In his 1929 paper, "The Unwelcome Child and His Death Instinct," Sandor Ferenczi (Budapest, originally published in The International Journal of Psycho-analysis
) put forward an idea based on observations made during his stint as a doctor in charge of a war hospital. This included deciding the fitness of those suffering from epilepsy. The next bit is unclear. At least to me. But it seems Ferenczi also observed patients suffering from "nervous circulatory and respiratory disturbances" such as asthmatics and cases of "complete loss of appetite and emaciation, not explicable anatomically."
Ferenczi then goes on to write that he hoped, "that a wider circle of observers (I am thinking of particularly of children's physicians) will bring forward further material in its support."
The idea is this: His observed patients came into the world as unwelcome guests of the family
and that, "All the indications shew that these children had observed the conscious and unconscious signs of the aversion or impatience by the mother, and their desire to live had been broken by this" and that, "Moral and philosophic pessimism, scepticism and mistrust became conspicious character-traits in these patients. One could also note ill-disguised longing for (passive) tenderness, repugnance to work, incapacity for prolonged effort, and thus a certain degree of emotional infantilism, naturally not without attempts at forced character strengthening
Ferenczi then goes on to talk about a young woman, born an unwanted third girl in a family without boys, who not only brooded about the origins of all living things, but was also alcoholic and frigid with a tendency to colds. But Ferenczi wanted to make clear it wasn't his task to exhaustively explain all the symptoms, but wished to, "point to the probability that children who are received in a harsh and disagreeable way die easily and willingly. Either they make use of the many proffered organic possibilities for a quick exit, or if they escape this fate, they keep a streak of pessismism and of aversion to life."
Ferenczi wasn't talking about those given up for adoption. 1929 was long before adoption became big business. But I think it most definitely applies to those of us adoptees whose mothers cut themselves off from their babies in order to give them away.
While I have never been suicidal, I've had the persistent feeling that I'm not fully a part of the world. It's more than not fitting in. It's more than feeling you're on the outside looking in. It's like you're not quite real. Like you don't deserve to be here.
Then there are those things - big things - that I've struggled with and against all my life. Such as the inability to meet long term goals that are important to me. It's telling that I chose television news production (then radio) as a career. It's highly structured. In an eight hour shift, you can produce a newscast seen by many people. This I can do. I can also produce a radio story and finish articles of 1,200 or so words. What I can't do are long term projects, such as long feature stories and books. I'm not lazy. I just can't finish. In my basement are stacks of drafts of half-written and discarded novels. At some point, I reach the point where I say, it's useless. This is ridiculous. Nobody will want to read what I write. Who do I think I am? I'm nobody. I'll never be Margaret Atwood or Ruth Rendell or Joanna Trollope, who have so many interesting things to say. I'm unworthy
This is more than writer's block. When I'm around other people, they seem more real, more solid. By comparison, I feel vaporous.
Ferenczi was onto something, as commenter Anonymous Bob pointed out. (He alerted me to the existence of this paper) I was an unwelcome child and knew it. Felt it. Probably in utero. My mother, who at 37 had already raised three children, decided as soon she learned she was pregnant that she would not keep me. It was never a possibility. She told me so. She also told me she never held me. Not once. She peeked at me, mostly because the nurse badgered her. Because, she said, she "didn't want to get attached."
While I do know I was fostered until I was placed in my adoptive home, I have no idea where I spent the first month of my life. Was it in a private home? An institution? Left at the county hospital? Was I picked up and cuddled? Or left in a cot and drugged to keep quiet?
My earliest baby pictures show me stiff as a board, looking away from my adoptive parents. I'm told I never cried as a baby. The aparents didn't think this was unusual. They just thought I was a "good baby." I was acting like a half-dead one.
I also think Ferenczi had it right because all those strange feelings of not belonging and being unwelcome are most pronounced when I'm in contact with my (birth) mother. I feel like I'm fading away. That she is real and I am not. Suddenly, it's almost hard to talk. To form full sentences. My voice feels weak. I'm devoid of thought and opinion and determination. And while she sometimes says untentionally hurtful things, she is friendly enough. But I don't feel welcome. I feel unwelcome. And totally unsafe. It's like it's her or me. I can only exist away from her.
Will summarize the rest of Ferenczi's (short!) paper soon.