About Adoptee Rage

Statistics Identify large populations of Adoptees in prisons, mental hospitals and committed suicide.
Fifty years of scientific studies on child adoption resulting in psychological harm to the child and
poor outcomes for a child's future.
Medical and psychological attempts to heal the broken bonds of adoption, promote reunions of biological parents and adult children. The other half of attempting to repair a severed Identity is counselling therapy to rebuild the self.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Abandonment and the Adopted Child


Adopted Children & Abandonment

Jill tells of ending relationships with men before they get too close …
Ben relates his struggle to overcome overeating and compulsive gambling …
Sue describes frequent nightmares where all those she loves are killed in a fire …
Bill is a perfectionist and dives into depression over what he thinks other would consider minor setbacks …

All of these individuals are adoptees.

Their struggles represent some of the many faces of living with abandonment issues. Each hopes to find a way of keeping these overwhelming feelings from overpowering them. If left unacknowledged, abandonment issues can make life taste sour rather than sweet.

How can we help adoptees confronting abandonment issues build happier, more fulfilling lives? How can we help them embrace both the fullness and the empty places from the past so that hope can flourish in the Future?

The Biological & Environmental Roots of Abandonment Issues

We know that the stress of growing within a mother experiencing a crisis pregnancy can affect the fetus’ developing brain. Primed to connect on an unmistakably profound level with their mothers, newborns experience biological as well as psychological loss when separated from their genitors. Subsequent moves to foster care or an adoptive home leave their mark on the child’s psyche. 

Stress associated with these moves floods the growing brain with corrosive neurochemicals that, in turn, pave the way for additional vulnerability to stress. If the child spends time in an environment where there is no immediate response to its needs or is abruptly handed over to adopting parents, this too will be woven into the child’s somatic memories and increase its vulnerability to stress.

These somatic memories are often triggered by unrelated events that remind the brain of earlier times when the individual felt alone, helpless or abandoned. The amount of time the child spends in foster care before being adopted, the number of moves, the quality of care, and the child’s response to these changes collectively impact the degree to which the child will be affected by the successive “abandonments”.
Yet we expect adoptive parents to handle this all on their own. The only advice we give them is to tell their child his or her story honestly, but with a positive spin, describing the birth parents in the most positive light possible. We urge them to avoid giving their children the impression that their genetic inheritance is flawed or that they are or were unlovable. 

However, because many adoptive parents don’t realise that abandonment feelings can lurk under the surface anyway, they come to believe that their job is to put an emotional band-aid on the feelings of sadness, fear, anger, shame and confusion that are inevitable when a part of a child’s story remains unknown or is shrouded in mystery.

Consequences of Ignoring Abandonment Issues

What are the potential ill-effects of abandonment? Paying close attention to the voices of adult adoptees can teach us volumes.
Abandonment creates a fundamental insecurity for many adoptees. Many wrestle with matridentity (identifying with their birth mother) or matraphobia (fear of being like their birth mother). They have conflicting emotions: their birth mother is either good or evil, forgivable or unforgivable, loving or rejecting, adequate or inadequate. Shame and a sense of inferiority ensue if the birth parents are viewed as inadequate, sinful or flawed.

The adoptee often wears a mask of self-reliance and nonchalance, however, to keep others at a distance and avoid disappointment. Parents may be deceived by a child’s fa├žade of strength and oblivious to equally intense feelings of vulnerability, fear and insecurity that lurk beneath. If feelings and thoughts are not validated in a way that helps the adopted person process them directly, he or she may develop compulsive behaviours. 

Struggling with what is often described as ‘an empty place’ or ‘a hole in the heart’, adoptees may try to compensate and stockpile that which they crave, not seeing material possessions for what they really represent – the love and commitment that they believe they never received from their birth parents.

Adoptees may become overeaters, over-spenders, over-achievers, compulsive collectors, substance abusers or gamblers. They may become control fanatics who are adept at assessing their surroundings – always on the look-out, always listening, always watching, always sizing up the situation to make certain that they are physically and emotionally safe. Some adoptees are frequently insecure and anxious and have difficulty making transitions. Any loss, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, can trigger intense feelings and leave the adoptee feeling out of control.

Many encounter difficulties with intimacy with their parents and friends, life partners, and even their children. The ability to trust and feel a sense of inner safety may be compromised or almost non-existent. They are so fearful of being ‘abandoned again’ that they may sabotage relationships. They may act out or act in (become depressed and withdrawn) and drive others away, confirming their belief that no one keeps commitments. 

Some cut themselves off from their inner feelings. Their actions become substitutes for the real emotions being suppressed. Running away or slipping quickly into anger or rage may be part of their emotional repertoire. 

Some deny any interest in their birth parents. “They didn’t want me, so why should I want to know anything about them?” Young children may think, “If I don’t think of my birth parents or why they left, my unpleasant feelings will disappear.” When asked questions that might help them express troubling feelings, they may claim they have none. “I caused the separation and am somehow inadequate” is another common reaction. 

Individuals who think this way may become people-pleasers who trade their own needs and desires for acceptance. Or the opposite may happen – they may emphasise their ‘bad’ self to keep people from getting close to them. Dreams and nightmares about being abandoned or losing cherished belongs abound.

Developing Coping Skills

There are however, many ways of mitigating the impact of abandonment on the lives of adoptees. Adoption agencies should prepare prospective parents for the ways that this issue will emerge over time and help parents plan to intercede. Social workers should require prospective parents to plan how they will reveal the early chapters of their children’s lives to them, particularly if the child is known to have developmental difficulties. 

Making a life book that can become a growing, living tool is a wonderful way to encourage parents to look ahead.The goal is to help parents accept that the child will experience relinquishment as rejection and abandonment, and to plan the gradual evolution of this perception. Parents should know that expecting the child to raise these issues is unrealistic; it is they who must initiate these discussions.

Adults need to validate the child’s feelings and develop effective communication skills. This includes listening for and helping children to express feelings, learning to interpret behaviour as an expression of the child’s feelings, and becoming a reflective listener. One needs to make educated guesses about what the child is feeling in a tentative way that does not back the child into a corner. Saying something like, “I am wondering whether you are feeling a bit sad or disappointed” sends the message that you are paying attention, but unable to read the child’s mind.

Children must learn to mourn losses and should receive support when they experience a loss, no matter how minor or insignificant that loss might seem. Grieving includes expressing sadness, guilt, shame, anxiety and anger. Healthy ways of expressing anger need to be modeled and discussed. Boys in particular, need to learn that it is permissible to express feelings of sadness and vulnerability. Children also need to learn to forgive their birth and adoptive parents for making life-altering plans without their input, even when they do not agree with the decisions that were made.

For international adoptees there are often additional layers.

Parents shouldn’t gloss over the original loss and separation if the circumstances are unknown or unremembered. Studying the historical, political, cultural and social context in which the relinquishment took place is critical to being able to convey what most likely happened and why – although parents and others need to be very clear about what can not be known for sure. Parents should learn all that they can about their child’s relinquishment and try to imagine the event through the eyes of a young child. 

While many parents think it is cruel and unnecessary, the reality is that talking about the relinquishment is much like turning the light on to help a child see what is making the scary, monster-like shadows.

Children will benefit from participating in guided experiences with other adoptees. Enrolling them in workshops for adopted children, heritage camps, and support groups is helpful, as are mentorship programs in which older adoptees spend time getting to know them and sharing adoption experiences. 

Drawing, painting, sculpting, puppetry, drama, dance, and other artistic endeavours are comfortable and satisfying ways for children of all ages to unlock some of the intense feelings they need to express in order to understand themselves – feelings they might otherwise vent through inappropriate behaviour.

We must help adoptees incorporate and value their ‘empty spot’ and ‘missing pieces’ as well as all they have gained through adoption. Adoptees need to know that they can and should celebrate the duality of their lives; the fullness and the emptiness, the known and the unknown. Recognising their connection to two families, two sets of family history, and two cultures allows adoptees to embrace the unique and worthy people they are because of, and not in spite of, their life history.