The Book: Being Adopted – The Lifelong Search for Self

06 Jan

(a post from 2011 I’ve rewritten).  I have so much praise for this book, the way it explains the different phases an adoptee may go through, and the triggers that can happen along the way.  How the cognitive developmental stages work with understanding adoption, to different stressors, losses, the different phases of life.

Being Adopted The Lifelong Search for Self   David M. Brodzinsky, Ph. D. Marshall D. Schechter, M.D. & Robin Marantz Henig

From pages 11 – 12 from the Introduction: The Loss of Adoption

Grieving almost always follows loss.  It has many emotional and behavioral manifestations: shock, anger, depression, despair, helplessness, hopelessness.  Grief can be blocked or it can be prolonged, but usually it is a normal and adaptive response to the experience of loss.

For children adopted late, the loss can be traumatic and overt, placing great stress on the child.  But for children adopted at birth, there is still loss involved.  It is less traumatic, less overt, but it can shape the child’s entire personality.  Adoptees who are placed in the first days or weeks of life grieve not only for the parents they never knew, but for the other aspects of themselves that have been lost through adoption: the loss of origins, of a completed sense of self, of a genealogical continuity.  Adoptees might feel a loss too of their sense of stability in their relationship with the adoptive parents; if one set of parents can relinquish them, they might think, then why can’t another?

The loss for early placed adoptees, though, is generally not acute or traumatic, nor is it usually consciously experienced until the age five or so.  It emerges gradually, as the child’s cognitive understanding of adoption begins to unfold.  And it can lead to subtle behavioral changes in childhood that seem at first glance to have nothing whatever to do with loss and grieving.

Sometimes grieving becomes a significant factor in adoptee’s life; sometimes it doesn’t.  Some adoptees are overwhelmed with feelings of alienation and disconnection.  Others, for reasons we still don’t fully understand, have no such feelings, and are instead intensely grateful for having been given the safe and loving homes their adoptive parents made for them.

We can’t predict which adoptee will feel incomplete or abandoned and which will feel cherished, which will choose to emphasize the “lost” nature of adoption and which will dwell only on the “found”.  But we can say that both types of reactions are understandable, common, and usually part of a healthy adaptation – and that they can exist, at different points along the life span, in the same individual.

(bolding mine because people can’t grasp this)

I am fascinated by this book and find myself reaching for it again and again.  The best part of the book is that it really explains how we get to where we are today, from where we were before, the life stages.  How lived experiences trigger reflections and reassessment all throughout life whether we process it in the moment, or through the lens of remembered experiences, or both.

It is not a book that assigns labels and does not dismiss or negate any feelings or say any feeling is bad or the right one.  It does not try to correct assumptions of the adoptee – it simply explains what feelings they have heard and the why…it is refreshing after reading websites and blogs where we are labeled and patted on the head and referenced as mal-adjusted, have angst, or any number of other terms used in derogatory way…

Getting back to the book – I found the Mid-Life  part especially interesting as it pertains to what happened to me.  It talks about two general types of people – those who are internally controlled and who take charge deliberately, and those who feel externally controlled who believe things happen to them.  I never allowed being adopted to be a focal point in my life for any length of time, yet, it would come to the forefront time after time throughout my life, but I would put it away each time when I decided enough was enough, and I had to get back to life. (I feel I fall into the internally controlled group)

The birth of my son made me all too aware of being adopted, holding him and realizing that he was my kin and the overwhelming feelings that brought – the very first person I had ever met  I was related to, words themselves are too sterile to even begin to describe those feelings.

The passing of my son was all-consuming and the blackness of loss seemed like there would be no ending to it.  Surviving but not surviving.  But over time, I found a place deep inside of me for those feelings to hide away.  I put on a smile and kept it firmly planted on my face – only allowing those feelings to escape when certain dates (or events) would bring them forward, and then putting them away again.  Perhaps one reason I have a hard time letting go and actively grieving, I’m to used to this coping method, and never talked about my son until I started this blog.

From page 151 – Mid-Life.

In this context, adoption can be seen as a life stressor, and the idiosyncratic ways in which adoptees respond to it can be seen as a reflection of their own coping styles.  A good many adoptees consider the stress of adoption to be something they cannot change and would be better off ignoring so they can get on with their lives.  These people reveal little inner turmoil about being adopted; they have either suppressed or denied or minimized the significance of adoption in their own lives…

We do not want to portray adoptees who suppress or deny any interest in adoption as being maladjusted, denial can be a highly effective coping strategy when confronted with an unchangeable life stressor.  But neither do we want to portray these people in denial as being assured of happy lives just because they repress or suppress any interest in adoption or in their origins.  This is simply a coping style, and for many it works – at least until the phone call from a birth mother or the uncovering of a genetic illness makes denial no longer possible.

And that is when the walls finally crashed for good about the impact being adopted has had on my entire life, when I got gravely ill.  When all the losses in my life suddenly became too much for me to deny that my life started with a loss, the loss of my mother, and that never went away, ever.  The anger over the fact that my genetic history was denied to me simply because I was adopted.  And the knowledge having that genetic history could have changed, or at least mitigated the impact on me, and that my life wouldn’t have changed to what it is now.  I was done denying that being adopted had always caused a lot of pain in my life and that it started at day one and will end when I am gone.

Which is what started me on my journey of learning about adoption then, and now, the practices, what it should be, what it should never be.  And here we are, all these years later and I’m still talking.  Thank you for reading and being part of this community.


Posted by on January 6, 2018 in Adoption


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18 responses to “The Book: Being Adopted – The Lifelong Search for Self

  1. Kumar

    January 6, 2018 at 7:49 pm

    Thank you TAO. It has been a long time since I’ve read your posts and I am so glad I came across this one today. I really appreciate your perspective and openness. I haven’t read the book you quote but it seems like my kind of style, descriptions rather than labels, blame or trying to “solve” or “resolve” people’s live experiences.


    • TAO

      January 6, 2018 at 7:58 pm

      You’d like it Kumar. Did you go to India?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kumar

        January 6, 2018 at 9:24 pm

        I’ll definitely check it out! No, I didn’t go, but I have a ticket for April, 2018 for a two week trip with a cousin and I feel much better about it now than I did a year ago.


        • TAO

          January 6, 2018 at 9:26 pm

          Good for you for recognising the timing wasn’t right. Do check in when you get back and have settled back into life.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Kumar

            January 6, 2018 at 10:55 pm

            Will do! Thanks for asking and the support!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. beth62

    January 8, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    I read sections of this book, but never the whole thing at once. It still really helped me unravel and understand so much. I appreciate your bolded inclusion greatly. Wanted to state that for me, not only did I use both of the coping styles at different times in my life – I also used them at the same time… with triggers, or depending on who I was talking to, where I was, or who was asking, or what mood I chose to be in, or however I wanted another to see me. If I am labeled either of these ways, I’m going to argue it for me and doubt it for others.

    So many times I can remember thinking about it, or privately talking with someone I deemed safe to talk to, then someone else would show up then or soon after, ask my opinion, or what I was thinking, or how I felt… I think many of us know what is said. Yep, I’m fine. It’s uncomfortable to say things like, no, you wouldn’t get it, don’t trust you, my feelings might hurt your feelings, it’s private, wouldn’t do Me any good for you to hear this, or its none of your biz! So, I’m fine, it’s all good becomes the go to.

    I believe I’ve always felt lost, found, included, excluded, disconnected, connected, abandoned, cherished all at the same time. And why wouldn’t I? I was. I am. These things don’t change, maybe in degree of feeling, but will always be. I’ve never really trusted any of those feelings – they all get doubt attached to them when in Adoptionland, all of them often called not real or not right or not proper by one person or another.

    For a long time I believed I had a choice about how I feel. I’ve come to believe I simply have a choice in how I cope, not a choice so much in how I feel, but how I choose to cope with the feelings of lost and found that are always there.

    For a long time I have believed I have a choice in how I cope with my feelings……….. ( < the funny part 😀 ) And the part when I realize I'm so full of it sometimes it's best for all, especially me, if I shutdown and shutup or just remove myself from humans and go for a long as it takes basic and primal barefoot walk. Or work hard where nothing else matters but work. Then I'm so exhausted and hungry, everything is just how it is and I'm just another grain of sand in this crazy world. A thought/feeling which I don't trust so much either 🙂

    Then there are those days I may just believe everything is simply an illusion😛 so I can just be, without the walk (it's really cold out there Lol) haha, yeah, it's all just magic.

    It's a balancing act for me, I can and often do fall on all sides, any side I find, depends on the moment, the place, the weather and the direction of the wind as to where I may end up. Wherever that seems to be, I manage to keep moving.


    • TAO

      January 8, 2018 at 5:25 pm

      You need to write a book Beth.


      • beth62

        January 8, 2018 at 9:04 pm

        You first 🙂 lol


        • TAO

          January 8, 2018 at 9:45 pm

          One day if I ever find the wisdom in my ramblings – sometimes I think I’m close then the next day, it’s just me rambling…


          • beth62

            January 9, 2018 at 1:56 am

            Sounds like a list of all the wisdoms (I know there are plenty, I’ve seen many here!) might help paint that picture.
            If you can fill a book with lists, I could be good to go LOL


      • beth62

        January 8, 2018 at 9:07 pm

        I need someone else to write a book for me! And maybe not so much about me! haha.
        Some of my grown kids are writing books of their own, I hope they make it happen and finish. They will not have learned that so much from me, the girl of a million unfinished projects, if they do!
        I’m in awe of people that manage to assemble it all and put an ending to a book. I really am.
        In my mind it’s been like finishing my genealogy research, how is it even possible!? So I try to “finish” just one branch the best I can to share with others, and it feels entirely too incomplete. I’ve tried picking a main theme or subject or place, and it still feels incomplete, not the whole truth, not a big enough picture, things change, I change. I try to convince my self that I don’t have to paint the whole thing on one canvas… yeah sure uh huh, that doesn’t always work so well either.
        So I sit with my boxes full of disjointed unfinished craziness instead LOL knowing full well those boxes are full of dozens, and dozens, of books. Or the longest book in history. And knowing if I look at it right one day it should just all fall together into something that makes sense…
        All while I sit with old people and assemble and write their histories and final thoughts for them to share. arg.
        Life is funny like that.
        Now I’m sidetracked on making lists to expand on, of things I should remember and don’t so much for one reason or another. But I want to share my stories with our kids, to help them, and anyone else looking for similar tales to learn from. One is a list of jobs I’ve had… whoa.
        The other, times when I’ve been harassed, assaulted or discriminated against for being female… :/ double, triple whoa.

        I think I’m too easily sidetracked, but only when I’m not quite ready to finish something, or its not ready to be finished yet 😀
        Or maybe I’m just full of excuses and would rather go catch up on Game of Thrones so I can talk about it with my family of Throne Geeks. This show/books has helped me explain so much about life today to my young people, easy to find a reference tO tHong today. I confess , since none of my kids are dragons, and no longer boys to call wild, I did accept the last title they gave me, Mother-of-Wildlings. 2 funny.


        • TAO

          January 8, 2018 at 9:43 pm

          No wonder we’re friends Beth – we share the same failings 🙂


          • beth62

            January 9, 2018 at 1:36 am

            I wonder if we started to write a book about not finishing writing books if we’d finish it 🙂


            • TAO

              January 9, 2018 at 3:56 am

              Nah – then what would we have to chat about?


  3. beth62

    January 9, 2018 at 12:54 am

    This game is not over yet my friend 🙂


    • pj

      January 9, 2018 at 6:46 pm

      I love both of your wisdom ramblings 🙂 Beth, as an adoptee, I have this feeling that my life will never be finished, if that makes any sense…


      • beth62

        January 22, 2018 at 5:38 pm

        pj, I’ve been thinking a lot in that realm lately too. Probably too much, but I keep stumbling across things, and putting more things together and sorting more out. Hard not to try to figure that feeling out. I have a very long list of things to expand on in that unfinished life realm, and it keeps growing.

        At this point one of my guesses could be like with the abandonment thing- I felt abandoned, I denied it for a while. I was abandoned, I did loose my mother, I know it can happen, only makes sense that it could happen again. Ready and waiting.

        I feel like my first life was unfinished, it only lasted three months and I began a new one. I feel like I didn’t finish it, didn’t get the chance. Thought I could go back and finish it, but that started another new one. I feel like I’ve had several lives end, and just as many begin. The loss of people, or the gain of them seems to typically be involved. I know it can happen again. I think it’s in the beginning of happening again in my life right now.

        It could just be feeling another train that’s coming at me, that thing will run you down if you’re not ready and waiting on it..

        My list in this realm is long, I could ramble on and on, for seasons and seasons.

        If you like thinking on it in every direction you could torture yourself with a movie I watched, Discovery.
        It was fairly good, had a little different spin on some of it. Yet another direction to ramble in 🙂



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