Brene Brown names two kinds of power: power-over and real power.
“Power-over is a dangerous form of power. Dr. Robin Smith, a psychologist and contributor to The Oprah Winfrey Show, described one of the most insidious forms of power-over as working like this: ‘I will define who you are and then I’ll make you believe it’s your own definition.’ “
You know, kind of like adoption. You are MY child, they yell. They rename you, redefine you. And you’d better like it. You’d better be thankful…until you start thinking there must be something wrong with you, you should be thankful…you are their child and they’ve saved you from so much, without them you’d be God knows where…you guess they were right all along… but that’s not truth, that is shame talking. (yes, I know this is not how everyone’s adoption story plays out, but I have seen it time and time again)
“If feeling connected is feeling valued, accepted, worthy and affirmed, then feeling disconnected is feeling diminished, rejected, unworthy, and reduced…Jean Baker Miller and Irene Stiver, Relational-Cultural theorists from the Stone Center at Wellesley College, have beautifully captured the overwhelming nature of isolation. They write, “We believe that the most terrifying and destructive feeling that a person can experience is psychological isolation. This is not the same as being alone. It is a feeling that one is locked out of the possibility of human connection and of being powerless to change the situation. In the extreme, psychological isolation can lead to a sense of hopelessness and desperation. People will do almost anything to escape the combination of condemned isolation and powerlessness.”
The most terrifying and destructive feeling.
The example Brown gave of someone feeling totally alone was someone who felt shame for how she looked, and didn’t want other moms talking behind her back about it. She’d feel “totally alone” if that happened. How much worse is being left by your entire family. Being kicked out of your clan. As a baby! And talk about being powerless — Of course we were powerless, we were babies, toddlers, and young children. Even as adults there are laws against us and a society that in general thinks we are thankless whiners making a big deal over nothing.
“Over and over, the women I interviewed explained how empathy is the strongest antidote for shame. It’s not just about having our needs for empathy met; shame resilience requires us to be able to respond empathically to others. Women with high levels of shame resilience were both givers and receivers of empathy. (emphasis hers)
Do you remember the petri dishes from high school science lab– those little round dishes? If you put shame in a petri dish and cover it with judgement, silence, and secrecy, it grows out of control until it consumes everything in sight — you have basically provided shame with the environment it needs to thrive. On the other hand, if you put shame in a petri dish and douse it with empathy, shame loses power and starts to fade. Empathy creates a hostile environment for shame — it can’t survive.”
Judgement, silence, secrecy — all so obvious in the adoption world, especially the closed adoptions that so many of us grew up with. So, so little empathy, unless you are an adoptee…but only an adoptee who “gets it” also. I’ve seen time and time again adoptees who “eat their own” and try to shame us for having bad feelings about being adopted. “I love being adopted!! You guys are just so negative. Try thinking on the bright side! Aren’t you glad you weren’t aborted??” *gag* *shudder*
I mean seriously, would you say to someone with cancer, “I’m sorry you have cancer, but look on the bright side, you could be dead! Get over it already!”
I wonder if the main difference between someone who grows up adopted but mostly psychologically healthy is an adoptive family and friends who have empathy for your situation. I know in my case my parents were the opposite of that, and I, honestly, am a total mess inside. I remember the ONE time (one time!!) my mother showed empathy. I remember it so clearly because of how rare it was and how good it made me feel. I was a senior in high school, the day of graduation practice, and my “friends” had just told me I wasn’t invited to go with all of them to Friendly’s afterwards. My mom said, “That must really hurt.” That’s it. That’s all I needed! Her understanding my feelings made all the difference. But that was the only time I remember that happening.
So I’ll close this with a huge dish of empathy with a topping of hot fudge and sprinkles, and I mean it all from the bottom of my heart…“I get it. This hurts. It sucks!! I know what it’s like to feel completely alone. I am so sorry you are feeling like this, no one should be treated like this. Your feelings are ALL valid, they are a normal response to what you have been through. With much love, from me to you.”