This case summary
from Louise Wise Services was written when the subject, Michael,
was a young adult. It illustrates the conviction that interest in
search and reunion was
a sign of trouble in adoptees and their adoptive parents, mothers
above all, whereas lack of such interest indicated positive adjustment.
These beliefs were common among psychiatrists, clinical psychologists,
social workers and other
helping professionals, especially during the period from 1940-1970.
They were the starting point for many psychopathology
studies and the basis for home
studies that emphasized psychological interpretation. They also
served to shore up policies of confidentiality
and sealed records.
There was a unique source of data in this case
record—the detailed description by a professional observer
of a home visit when Michael was 4. His interaction with his mother
and his sister is well described. At the same age Michael was tested
by a psychologist, some of whose data are also in this record. . . .
Michael was a very bright (IQ 129), handsome,
well built, athletic boy. His adoptive parents’ record as
applicants to Louise Wise Services unfortunately consisted mostly
of correspondence, so there is no data about them prior to adopting
Michael. It is clear, however, that they provided well economically,
and made an impression upon the agency staff at least to the extent
of another placement.
I infer that Mrs. B was able to cope with Michael
well prior to Joan’s advent. Her obsessive traits did show
up before then—bowel training at 5 months, bladder training
at 13 months every hour on the hour, bottle weaning by 8 months—but
she was apparently able to control Michael, and thus herself, and
not to show overt disturbance until his sister arrived.
Mrs. B was an over-indulgent mother. This lack
of realistic setting of limits resulted in Michael’s having
an excessive strong reaction to having Joan come into the family.
Already very active and assertive, traits praised by Mrs. B and
little disciplined by her, he was bossy to Joan, overly possessive
about his toys. From his hitting Joan, it is clear that he resented
her openly. Mrs. B. was observed as being distressed by this but
unable to control it. After much hesitation, she did try to do so
by punishing M., but he had a tantrum which further defeated her. . . .
Michael showed definite signs of emotional disequilibrium—nailbiting,
bed wetting and tantrums, hyperactivity, all probably clustering
about a battle for control between his mother and himself. This
he appears to have handled by incorporating some obsessive traits
into his own personality—emphasis on achievement, work, appearance.
What was not fought out was the lack of warmth
for Michael on his mother’s part. In my opinion, it is this
factor which is responsible for most of his current disturbance.
He seems to have become overtly disturbed only in late adolescence,
when the need for a relationship with a woman became strong. His
pattern of searching out a new girl every year and dropping her
is evidence both of the strength of this drive in Michael and of
his inability to establish a sustained relationship. While he is
openly concerned about being abandoned by his natural mother, I
suspect this is a displacement from his adoptive mother. I can only
speculate that he fails with young women because of his repressed
anger at them and mistrust of them, stemming from his relationship
with Mrs. B.
How does his being adopted affect his behavior?
He has been preoccupied since 5 with the past and with the true
identity of his parents. Whatever else it did, Mrs. B’s reading
him, The Chosen Child, repeatedly at age 3, did not diminish
this curiosity. It is fascinating that Joan does not share his involvement
with being adopted. Is this not evidence enough to show that it
was not the B’s technique or manner of handling telling of
adoption that, per se, was the main dynamic in Michael’s pathologic
involvement with it? It suggests that Joan was well integrated into
her adoptive parents’ life, whereas Michael was not, for reasons
Michael wants to know all about his mother, but
not to meet her. Is this a defense against incest desires?
Mrs. Miller’s handling of her meeting with
Michael was excellent. I was particularly impressed by her skill
in imparting to him the agency’s knowledge of his past, and
her allowing him to take a piece of paper as a tangible, concrete
“result” of his long search. Her skillful interpretation
of his emotional disturbance, leading him away from his blind search
for his mother to the more realistic approach of psychotherapy,
was a tour de force.