Sunday, August 30, 2015

Common Traits of Adoptees

Have you ever wondered what makes adoptees tick?  Well, wonder no longer!  I hope to answer some of your curiosities today.  In an effort to reach both adoptees who may think they are alone in addition to my other aspiration to educate those of you who are still ascribing to traditional myths about adopted people, today is the day you can learn the inside scoop!

"Traditionally, American culture has communicated
to adopted children that aside from the fact that they
are “chosen children,” their lives and experiences are
just like that of those who are raised by their birth
parents (Silverstein & Kaplan, 1998;Wegar, 1997). In
more recent years, however, theorists, activists, and
adoptees themselves have contested this perspective
and argued that the experience of being an adopted
person is unique and worthy of attention
(Brodzinsky, Smith & Brodzinsky, 1998; Rosenberg,
1992; Wegar, 1997). -- Unique Issues of Adult Adoptees
by Jennifer Carizey

I don't personally identify with every item on this list; however, enough adopted people I know have brought particular items to my attention, so I believe each trait below should be considered.  I may comment under the ones I personally identify with and sometimes quote other adoptees or experts.

Misunderstood -- I put this item at the top of the list because it is the one I most identify with. Even as someone perfectly comfortable talking about adoption, being adopted, being an adoptive parent and having a full community of support, being misunderstood is at the top of the list for these reasons:

1.  People assume if you have anything negative to say about adoption, you are anti-adoption. Many people are also still mystified even in the age of open adoption, why we feel any need to search for our roots.

2.  People assume you are an "angry adoptee" or "had a bad experience" if you are involved in the adoptee rights community and are not happy-happy-joy-joy about adoption or do not feel the need to actively advocate for increasing adoptions.

3.  People assume that your life is open to their judgment and examination simply because they are curious about you and why you are adopted.

4.  People associate being adopted with "orphans", "unwanted children" and "almost aborted".  I have lost count of the times I have been mind-blasted with odd assumptions about my personal life by someone who barely knows me, but knows my adoption status.

It's no surprise that adoptees as a class are misunderstood, with the media hype, religion/politics/society waxing and waning on where they stand on adoption, abortion being unfairly mixed into adoption, and the expectation that we remain loyal to adoptive parents' wishes and wants, even as adults.

Delayed Grief -- In this interview at Lost Daughters, Corie Skolnick, therapist/author, describes what she learned from adoptees about their delayed grief, in addition to her observations that adoptees are very resilient and creative.

Incohesive sense of self/identity - I find that this lack of knowing and missing narrative of my life is what has affected me the most negatively as I became an adult.  It still negatively affects me to this day.

"Early adulthood is regarded
as the life cycle stage in which people evaluate the
characteristics and values they have inherited from
their families of origin and decide which aspects to
maintain and which to discard (Urdang, 2002).
This can be a unique struggle for an adoptee.
One issue that is thought to interfere with an
adoptee’s development of a coherent sense of self is
the lack of others with similar physical characteristics."
(Lifton, 1979). 

Hyper-Independence - Many adoptees I know (myself included) are a party of one.  They are the only ones they know they can count on to do it, say it, fix it and/or deal with it.  We don't like to be vulnerable to ask for help from others and/or we don't want to feel let down when others don't follow through/leave/disappoint us.

Co-Dependent - putting others feelings before  oneself (and not taking care of oneself properly) is a full time job for many adoptees.  This can show up as people-pleasing.

My first therapist identified co-dependence in me during my very first therapy appointment.  I had never heard of it and read the book, "Co-Dependent No More" by Melody Beattie -- a life-changing book for me.  My theory on why many adoptees are co-dependent is this:

Many of us were placed in our families to make our adoptive parents' dreams of having a family come true.  If our parents did not fully accept us for the people we were (and not the people they wished us to be), it resulted in co-dependence.  Obviously, if our parents had substance abuse issues or other addictions, these dynamics could also lead to co-dependence; however, I believe the simple act of being adopted, can put one at risk for co-dependence.

Sensitivity - Sensitive to rejection, sensitive to other people's feelings because we know how it feels to be on the outside.  We may be the first to befriend the picked-on or left out person, because we understand how it feels to be on the outside. Reunion sometimes increases these feelings as many adoptees recognize we weren't wholly part of the adoptive family and now we are also on the outside of the birth family as well.  Of course, some adoptees fit in famously with one or both of their families; however, it's unusual to hear an adoptee say they feel fully complete in both families.

Constant Expectation of Rejection - One family left already -- what is stopping another one from leaving?

"I think we Adoptees have trouble making
and sustaining relationships. We share a
vulnerability to the stresses and strains of
everyday interactions, have real difficulty
forming ties and connections. We need
security and dependency, but try to escape
from it. We seem to need freedom. We
don’t trust people." (Lifton, 1979, p. 65)

Hyper-vigilance - Wondering when the other shoe is going to drop
. Is the sky falling because something good is happening in my life?  Hyper-vigilance is common in survivors of trauma and make no mistake, when your mother relinquishes you, it is a trauma, plain and simple. Another way it was described by one adoptee is this:  "unfounded sense of impending doom.".  For more on trauma go here.
Over-achieving - I need to work harder, be smarter, more successful, more (fill in the blank) in order to be loved.
Question Everything
Separation Anxiety - Fear that when someone leaves, they are never coming back.

Distrust of authorities - I have always distrusted authorities despite being raised by a mother who believed anything an authority said.  When government/religious/social/family groups conspire to keep your entire existence a secret or your true identity is always the elephant in the room, it does something to your faith and trust in anyone who has control over your life.

And others that were shared with me:

*  Not feeling like we fit in with our families or friends

"The confusion that results from an adoptee’s feeling
of “differentness” has been coined “genealogical
bewilderment” and refers not only to a physical dissimilarity
but also to a sense of not being with “one’s
own kind”" (Lifton, 1979, p. 47). 

*  Lack of physical connection to family

*  Hypersensitive to conflict

*  Running away when things get hard

*  Heightened anxiety (but being unaware of anxiety)

*  Feeling never good enough

*  inability to handle big changes in life

*  Feeling as though we have to be grateful for being saved

*  Feeling you could be easily replaced

*  Fear of abandonment

*  It's better to leave than be left

*  Not sure what to do with their lives

*  Difficulty making decisions

*  feeling flawed, lacking in self-confidence and trust

"The quality of the attachment that develops
between the adoptee and the adoptive parents is a
critical factor in the repair of the primary loss."
(Brodzinsky, et. al, 1998; Rosenberg, 1992)

And now for the positive traits of adopted people.  I posed the question, "tell me about the positive things you received from adoption" to the authors of The Adoptee Survival Guide.  Here are some of their responses:

* empathetic, compassionate, will see things through

* sensitive to others' feelings and will play peacemaker

* dislike injustices in the world; protective of others and possessions; competive -- Daryn Watson

* "I know that love is thicker than blood. Blood doesn't make you family.  Therefore, I can love people like family." -- Kara Albano

* very adaptable

* highly creative

* we don't take relatives or genealogy for granted

* embracing possibilities of self-invention and embracing that we can self-determine without being influenced by family history

* independent, self-reliant and happy to be alone

* resilient

* take nothing for granted; photo-junkie (documentation!), drive to connect

* finding others like us on this journey who love to write about adoption

* "Ultimately, it helped me to seek and find God in the most profound way and see how He was seeking me. And it helped me to see God's grace in the midst of a lot of evil and to know how much I am loved by him." -- Julie G.

Paige Adams Strickland wrote a really great blog post called The Benefits of Being an Adoptee.  I urge you to read it and to also buy her memoir for more insight into life as an adoptee.

"It has made me a sympathetic, empathetic pragmatist with overtones of possible optimism. It has made me acutely aware of the fragility and in some senses nonsense of human constructs and the power they exert over people because our need to belong, to fit in, to know our place in context is, an overriding drive no matter our race, colour, creed, sex or religion." -- Lucy Sheen


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Using Your Strengths to Overcome Difficult Circumstances

My husband and I were chatting this morning over coffee, reliving in a sense, the search for my birth father.  He reminded me of how far we have come from knowing nothing to knowing so much information, including a psychic vision he received involving a few letters in the alphabet.  We were trying to decipher how this vision fit in with the stories we have gathered from the people who knew my family 5 decades ago.  We relived the psychic vision he had around 2005 about my birth mother's family before I even knew who she was.  (Mark knew ahead of time that my mother lived in the NW part of the U.S., including identifying the state of her residence and that she had a very unique name.)

One thing is clear to my husband -- he stated that, "you and I are strong people".  Not really understanding where he was going with this line of thinking, I probed him further.

"What do you mean exactly?"

"Well, I am a man of faith and all of these situations and experiences we have lived (sometimes endured) have a purpose. All will be revealed in its own timing.  I believe you will find your father when the time is right and then you will have the ending you need for your book."

(I have to admit I'm a little shocked any time my husband makes declarative statements such as these!).

"My book?  I'll be writing a memoir?"

"Yes, eventually".

My husband freaks me out on a regular basis with his predictions. Why?  Because he is always right (although he is humble enough to deny being always right).  One thing I have learned about my husband -- when he says it, it almost always comes to pass.

I started thinking about how maybe I really am a strong person and then I began to ponder exactly what it means to "be strong" exactly.



the state or quality of being physically or mentally strong
the ability to withstand or exert great force, stress, or pressure;

something that is regarded as being beneficial or a source of power: their chief strength is technology

Amy Morin, a psychotherapist who studies strength on a global level, states in her book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do that there are three components to strength:

Thoughts - identifying irrational thoughts and replacing them with more realistic thoughts.
Behaviors - Behaving in a positive manner despite the circumstances.
Emotions - Controlling your emotions so your emotions don't control you.

In case you are wondering what those 13 things are, I'm going to flip them around from "don'ts" to "dos":

1.  Gratitude
2.  Own your power
3.  Be willing to face change
4.  Focus on what you can control
5.  Please yourself and know that you can't please everybody
6.  Willing to take calculated risks
7.  Forward-looking
8.  Learn from mistakes
9.  Happy for other people's successes
10.  Will keep trying
11.  Enjoy alone time
12.  Earn their success (no sense of entitlement)
13.  Know it takes time to succeed

I admitted to Mark my recent visit to an adoptee author book reading last week was because I felt this unexplainable pull to just go, even when my evening got complicated and I was a bit late.  I had a deep, inner knowing that for some unknown-to-me reason, I needed to be there to meet this adoptee who I had never known or heard of before.  I also felt compelled to take the author a copy of The Adoptee Survival Guide anthology.  I have never done this before, but I listened to my intuition.  

Mark replied that he had that same feeling Friday when he was being pulled to go to the car auction with our adult son, Matt, but there was another side pulling him to the hospital as his brother was having surgery.  He reconciled the conflict using a deep inner knowing telling him his brother would be mad at him if he was sitting in a waiting room for no reason and didn't get on with his day.  He went to the auction and felt a sense of peace about his decision.  I asked him what the decision making process was like for him exactly and he responded, "You just gotta go with it."

So, what does this have to do with strength and/or "being strong"?  And how can we use our strengths in processing and accepting information we learn during our adoptee search and reunion journey?

1.  Strength: Trust your intuition and be brave enough to act on it.

Like the examples above, sometimes you just know something but can't explain why.  Sometimes you feel this overwhelming pull to go someplace or talk to somebody and if you think too long and hard about it, fear might stop you from acting on your gut.  Strong people trust and believe in themselves and what they know to be true.  Even if 15 others around you are telling you differently, a person of strength will trust in their own instincts over others (of course, that is not to say that others cannot provide valuable insight--a topic for another blog).

People will sometimes think you are wacky or flaky for believing what you believe, but no matter. What matters is what you know to be true.  Sometimes these "knowings" have no rhyme or reason to you at the time they are happening.  Only in hindsight can you see where this situation was leading.

I don't know about you, but I don't have time to waste trying to explain to everyone around me why I believe what I believe or know what I know -- I just know it.  I just believe it.  And I act on it.  That is strength.

2.  Strength:  Know and Believe that all things will work together for your good.

I am a church-going woman. Jesus taught Christians to believe all things work together for our good; however, other religious traditions have a similar tenet.  This part of strength is similar to intuition, but in real life, it looks more like faith and hope.

"Yeah, right, Lynn, a tsunami or tornado is going to work together for my good -- even when I'm dead."  I admit, this line of thinking may have some limitations; however, there is so much truth within it.

However, remember working for your good, does not necessarily mean you will be happy about the result.  Nobody goes into marriage hoping to divorce one day, but sometimes divorce can be a blessing.  Nobody is hoping to get a cancer diagnosis; however, in difficult and painful situations, we grow and can be a blessing to others.

I recently read about a local author who published a book called, Parkinsons as a Spiritual Journey.  I I read the author's story in my local paper last night with deep interest because the author, Joseph Reitz, said something that really struck me.  As his doctor was revealing his diagnoses of Parkinsons Disease (after Mr. Reitz had been suffering with tremors in his arm for 2 years), Mr. Reitz felt devastated but at the same time heard this voice in his head that said,

"Everyone has something".

Mr. Reitz was quoted as saying, "It was like a gift of grace and it took the fear right out of me."

Mr. Reitz journeyed through his disease looking for ways to hope, manage, accept and help others who were walking the same journey as him.  A psychotherapist read a few of his stories and encouraged him to keep writing his stories and stated these stories could help his other patients.   He turned his stories into a book, bringing hope to others with the same diagnosis.

3.  Strength:  Knowing when to ask for help

A few times I have openly acknowledged during conversations with people that I have had counseling.  I always laugh inside when their faces give away their surprise that I would admit this out loud.  I have had people confess to me that they would never tell a stranger their innermost thoughts.  Others have looked at me with a perplexed face, not saying what I suspect is really on their minds:  we got a crazy one here!

It is not weakness to admit when you need help.   Back in the mid-90's, Mark and I lost a baby during the second trimester of my pregnancy and we were devastated. We could not lean on each other as we were both grieving.  So I decided to find a therapist to help me work through my grief.

When our car breaks down, we find a mechanic. Well, when our hearts are breaking down, therapy can be good.  When our emotions get too far out of hand, it is good to seek therapy or talk to a friend or loved one.

Weak people will not ask for help, mainly because it makes them feel (or in their minds) look weaker.

If you get your DNA tested, but you don't have the foggiest clue how to interpret the information, ask others who understand genetic genealogy.  If you are an adoptee and others around you do not understand what you are feeling, seek out a support group.

Strong people know where their limits lie and will reach out for help.  Be strong and ask for help!

4.  Strength:  Seeing the good in the bad

A large part of the conversation with my husband this morning centered around the pain I experienced during my reunion with my maternal family.

Through our discussions, I realized that my reunion fell apart (partly) because I asked too many questions about my father and who he was.   This "need to know" of mine threatened my mother as she had no intention of sharing that information with me (unbeknownst to me) and I had no intention of accepting that as the final word on the matter.  It is painful to accept that a relationship I fantasized about my whole life, ended too soon, albeit silently, over the truth about my conception.

As I relived the dark feelings this morning, other thoughts began to occur to me.  I was really, really blessed to meet my mother at all.  I was blessed to be able to stay in her home, look at her face and have many conversations with her -- something so many adopted people never had as their mother was deceased by the time they learned who their mothers were or learned they were adopted.  I was blessed. I was blessed to find out who she was when others still have unanswered questions about their mothers.

It is easy some days to feel sorry for myself when I log into DNA Detectives and read stories of searchers (adopted and non-adopted alike) who right off the bat get a first cousin match upon taking their very first DNA test, and I'm 2 and a half years into genetic genealogy (in all the databases) and have nothing closer than a 4th cousin match to my father (I am not alone in this category).

Lately, though, I have realized that I wouldn't have learned as much as I have about genetic genealogy over the last several years and met the amazing people I had met if I had instantly gotten access to my paternal line like so many others. I am learning and growing through this journey, whether I would choose that path or not.  It is what it is!

There is a silver lining in every hurt, every rejection, every disappointment.  Sometimes it can take years to recognize it, but it's there.

It takes strength to see it and keep moving forward.

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