover in a paragraph). See below:
The familial bonding known as the Westermarck effect that occurs between family members who know each other is missing for those that don’t… only to often re-occur as reunited adults.
[Research] suggests that the Westermarck effect operates during the period from birth to the age of six.
When proximity during this critical period does not occur—for example, where a brother and sister are brought up separately, never meeting one another—they may find one another highly sexually attractive when they meet as adults or adolescents, according to the hypothesis of genetic sexual attraction.
This isn’t fiction; it is a reality for many. And in the age of the sperm donor, it’s a increasingly common phenomenon: 50% of reunions between siblings, or parents and offspring, separated at birth result in obsessive emotions.
Note that although it is called Genetic Sexual Attraction, I believe (in company with Joe Soll, adoption therapist) that it is simply ‘genetic attraction’ – a hunger to connect with those who look like you, which is more likely to turn ‘sexual’ when we–like you–confuse the need for nurture with the need for sexual intimacy. Once more, there is absolutely no need for guilt. In fact guilt will prove counterproductive in helping you deal with this.
I recommend you explore your feelings in GSA support groups and in forums of which there are many around the web. Don’t repress your feelings as they will never get dealt with that way, find a safe space to express them.
- Concerning self-nurture…
It is unlikely that you will be able to rewire your developed way of relating in your adult relationships on your own, because you will need to ‘reparent’ your inner child and deprogram what has now become instinctual. It is very important that you work without shame or guilt, because when conceptualising your inner child, you need to be able to operate in a context of trust… and you cannot trust someone–even yourself–who shames and blames you. Learn to trust yourself through accepting everything that you feel without blame.
You will need to go through the grieving cycle for your younger self, and to externalise all the feelings which are currently residing in your subconscious mind. One way–and the way I did it–to be able to reprogram your unconscious mechanisms is to make them conscious. One way to make them conscious is to take responsibility for the entirety of your experience. It is a tough one when you were not to blame for the events which made you feel, the way you feel. An even tougher one when we are not aware that our experience can be consciously chosen (because of course this wasn’t the case as a child). But it’s easier, much easier, without shame, blame or guilt.
Here’s some concrete actions to start you off:
- Consult forums about genetic sexual attraction
- Read about reparenting the inner child and Adverse Childhood Experiences (TED talk)
- Consult a therapist who specialises in the adoptive experiences
- Take a look at my earlier Q&A for a clarification around responsibility vs. blame