The Adoption Triad

Being aware of the underlying affect and having a real understanding of adoption has on the triad, adoptee, adoptive mother and birth mother is essential to be able to work in this arena. As Verrier 1993 states adoption is a traumatic experience for the adoptee. Beginning with the separation from her birth mother and ending with her living with strangers. There may have been denied or repressed feelings about this experience, having no sense that they would be acknowledged or validated. Somewhere within her, however she does have feelings about the traumatic experience, and having these feelings does not mean that she is abnormal in any way. It means that she is wounded as a result of having suffered a devastating loss and that her feelings about this are legitimate and need to be acknowledged, rather than ignored or challenged. This early trauma can manifest into difficulties with trust, fear of abandonment, and psychosomatic symptoms throughout childhood and may carry through to adulthood.


For the adoptive Mother working through the loss to enable a grieving process is essential for a healthy rich relationship with your child. As an adoptive mother your child will push you however regardless of how far don’t threaten them with abandonment. It is definitely not what they want even if their behaviour may indicate it. Allow your child to be herself, letting her work out what her talents, likes and dislikes are. By taking away any pressure around her to follow your interests. Don’t feel you have to take the place of the birth Mother. You are her real nurturing mother and she is her real biological mother. The child can love you both, just as you can love more than one child. Also remembering you can’t take away your child’s pain she has to work through it herself but you can however acknowledge her feelings and try and provide the means to be able to work through that pain.

The birth Mother because of her part in the separation from the child and the fact that the child is still alive, there can be huge difficulties around accepting and grieving for her loss. Many birth mothers will experience issues concerning family, attachment, intimacy, and commitment. Most of these women are in some stage of unresolved grief, but are unaware of it or ambivalent about it. Counsellors need to be aware of this when working with birth Mothers.

When a reunion is made between adoptee and birth mother acknowledging the shadows present for all members of the triad is a must throughout therapy. The shadows alternate between distributing comfort and causing havoc in the psyche.


  • The shadow of the child she might have been if stayed with her birth mother.
  • The shadow of birth mother, whom she has never fully disconnected, the shadow of the birth father and birth family.

 Birth Mother

  • The shadow of the baby she gave up is with her.
  • The shadow of the birth father who is gone
  • The mother she might have been
  • The shadow of the adoptive parents who are raising her child.

 The Adoptive Parents

  • They are shadowed by the perfect child they might have had.
  • The shadow of the birth mother and father whose child they are raising.

Counsellors working with adoption need to have an awareness of what may be bought into the room and have a good understanding of the loss, pain, fear and guilt that can be carried by members of the triad.  


N Verrier1993 The Primal Wound Understanding the adopted child
BJ Lifton 1994 Journey of the adopted self, A quest for wholeness
BJ Lifton 1993 Tell me a real adoption story

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