The public apology by Julia Gillard on the issue of forced adoptions that took place in Australia in the 1950’s and 1970’s is an acknowledgement that the loss of autonomy is deeply damaging to people.
Australian society was very different back then compared to now and decisions taken then by Government bodies, by those “in charge” were made in the belief it was “in the best interests of the mother and child”. They were simply bad decisions made out of ignorance rather than malice.
Autonomy is simply defined as the independence of freedom or will. Loss of autonomy, knowing that you no longer have access to choice, is a fundamental threat to our brain. Countless studies going back to the famous Whitehall studies in the sixties have shown that our health and wellbeing is determined more by our access to choice, than other stressors we are subjected to.
It doesn’t matter whether you are moving into a nursing home and not allowed to arrange your belongings as you would wish, or being told by your workplace that you are not allowed to have a photograph of your family on your desk, or being told that you do not have the choice of staying on at school to pursue your dream of going to University. Loss of choice or of control of a situation hurts.
Lack of autonomy is linked to loss of motivation, loss of self esteem and a higher risk of anxiety and depression.
Today we can look to ensure we include choice in all of our interpersonal relationships to minimise any potential damage that might otherwise ensue.
It doesn’t have to be much. Even having the sense of some control of a particular situation, which may or may not be real, can help to minimise the threat response.
Today, is a day to acknowledge the past loss of autonomy that was suffered by over a quarter of a million Australians. The hope is that we can all learn from past wrongs and ensure they are not ever repeated.