Lifelong Issues In Adoption
- Guilt and Shame
Adoption is created through loss; without loss there would be no adoption. Loss, then, is at the hub of the wheel. All birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees share in having experienced at least one major, life-altering loss before becoming involved in adoption. In adoption, in order to gain anything, one must first lose--a family, a child, a dream. It is these losses and the way they are accepted and, hopefully, resolved which set the tone for the lifelong process of adoption.
Feelings of loss are exacerbated by keen feelings of rejection. One way individuals seek to cope with a loss is to personalize it. Triad members attempt to decipher what they did or did not do that led to the loss. Triad members become sensitive to the slightest hint of rejection, causing them either to avoid situations where they might be rejected or to provoke rejection in order to validate their earlier negative self-perceptions.
The sense of deserving such rejection leads triad members to experience tremendous guilt and shame. They commonly believe that there is something intrinsically wrong with them or their deeds that caused the losses to occur. Most triad members have internalized, romantic images of the American family which remain unfulfilled because there is no positive, realistic view of the adoptive family in our society.
Every loss in adoption must be grieved. The losses in adoption, however, are difficult to mourn in a society where adoption is seen as a problem-solving event filled with joy. There are no rituals to bury the unborn children; no rites to mark off the loss of role of caretaking parents; no ceremonies for lost dreams or unknown families. Grief washes over triad members' lives, particularly at times of subsequent loss or developmental transitions.
Adoption may also threaten triad members' sense of identity. Triad members often express feelings related to confused identity and identity crises, particularly at times of unrelated loss.
The multiple, ongoing losses in adoption, coupled with feelings of rejection, shame, and grief as well as an incomplete sense of self, may impede the development of intimacy for triad members. One maladaptive way to avoid possible reenactment of previous losses is to avoid closeness and commitment.
Adoption alters the course of one's life. This shift presents triad members with additional hurdles in their development, and may hinder growth, self-actualization, and the evolution of self-control.
The experience of adoption, then can be one of loss, rejection, guilt/shame, grief, diminished identity, thwarted intimacy, and threats to self-control and to the accomplishment of mastery. These seven core or lifelong issues permeate the lives of triad members regardless of the circumstances of the adoption.
- List the losses, large and small, that you have experienced in adoption.
- Identify the feelings associated with these losses.
- What experiences in adoption have led to feelings of rejection?
- Do you ever see yourself rejecting others before they can reject you? When?
- What guilt or shame do you feel about adoption?
- What feelings do you experience when you talk about adoption?
- Identify your behaviors at each of the five stages of the grief process. Have you accepted your losses?
- How has adoption impacted your sense of who you are?