by Deborah N. Silverstein and Sharon Kaplan Roszia
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.
Adoptive parents report that their adopted children seem to hold back a part of themselves in the relationship. Adoptive mothers indicate, for example, that even as an infant, the adoptee was “not cuddly.” Many adoptees as teens state that they truly have never felt close to anyone. Some youngsters declare a lifetime emptiness related to a longing for the birthmother they may have never seen.
Due to these multiple losses for both adoptees and adoptive parents, there may also have been difficulties in early bonding and attachment. For children adopted at older ages, multiple disruptions in attachment and/or abuse may interfere with relationships in the new family (Fahlberg 1979 a,b).
The adoptee’s intimacy issues are particularly evident in relationships with members of the opposite sex and revolve around questions about the adoptee’s conception, biological and genetic concerns, and sexuality.
The adoptive parents’ couple relationship may have been irreparably harmed by the intrusive nature of medical procedures and the scapegoating and blame that may have been part of the diagnosis of infertility. These residual effects may become the hallmark of the later relationship.
Birthparents may come to equate sex, intimacy, and pregnancy with pain leading them to avoid additional loss by shunning intimate relationships. Further, birthparents may question their ability to parent a child successfully. In many instances, the birthparents fear intimacy in relationships with opposite sex partners, family or subsequent children.
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.
Birthparents, adoptive parents, and adoptees are all forced to give up control. Adoption, for most, is a second choice. Birthparents did not grow up with romantic images of becoming accidentally pregnant or abusing their children and surrendering them for adoption. In contrast, the pregnancy or abuse is a crisis situation whose resolution becomes adoption. In order to solve the predicament, birthparents must surrender not only the child but also their volition, leading to feelings of victimization and powerlessness which may become themes in birthparents’ lives.
Adoptees are keenly aware that they were not party to the decision which led to their adoption. They had no- control over the loss of the birth family or the choice of the adoptive family. The adoption proceeded with adults making life-altering choices for them. This unnatural change of course impinges on growth toward self-actualization and self-control. Adolescent adoptees, attempting to master the loss of control they have experienced in adoption, frequently engage in power struggles with adoptive parents and other authority figures. They may lack internalized self-control, leading to a lowered sense of self-responsibility. These patterns, frequently passive/aggressive in nature, may continue into adulthood.
For adoptive parents, the intricacies of the adoption process lead to feelings of helplessness. These feelings sometimes cause adoptive parents to view themselves as powerless, and perhaps entitled to be parents, leading to laxity in parenting. As an alternative response, some adoptive parents may seek to regain the lost control by becoming overprotective and controlling, leading to rigidity in the parent/adoptee relationship.
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.
Identifying these core issues can assist triad members and professionals in establishing an open dialogue and alleviating some of the pain and isolation which so often characterize adoption. Triad members may need professional assistance in recognizing that they may have become trapped in the negative feelings generated by the adoption experience. Armed with this new awareness, they can choose to catapult themselves into growth and strength.
Triad members may repeatedly do and undo their adoption experiences in their minds and in their vacillating behaviors while striving toward mastery. They will benefit from identifying, exploring and ultimately accepting the role of the seven core issues in their lives.
The following tasks and questions will help triad members and professionals explore the seven core issues in 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?
Sharon is available for consultations by SKYPE and in person. She teaches classes, consults with agencies, runs support groups and a professional mentoring group. She resides in Southern California. For more information, please visit her website www.sharonroszia.com