Thursday, July 9, 2015

Narcissism and Adoption -- Very Likely Bedfellows

A pattern I have noticed when speaking with my fellow adoptees is how narcissism (narcissistic parents or just narcissistic thinking) can easily creep into adoption.  In fact, the adoption system is a minefield of narcissistic thinking.

What are you talking about, Lynn?

Stay with me here.

Let's start with a brief definition of narcissism.  I am not going to quote the DSM here -- we will leave that to the psychologists and social workers.  I am going to talk about narcissism in plain English.  These traits are common in narcissistic people or systems:

* lack of accountability, abuse of power and lack of transparency
* sense of entitlement
* lacking in empathy and ethics
* secrecy
* magical thinking 
* all about the image, not about the truth
* making friends with people in high places
* lying
* corruption/greed
*objectifying others for own gain

In studying narcissism over the past 20 years, I have noticed many parallels to adoption that it is quite mind-blowing.

Closed adoption.  Closed adoption historically had a lack of accountability to both adoptees and birth parents.  It was simply expected that an unmarried woman would relinquish her child, no questions asked. Coercion, guilt and shame were heaped upon mothers to persuade them they were inadequate to raise their own children.  Most were ostracized by their own families and places of worship and sent away from home to protect the family image.  Children were then handed over to "appropriate" adoptive parents (think money and status) and a large fee or "donation" was expected.  Adoptive parents told all of their friends in high places where the best agencies were and the cycle repeated.  Lawyers saw the potential of money to be made and some actively engaged in the lying and corruption, sometimes changing mother's names on legal documents.  Churches were also notoriously heavily involved in ruining family's lives through abuses of power.

But Lynn, what about all those beautiful children who found forever-families via a church adoption agency?

I would have no problem with church based child placement if there was accountability to those they served.  Unfortunately, even today, those same church-based adoption agencies are still covering up their past sins to the families they helped separate. A friend recently contacted me and is completely calling off her search for original family because of the nasty way she was treated by a church social services.  She unfairly carries the shame that the closed adoption system placed on her head.

Once mothers relinquished, they were expected to not call or write and to just go on with life as usual.  There was no accountability on the part of the adoption agencies to provide any proof or information that they did what they promised to do---find a loving family for the child.  Mothers were discouraged from asking questions and a shroud of secrecy covered what exactly happened to that child. It amazes me to think that the agencies of the closed era did not have the forethought to provide mothers with updates about their child's progress if for no other reason to give them peace of mind.

The lack of empathy for relinquishing mothers astounds me to this day.  However, there was a good reason for not empathizing with the mothers.  The private agencies existed not as a place to help children, but as a business to make money off of children.  The image was to "help foundlings" but the truth was, greed motivated these agencies.  It was no accident that a socialite founded my adoption agency (She wanted to find a baby for her sister) and it's no accident that Georgia Tann, corrupt baby broker of Tennessee, paid off judges to falsify documents so adoptions of (stolen) children could be finalized.

The adoption agencies then and now still have a lack of accountability, transparency and an abuse of power. As an adoptee, I am still expected to pay money to get just basic facts about my life that my agency is holding for ransom. I was desperate in 2006 and forked over $500.00 just for the chance to find out who my mother was.  There is something really wrong with that picture.

There was very little sense of empathy on the part of the agency that I was destined to grow up without any knowledge of my family and the reasons for my relinquishment.  They believed I was a blank slate because that suited them.  They lied to adoptive parents and told them what they wanted to hear ("Your child is just like a biological child").  I have the baby booklet they gave to my parents and I read it cover to cover.  The level of denial is mind-boggling.

Many birth parents carried a deep shame and had symptoms of PTSD, resulting in a domino affect of pain and secrets that affected their subsequent husbands and children -- and later, the adoptee, in reunion.  These consequences were not of any concern to the adoption agencies.

There were no follow up services by my agency except for one early visit to my parents from the agency.  No thoughts of providing updated medical information or informing my family that post-adoption services even existed (rare, but actually available through my agency). All the cost and responsibility for gathering information about who I was born to and the circumstances of my relinquishment and adoption was placed on me, the still-paying customer.

 I marvel at the detailed record my agency kept about my mother when I was recently told by a social worker that their belief in the the closed era was that NOBODY would see that file. Some agencies allowed gifts or letters but notoriously did not pass along the gifts or letters to the birth parent or adoptee.  But who knew?  Lack of accountability--they literally had nobody to answer to.

Closing and sealing files is an abuse of power on the part of government and agencies in order to continue to keep secrets and corruption hidden.  Many adoptees have figured out 50 years later that no adoption ever even took place after being told they were adopted.  Others were never told they were adopted and led to think they were the biological children of their parents.  Lying and secrets was a main staple of closed adoption with a side of magical thinking that everybody in adoption morphs into somebody else:

Adoptive parents give birth (according to the birth certificate)
Adoptees are "as if" born to (again, according to the birth certificate) and
Birth parents are absolved of their pasts and can start a new life

Joan and Christina Crawford
Adoptive parents with mental health issues

Narcissism affects many, many adoptees.  I have lost track of how many adoptees have told me their mothers or fathers were unfit to parent any child, let alone pass a  home study to raise other people's children.  But it happened.  All.  The.  Time.

There is a theory in the adoption community (and may be even proven by studies which I don't have at my finger tips) that women who are infertile and do not grieve the loss of potential biological children, are not in the healthiest position to adopt and should not adopt until their infertility is grieved thoroughly.   The reason for this is that any child placed in an infertile parent's home will serve as a replacement for the hoped-for biological child and heaps of unrealistic expectations will be placed on that child, who may look or act nothing like his parents.

Then there is another category of adoptive parents with money, status and a sense of entitlement that believe they deserve children.   There is a huge leap between "I want to parent a child in need" to "I NEED to parent a child for my own ego-driven needs and wants".

The latter is what narcissism is all about.  The child raised by narcissistic parents will never be seen for her own gifts and abilities. In fact, he will never be truly seen at all.   She will always be seen through the lens of what the parent wants and needs.  This is parentification at its worst.  The child literally morphs into an extension of the parent and will never be seen as the beautiful, unique person that she is.  If mom wants a child to be a famous actress, then the child will be pushed and forced to take acting lessons.  What the child wants and feels will never be considered -- only the parents' wants and needs.

It's a terrible way to grow up and you can just turn on your T.V. and see examples of it all over the place.  The reality T.V. shows with stage moms come to mind.  But most narcissistic parents are so secretive that even the neighbors have no idea they are child abusers.  They deserve an academy award for their ability to "play the part" to friends, family, congregants, and of course, adoption agencies.  They usually have friends in high places and many of them paid off doctors and lawyers to get what they want.  It still goes on today as there is a lack of accountability and transparency within private adoption, and now days you can even advertise on Craigslist for a baby.

I especially wonder about doctors who have taken an oath to do no harm who had no problem after being slipped some cash, to place a child in harm's way out of their own greed.  Or the Judge's who signed off on corrupt adoptions to make a few extra bucks.

photo credit:  voyage2me.com
Objectification

Recently someone asked me what I thought about the term "Gotcha Day".  I immediately said, "I don't like it."  The person's face became confused.  I added, "It feels objectifying".

What does that mean exactly?

Well the root word is object.  Whenever I hear "Gotcha Day", I picture this kid on a shelf and somebody picking him up and yelling, "Gotcha!".  It's a similar visual when I hear "chosen" as if a bunch of babies were lined up side by side in cribs and a parent decidedly points at one and says, "I'll take him!"

There have been so many times I have felt like a pawn within the adoption system.  On any given day, the following roles are projected on me; however, they do not really speak to who I truly am:

*a beloved hoped-for daughter
*someone to make somebody else look good
*a family secret
*adult child of an alcoholic
*the kid who had the wrong father
*a minority but without the "protected class" to go with it
*the sister who will be ignored
*the sister who has "adoption issues"
*the token adoptee in the room

I'm sure you could make your own list -- many of these categories make me feel objectified as if I am not seen for the person that I truly am.   So what does this have to do with narcissism?  Narcissistic people and systems project an unreal idea of who you are on to you based on their own wants and needs.


So for example, you are just a regular guy who also happens to be adopted.  You get your original birth certificate in the mail from Vital Stats with your birth mother's name on it.  You decide to start searching for your original family.  You find them.  You open the door and then suddenly, you are bombarded with labels and assumptions placed upon you by the adoption system.  You will have people on all sides of the triad telling you how to feel, how to conduct your relationships, and that you are selfish or ungrateful for just seeking the truth.  You may get yelled at, shamed, or be hung up on or lied to. Your adoptive family may turn their backs on you.  You may be forced to pay lots and lots of money to your agency for information and to DNA testing companies just to learn the truth.

That, my friend, is the fall-out of narcissism and adoption in action.


















13 comments:

  1. I do not believe what I just read! Although there are some Bad things which take place in some adoptions, I believe that there are far more good things in adoptions!! Why don't you look for the Good instead of the Bad?

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    1. You don't BELIEVE what y just read. Pathetic. This isn't your story to tell. This wasn't written for YOU to reply to. You are not the reason behind the life long struggle this individual had and is going thru. Talk about exactly what this article says...

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  2. So, you can’t believe that an adoptee should have to pay $500 for their own adoption records? Yes, you are right, bad things do happen in some adoptions. But what would be really helpful to me as being one of those bad adoptions, is for you to please not turn a blind-eye and learn from our unfortunate experiences what can go wrong in adoptions. Your mindset is why everybody turned their back on me as an innocent child when many knew that something very wrong and did nothing.

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    1. JoAnne, your adoption is exactly what I held in my mind when I wrote this post. You deserved far better. I love and respect you plus I admire the fact that you turned into an amazing human being, despite your parents.

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  3. Excellent post Lynn Grubb!
    We can pound our head against the brick wall of secrecy in trying to get our records, money or no, and get nowhere. I feel one big reason for ''lack of transparency'' is protecting many from the truth of the atrocities done in separating mothers and their children. Another reason is protecting the adoptive family from the mother of the child. It isn't because of mothers hiding in closets. The majority aren't. That myth (the promise of confidentiality) is an example of the gaslighting done in adoption-land. I think the mind messing/gaslighting (the 'you made an adoption plan', 'you had a choice' when many of us did not.) is a huge influence on some mothers who refuse contact or redact their name. WHO CAN GET TRUTH PAST these lies and all the propaganda and closed records? I almost moved into that group of mothers for those very reasons. Namely you can't fight something this big, especially without the proof (our records) that we are not allowed, in most states, to have. Why aren't mothers allowed their own records? Since they only pertain to mother and child prior to adoption, who is that protecting?


    Anonymous July 9, 2015 at 10:58 AM, how about dealing with _reality_ in adoption? The power imbalance is extreme in adoption land.

    I'll find something ''good'' as you call it, about adoption when 1) it is done only when necessary (not because of some temporary situation) 2) done ethically 3) done with compassion and openness for *all* involved and 4) the opportunity is given for adoptees / their descendants, to have some ''choice'' in the matter of who --they-- are. They had absolutely NO CHOICE and no voice in this.

    It's time to give choice, truth, openness and AUTONOMY to the ones that adoption is ''supposed to be all about''... the Adoptee!

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  4. Great post, Lynn. Coming from a narcissistic home myself, I identify with much of what you wrote. We many times do not even realize that we were abused! The first time I heard that about my adoptive mother's behavior, I was shocked, but yet readily admitted that if I saw a parent do that to a child, I would agree with was abuse. It is mind blowing.

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    1. Thank you for commenting, orphanedheart.

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  5. Well now! very interesting! but a one-sided perspective! Narcissism is not limited to one kind of personality or situation.
    You state here that ....Narcissistic people and systems project an unreal idea of who you are on to you based on their own wants and needs...

    From my understand...this applies to anyone! But, staying with adoptees... and adoption...I know that it was NOT JUST the adopted parents but the ADOPTED child THAT CAN became the narcissistic!

    A really good narcissistic adoptee is excellent at PROJECTING on to EVERYONE. Your list proves that it can apply to anyone! And let's face it...much of behavior is LEARNED BEHAVIOR.

    I am NOT narcissistic because I was not taught it. If the shoe fits...please wear it. And you know it's not always about the 'adoptee'... In any event, great article!



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    1. It is true adopted children and non-adopted children can become narcissistic -- most likely from being raised by a narcissistic parent. Child abuse begets child abuse -- a cycle.

      It may not always be about the adoptee; however, this is an an adoptee blog, so expect to read blogs here from that perspective.

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  6. The gap between natural mothers and many adopted persons is deplorable after mothers fought to expose the truth to their sons/daughters through a Commonwealth Inquiry into former forced adoption policies and practices - not all adoptions are as the terminology that has appeared - forced adoptions - the National apology was about those who had their newborn babies illegally, unlawfully and unethically wrenched from their bodies during birthing process or a short time thereafter - it is not about adoption as no natural mothers who faced these inhumane crimes were involved in adoptions - there was a pregnancy and birthing process - sexual and obstetric crimes - mother means two not a singular word so why has non indigenous adopted persons stood by their natural mothers - and be debriefed on their own truth? That is why we fight for a Royal Commission into the brutal and heinous sexual, obstetric crimes and abduction of newborn babies 1958-1975 in the Commonwealth of Australia - our truth will prevail and hopefully bring healing to many adopted sons/daughters.

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  7. Great article! Thanks! Just found this site!

    I am an adoptee and was raised by a narcissistic step-father.
    It took me years to figure out what had happened.
    I was 53 when I understood for the first time that my step-father was a narcisist.Once I found this out, lots of pieces of a big puzzle fall in place.
    I was indeed just an extension of him. I felt, as an doptee, I had no rights at all!. I didn't understand it at the level I do now. As an adoptee and traumas of abandoning, you see now other way then to adjust in a very sick family-system.
    And if I did something wrong, lots of blame fell upon me
    I had two adoptee sisters, also adopted. But indeed no connection with each other.
    I abandonded the whole family in my twenties. It was tough and rough, but I feel it is the best thing I have done.
    Another problem is therapy I have been in therapy, but I feel like most don't understand adoptees nor narcism.
    Hence, the therapy system started me blaming again. I need to be fixed and there is something wrong with me.
    It is all sooo sick and I really wonder why I have made it this far.
    I do understand this is just a short message and lot of detaii are missing.

    But I can say this:

    The adoption system was a god-send for the narcissist.

    Namaste!

    Happy 2016

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    1. Thank you for your comments. I apologize for my late reply. You hit the nail on the head . . . .the therapy community is under-educated in both adoption and narcissism. It seems that many therapists are blind to narcissistic abuse and the special issue that adoptees face by a simple consequence of other people's decisions. It's really frustrating to pay for therapy and spend all your time trying to educate them! I gave up on therapists!

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