Hidden Trauma

I had a conversation recently with someone about how an adopted child could seem very settled and content with their life only for it to go horribly wrong when the teenage years hit. My point was that the trauma they suffered in their early lives can come back and hit them when they reach that age. The teenage years are when we discover a lot about ourselves and the type of person we want to be, and our past can play a huge role in that.

The conversation went along the lines of “but your son is too young to remember the trauma that occurred”, which at the time I agreed was true. It is true, I can safely say that Youngest will not remember anything that happened before he was placed for adoption, but my mind kept ticking over on that conversation as my response didn’t really sit right.

Just because he has no memory of what happened, doesn’t mean he won’t be affected by it. There are some very important parts of infancy which Youngest missed out on because of the events in his life. They are things which we know help with the development of feelings of safety and the relationships with your parents. He will never be able to experience those things again, and a lack of those experiences will have affected his development. How and to what extent we won’t know until he’s much older.

In his first year my son had at least 4 people who acted as his primary carer. At the most important time of his life for building an attachment to the adult who is meant to keep him safe and respond to his every need, he was disrupted. That in itself can have a massive impact on his brain development, and his ability to form a loving and trusting relationship with us.

That isn’t trauma caused by being neglected in his birth family, witnessing or experiencing domestic violence, or suffering another type of abuse, as would be the case for older children. This is trauma caused by the very act of taking him into care as a preventative measure to keep him safe.

Being taken into care and being adopted is a trauma in itself. It is a trauma which all adopted children will have suffered regardless of the circumstances of their adoption. It is true that the trauma of adoption can have a dramatic and negative effect on adopted children if it isn’t at least recognised, and up until recently the existence of this trauma wasn’t even widely acknowledged and as a consequence was brushed under the carpet causing untold damage.

So, I am sitting here writing this to say I recognise it. I see it for what it is. We acknowledge it, and by doing so can act to try to limit the damage it might cause and we will do our best to present our children’s past to them in a truthful and honest way. We won’t hide anything from them and we will do our best to support them through the difficulties that they will face coming to terms with it.

I know that both of my children will face their past differently. They had different experiences in their birth family, and will be aware of the differences between them. Not only that but their characters are almost polar opposites, where one will cope well the other will not and vice versa.

We cannot erase the traumas from our children’s past, to do so would be to delete a piece of them. All we can do is acknowledge they exist, recognise the cause of them, and work with our children to heal as best they can.

By acknowledging, we can prepare. By preparing, we can learn what we need to know. By learning, we fill our toolbox with what we need to help our children as best we can. We can never fully heal them but hopefully we can help them be comfortable with themselves, where they came from, and where they are now.


  1. Thank you for sharing this deeply moving experience. What you have done here is really enabled others to feel more empathy for children and also adoptive parents. The way in which you have conveyed your children’s trauma is very powerful and I’m going to share this in my practice of adoption support. I absolutely agree with the trauma and sensory memories and so much practice research shows this, and yet sadly still a lot of thinking that children cannot remember as they were too young. Your lived experience your child’s lived experience and your pledge of ‘I recognise’ really touched me and is so validating for children to have that experience from their parents. This will be so helpful for other parents and professionals and some adopted young people and adults to read too, so thank you.

  2. My husband was adopted and it is clear that separation from his birth mother resulted in a very unsettled two week old baby who was breastfed until his adoptive parents collected him. His last breast feed was at nine am, and his next feed he was bottle fed. He finally knew ‘who he was’ after meeting his birth mother again at age 46 and was a much more settled person, content in his own skin. Their relationship was a good one and had a positive influence on his ‘adoption’ relationship too.

  3. Thank you sharing such an important post excellent read Thanks for linking to the #THAT FRIDAY LINKY come back next week please

  4. So very true! I cringe when I hear people say, “But he is too young to remember!” I try to kindly respond with, “They may not cognitively remember actual event’s but their body/brain never forget.”

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