It’s O.K. to be a "bitter and angry" adoptee (when seeking support)

The title of this blog is tongue-in-cheek, because so many people new to online support groups (especially adoptees like me, who also become adoptive parents) ask a very common question in some form or another . . . . .it usually comes about after the person joins an on-line adoption support group and lurks for a bit trying to get a feel for the energy in the room . . .if the energy leans toward the negative (i.e. discussing the negative feelings surrounding being adopted), it is only a matter of time until a comment like this appears in the room:

“I am just curious as to why in this support group there are so many bitter and angry adoptees who seem to hate adoption. I loved growing up adopted and had wonderful parents.  It makes me very concerned for the child I adopted that there is so much negativity coming from adoptees.”

Depending on the room this is posted in, this could invite an onslaught of criticism from the adoptees who are working through the negative aspects of adoption currently in their lives and could result in the administrator closing the thread before people escalate to name calling.

If the original poster (OP) truly wants to be educated and understand, they are more apt to get insightful and helpful responses using words other than “bitter” and “angry”.  Judging somebody else as “bitter” does not put you in a positive light with the people you are addressing.

For example, let’s say you are at the beginning of a divorce and you recently separated from your Significant Other.  You have been battling it out for a few weeks and currently are not speaking.  You see your local Lutheran church has a divorce support group, you decide you will check it out.  You show up for your first meeting and are sitting in a circle with other people going through the divorce process.  You share about the recent fights and how you were served divorce papers that week and about how angry and sad you are about your marriage ending.  Let’s say instead of understanding and nodding heads of “getting it”, you get this response from one of the other members . . . .

“Why are you so bitter and angry that you are going through a divorce?”

You went to the divorce support group for support. But instead you received judgment for your feelings. Are you then motivated to come back to the support group?

I loved reading a recent thread surrounding the “bitter and angry” question while I was away on a Christmas vacation.  I logged in briefly to Facebook and saw in one of the many on-line support groups I am a part of a question similar to the above.  The original poster used “bitter” and “angry” but somehow managed to balance it with genuine curiosity and openness to learning and listening.   I just smiled to myself reading the varied insightful answers to the question. 

There have been times in the past when this subject is addressed where all I can do is roll my eyes and shake my head. .  .when people in a support group are put on the defensive, they feel the need to defend their anger  . . .

Sometimes the reason for the anger is a valid reaction to a bunch of crappy cards dealt or a difficult storm one is navigating.  We all get dealt crappy cards and we all navigate storms.  The problem as I see it, is that many people don’t want to acknowledge that certain aspects of adoption have potential for crappy cards and storms.  An adoptee can be dealt a great hand in terms of a loving family but sometimes they are the ones who have a hard time “hearing” the adoptees who were not dealt a good hand (of course, this can also happen in reverse).  Sometimes the adoptee dealt the good hand will be dismissive of the one who was not dealt the good hand, instead of realizing that he/she had a leg up in life by having supportive parents and/or a positive reunion with birth family. An example of an angry or bitter post might include some form of this:

“I no longer have contact with my adoptive parents.  They were abusive and cut me off when I searched for my birth parents.  I later learned my birth parents want nothing to do with me.”   

You hope upon reading this revelation, that the other members of the group will rally around this person and tell them they are not alone and that they are valued members of the support group family instead of kicking them when they are down, which could result in them (and others) leaving the group.

I do think sometimes adoption-is-all-positive people occasionally join these on-line groups in order to smack down others in the group.  I have never seen this dynamic in a live support group but it has happened quite frequently in the on-line adoption world.

Adoption as an industry needs to keep up the positive PR or things could go south quickly. . . . as in, if adoptive parents think that every adoptee will grow up angry and bitter (and ungrateful) . . .why bother investing any time and energy into their children?  Why adopt at all?  It is this constant need for positive adoption PR that result in websites like “Brave Love” where they promote infant adoption solely in a positive light – a win/win for even relinquishing mothers!

Personally, I think Brave Love and other movements like it are trying to do damage control.  The word is out:  Adoption is complicated and is based on loss.  They feel a need to present a unilateral sense of positivity and security so both relinquishing mothers and adoptive parents can feel like everything will be smooth sailing . . .and they do it in the hopes that adoptees will jump on board  . .  the problem? They aren’t presenting the full picture.

And this to me is the heart of the matter . . .adoptive parents can become fearful once the adoption is final if all they have heard for months was positive pep-talking, religious or otherwise, and then at the first sign of trouble, turn to Google and Facebook and begin hearing adoptees speak via blogs, social media posts and memoirs.  This new awareness may result in their imagining a scenario which includes their own children being angry with them, rejecting them in favor of birth family, having unproductive lives or growing more bitter and angry into old age.

Before jumping straight into the fear that adoptive parenting is all for naught . . . and instead of shooting the messenger (adoptees who feel free to express anger, bash adoption, etc) . . the intelligent response is to (1) listen to what the original poster may be angry about, (2) empathize with the  person expressing anger; (3) if their comment triggers you in some way, ask yourself if there is a parallel to their situation and your own; and (4) If there is something about their situation that applies to you and your family, learn from that anger and be prepared to parent in a way that will not result in anger in your own child over that particular issue, if appropriate.

I will give you an example from my own life.  I went through a period of time wherein I was angry at my adoptive parents for not advocating for my right to know where I came from.  Part of the issue was lack of education and a big part of the issue was fear.  In any event, I had to do all of my own advocating once I became an adult with mainly the support of my husband. In the parenting of our daughter, we have provided (and sought) all information as it relates to our daughter's history so as not to create an identity gap and in the hope that this is one area where our daughter will not have to deal with anger (we acknowledge there are other issues that may come up).

If you are an adoptive parent reading this blog, there are many ways you can advocate for your adopted child (stay tuned, I will probably be writing on that topic next). 

Also, it’s helpful to keep in mind that a person can be posting angry thoughts on Monday about their recent telephone call with their birth mom, yet the very next day on Tuesday, is posting photos about celebrating their adoptive mother’s birthday.  You aren’t getting the whole picture from any particular post or comment in adoption on-line support groups.  One benefit of a live adoption support group is if you come often enough, the other members of the group can get a somewhat linear description of the issues you face over time.

We all know we can be furious about one thing in our lives, yet be pretty darn happy and grateful about most other aspects of our lives.  We are not one-dimensional people.  We are human beings juggling many different roles, hats, circumstances and experiences at one time. Each of us go through peak life events, experience cycles and have anniversary reactions.  Some peak life experiences relating to adoption can cause negative emotions to become exacerbated and may prompt one to seek out support.  It’s o.k. to be angry, bitter, sad and downright pissed off when seeking out support.  You are helping yourself by seeking support from others who understand. You are also potentially helping others with your posts about what it is you are currently dealing with, which has caused your anger.

There are special circumstances in an adopted person’s life (that may never affect somebody who is not adopted or separated from birth family) when they may be more apt to seek support (and may present as angry or bitter) when grieving and navigating issues such as . . . . . .

*Facing the reality that you were raised in an abusive home and recognizing that the social workers did not adequately vet the adoptive family you were raised in (this cannot adequately compare to biological parenting in an abusive home because of the higher standards that adoptive families are required to meet and because these homes are already receiving a traumatized child).

*being lied to about your identity or adoption circumstances (i.e. why you were relinquished, who your mother/father is or knowing that your entire extended family and friends knew your story and you did not.)

*wanting a reunion, but being rejected by the people you are attempting to reunite with

*Not wanting a reunion and being found by someone you don’t want to have a relationship with

*getting DNA results that are proof that you have been lied to your entire life

*knowing that your records are being withheld by the state or adoption agencies because you are part of this minority through no fault or decision of your own

*not having medical history while navigating a serious illness or parenting your own children (writing “unknown” on every doctor/dentist form you fill out).

*never feeling like you were accepted by the family you were raised in or your biological family

*feeling abandoned, thrown away, not loved and confused about why everybody keeps insisting you be happy about being adopted

*when you recognize that in order to be chosen, you had to be “not chosen”

*being rejected by your adoptive family as an adult

*inability to find a therapist who understands the lived experiences of adoptees (and support groups may be the only place you can truly discuss your anger openly).

In other words, being adopted comes along with it, bonus experiences that the average person being raised by biological family, will not navigate.
Most of joined a support group for S U P P O R T.  Expect to hear strong emotion in some members’ posts.

All feelings should be welcome (of course, no personal attacks).  All stages of processing the journey will be represented.  People need to feel they can be honest in a support group so they can work through whatever issue is causing their current distress.

What you are seeing in any given support group/blog or Facebook discussion is a snippet of time in many people’s journeys. . . . . some will be at the very beginning of their journeys . . .some will have been long-time travelers. . . . some will be in the thick of hell.  Other people’s anger should not make a happy and content adoptee or adoptive parent feel insecure . . . . we all have felt bitter and angry about SOMETHING.

 Just because that something may be adoption-related does not mean that the angry person will forever be frozen into that angry state for all eternity.  Do some people carry their anger and bitterness too long?  Sure.  But that is not for you or I to judge or change within the context of a support group.  If we go into an adoption support group, we should expect to feel or experience any number of feelings, including:

You get the idea . . . .

Just as if you go into a divorce support group, or a smoking cessation support group, or in our case, an adoption support group, we are all there for the same reason . . . for support to manage the struggles of the adoption journey.  There is a lot to grieve. There is a lot to process.  There is a lot to be joyful about.  And while we process, we will feel anger, which is normal and healthy.  We don’t want to get stuck in the anger, but when we are in the thick of it, we don’t want other people to judge us for it either.  We need to be able to sit in that anger for a time so we can move to acceptance of whatever difficulty we are facing, hopefully coming out on the other side accepting our losses/gains and moving forward with more wisdom and some pretty cool friends to boot.  


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