Continuing on with the previous (post) about not having the words or the ability to recognise specific challenges that link to being adopted. But first off for those thinking not everything is related to being adopted, you’re right, it’s not.
But when it is, it is.
Some things are easy to identify with being adopted, things like being a little and hiding away crying because I wasn’t kept, and that there had to be something terribly wrong with me that others could see, but I couldn’t. Those type of feelings that are specific to being adopted are what people not adopted seem able to accept.
Loss: Sometimes a child’s loss of their birth parents is dismissed, considered unimportant for those adopted as infants soon after birth. But research has shown that babies can recognize their mother’s voice even prior to birth. The experience of this loss of the birth mother cannot be eliminated, no matter how early babies meet or are adopted by their adoptive parents.
Guilt/Shame: It’s common for adopted children to wonder whether their placement or relinquishment was their fault. Even children adopted as infants often wonder if there was something they did “wrong” as a baby that made their parents not want them.
What people can’t seem to grasp are the more subtle connections to being adopted that they dance around, try to explain away, can’t accept it could possibly have a basis in that event that happened when we were mere babies.
But it does, perhaps only in part, but nevertheless, it is related to being adopted.
Challenges like anxiety about being left (abandoned), knowing it’s not a matter of if they leave, it’s when. Not having a healthy level of self-worth can hold you back from reaching out to a friend to ask if they want to do something, if you do reach out, you first give them a way out both because you need to protect yourself from rejection, and that little voice asking you why would they want to do something with you. The same fear can happen with your partner. Your partner may rarely see your deepest emotions or your vulnerability, and yet they need to see all of you to love who you are. It’s always a dance on how much to share on those big feelings you’ve always kept deep inside, because if they knew the real you, would they not leave you too?
Rejection: Feelings of rejection can be felt by some adoptees, as they struggle to make sense of their relinquishment. Regardless of whatever logical explanations they have been given, some can still feel abandoned.
Intimacy: Developing emotional intimacy requires trust and an ability to open oneself up and be vulnerable. This can be a challenge for anyone. But for adopted children – who may have felt rejected, possibly multiple times, and who may not see themselves as deserving of love and intimacy – it can feel like too much of a risk. Avoidance of intimacy then becomes a way to provide some self-protection.
That feeds into never allowing others to see you vulnerable. Always being fine. Always ensuring everyone else is actually fine, always the carer, not the cared for. Never let them see you cry. Never let them know they hurt you, you hurt. Always present the façade you want them to see, eventually it can also fool yourself at times, why I think I find it so hard to grieve, I’ve conditioned myself to not allow myself to go there, must stay in control.
Grief: The loss inherent in adoption needs to be recognized and grieved. Parents and others surrounding adopted children often try to downplay the feelings of loss, wanting to spare the child emotional pain. When this is the reaction children receive about their loss and grief, they try to hold it in instead.
As long as I can remember, something new makes me go to the worst case scenario, I need to be the one who controls it. It’s saved me, it’s also held me back when I should have moved forward. This area of who I am was not just shaped from being adopted, it has also been shaped by what has happened throughout my life. This is a part of me I’m trying the hardest to relax into, letting someone else make decisions, take control, with the least amount of success. Being aware helps me recognise whether a fear is valid, or just me not controlling the narrative.
Mastery/Control: We all strive to feel a sense of control over our lives. This is a classic struggle for teens and young adults, who feel a new and strong drive to be in control of their choices and options while still dealing with ambivalence over giving up the safety of childhood. For an adopted person, this struggle takes place against a backdrop of complete lack of control over one of the most important decisions in their life – joining their adoptive family. Power struggles can become a way to feel some sense of control and to achieve mastery over their own choices in life.
(all of the above quotes come from this article: Post-Adoption Services: Acknowledging and Dealing with Loss )
I’m not saying all adoptees are challenged in all these areas. They aren’t. We won’t experience things the same way, we will have different reactions, but these are trigger areas we may be vulnerable in, and I suspect personality and other life-events plays a fair role in whether you feel them deeply. But when your parents raising you were always there for you, never let you down, yet those challenges you’ve always had stem from the first loss that happened, you weren’t kept.
And sometimes it takes knowing why we are the way we are for change to happen. But until we connect the dots based on knowledge of those common issues, understand the first cause, we can’t grow. You can’t fix something until you understand what’s broke, what the problem is. That’s also why it’s problematic when pushback happens in the form of; ‘my adopted sibling doesn’t feel that way, my friend’s cousin loves being adopted’. It’s problematic because one day they may process what being adopted means to them, but they’ll also know how much stake you put on their being adopted never bothered them, so you still won’t know because they can’t trust you with their truth.
This is what I said elsewhere on what the subject of non-adopted people just can’t wrap their mind around about the challenges faced by adoptees and why this post now exists.
You can be fine and then you realize you aren’t. Sometimes we don’t have the words or knowledge needed to connect something about us (any of the seven core defined issues) that links back to being adopted as the cause or the trigger for it to be a challenge in your life. Then something life-changing happens to us, and, like all life-changing things, you go through a period of deep reflection and honest assessments. It’s hard to put into words that makes sense to other people, why this never ending quest to explain just the right way so the penny drops for that person.
I also think we can go through life determined to prove adoption and being adopted is not responsible for anything because we love our family, and they’re our family because of adoption so we must always stand up for it. When the reality is that our family and connectedness will not evaporate if we acknowledge that there are struggles we’ve traced back to being adopted, rather it will be strengthened with openness.
I’m not sure why a man-made institution that was created to care for a child who can’t live with their family due to a tragedy – must only be seen as wholly beautiful without any long-term challenges for the one adopted. I wish people would do some internal work on why they need adoption to erase the tragedy rather than just help mitigate the loss.
Imagine what life would be like if we (adoptees) didn’t grow up with society and family telling us how lucky we were, how grateful we must be to have been saved by adoption, how beautiful and amazing adoption is, and instead, adoptive parents and society accepted “Adoption” for what it is, a fix to a tragic situation. With what society expects and what some parents need from their children, there isn’t much room for what the adoptee needs to feel whole and be the best they can be.