Message from an Angel

(Trigger warning: I mention sexual assault, not an actual one but a reference to that feeling)

This post may be a little too woo-woo for some, LOL, in fact it is more “out there” than I usually get even in my own  off-internet life.

I was reading a book that briefly mentioned talking to angels, and how to go about doing that.  I do believe in angels, but don’t think I’ve ever spoken out loud and addressed them by a “title” the way this book said to do (i.e. “Angel of Mercy,” “Angel of Relationship”, etc).  I also believe in demons (fallen angels) so I also spoke out loud that it should be an angel that worships God that I am addressing, just to be safe!  The last thing I need is more demons in my life.

Anyway, back to my life – I had a huge, overdue falling out with my adoptive father a few weeks ago.  Besides, or more like “on top of”  the relinquishment, his mental health (or lack of it) has been a big source of trauma in my life.   I spoke to the angel and said, “Angel of Relationship, I need help,” and rattled on about how being in any sort of relationship with my adoptive father was painful and being away from it was also painful.  And then I said something that has been mulling around in my brain lately, “He’s not even my father! I was forced to be in this awful relationship with him!”

My father, if I had to diagnose him, has borderline personality disorder with a heavy dose of narcissism.  He’s very possessive in his relationships, extremely clingy, and demands they run a certain way with a certain amount of attention paid to him (i.e. all of it, LOL).  His hugs are bear hugs that don’t let go when you are done, not until HE is done.   There is so much more but it’s not the point of this post.

I realized in that moment how much being in relationship with him felt like assault, almost like some kind of psychic rape, since it was relational, and painful, and forced.  I did not ask to be in a relationship with him, I didn’t WANT to be in a relationship with him — for 20-ish years I was stuck there, as I was a child, for 20+ more I stuck around because both parents had shamed me into staying and I had that underlying thought that A) I should be thankful to be adopted, and B) good people honor their parents.    I know biological children are also stuck with their parents, but the added stress of the adoption fueled the fire, primed me for relational stress, and it’s just *different*.

It’s different like this – think about getting a present, a nice new…I don’t know….expensive kitchen appliance you’d been wanting for years.  One with all the bells and whistles.   Getting it and finding it doesn’t work well is like having biological parents who are difficult.  Getting it, realizing your neighbor stole the one delivered to your front porch and replaced it with her broken one (and there’s nothing you can do about it) is like having adoptive parents who are difficult.  Not only does your kitchen appliance not work, but you wanted the one that was supposed to be YOURS, and you are angry at your neighbor, and feeling shaken up that something was stolen from you, and are worked up because you always thought that neighbor was your friend and now you’ve lost a friend.

So back to the “psychic assault/rape,” I had never thought about it in such strong terms. I think I may have an angel to thank for that. No wonder I feel sick when I  so much as see an email has come from him.  It’s been 40+ years of being forced to be relational with him, forced to be nice, forced to be his adoring (cough) daughter.  Shamed horribly for being anything less. Ugh.   I’m feeling sick just writing all this so I’m going to wrap up and hope someone can make heads or tales of what I’ve written.  If you’ve ever felt like this I’d love to hear your story.

 

Advertisements

My Own Acre

In Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, she states:

One image that helps me begin to know the people in my fiction is something a friend once told me. She said that every single one of us at birth is given an emotional acre all our own. You get one, your awful Uncle Phil gets one, I get one, Tricia Nixon gets one, everyone gets one. And as long as you don’t hurt any anyone, you really get to do as you please. You can plant fruit trees or flowers or alphabetized rows of vegetables, or nothing at all. If you want your acre to look like a giant garage sale, or an auto wrecking yard, that’s what you get to do with it. There’s a fence around your acre, though, with a gate, and if people keep coming onto your land and sliming it or trying to get you to do what they think is right, you get to ask them to leave. And they have to go, because this is your acre.

She was talking about creating characters for her writing, but I immediately started thinking about how this applies (or doesn’t) to my (adopted) life.

I do admit that the parenting I received made this all worse, but I believe even adoptees with perfect parents may feel a little like this:

I feel like I didn’t get my own emotional acre.

I got an acre that was supposed to be the acre of my adoptive parents’ biological child.  They tried for a child to put in that acre, and it didn’t happen.  They eventually adopted me, and put me in THAT acre, but because it had lain fallow for so long, and untended, it became overgrown with scrub and weeds.

So I was plopped down in that acre.  Since it was all full of brush and weeds, and I was just a little baby, I got very scratched up and hurt trying to climb around in it.

My parents could see  nothing wrong. “What do you mean it hurts? It’s a fine acre! It is perfect for a child of ours! We gave you a whole acre, what are you complaining about?  You should be thankful you even have an acre.”  At some point they realized it was better for them to take off the gate and lock to get in and out of my acre more easily.

I very, very slowly learned to hack at and cultivate my acre a little bit.  But I only had MY kind of seeds with me, and they developed a very different kind of plant than my parents expected.  They didn’t usually say anything outright, but often enough I would see disgusted looks and hear, “Where are your tomatoes? Your zucchini? All I see are potatoes and apples.” *grimace*

Once in awhile I asked to look for farmers that grew apples and potatoes so I could learn to grow mine better, because I felt I was doing a terrible job.  But my parents would wail and cry, “How could you do this to us?? Please don’t, please don’t look for potato farmers. We make good tomatoes here.

So I secretly learned to hate my potatoes and apples and grow tomatoes and zucchini.

They would often look over my acre lovingly and say, “What beautiful land. What beautiful produce! What a good little farmer you are.”

I hate tomatoes.

 

 

Short-circuited

Paraphrasing Dr. David Rock, Keith Evans talks about neuroscience and how we relate to others and the world around us:

… [Our} basic neurocircuitry is calibrated to our multi-layered and complex social networks.  Absent the activation of another circuit, we will understand experiences in the world according to their social and relational consequences….

Dr. Rock further explained that there are five important, connected social domains or circuits in the brain:

  • Status – always understood in relative terms and connected to our survival instinct.
  • Certainty – craving predictability in all things is one of our strongest impulses.
  • Autonomy – our anxiety goes down as our sense of control goes up.
  • Relatedness – we function more effectively when we work on shared goals.
  • Fairness –  the value we place on being treated fairly is so strong it is actually correlated to health outcomes.

So let’s see this through the eyes of the adoptee.

Status – We’ve gone from, say, daughter to abandoned/relinquished daughter, adopted daughter. Neither are full status positions, equal to those who remained or who were there first (i.e. a biological child of our adoptive parents).  Even if adoptive parents say there is no difference, there IS a difference.  At the very least there is a huge biological difference and I think our subconsciouses know it.  And lets not forget how we used to be known as “illegitimate” and “bastard.”

Certainty – When your own mother gives you away, you will forever live with uncertainty to some degree.  “If she could do it, what is stopping absolutely ANYONE else from walking away?”   This is terrifying for a child.   Those tracks are very hard to break out of as an adult, where it only matters socially and not life-or-death that someone walks away from a relationship to you.  But as this article suggests, “only matters socially” is still a big deal.  There are also the lies told around adoption – from the seemingly kind “your mother loved you so much she gave you away” to the outright falsehoods of adoptive parents names on birth certificate, any lies told by the agency (and even in “good adoptions” I’m finding at least some lies.)  We also have to live pretending we are our adoptive parents biological children. Talk about lies.

Autonomy – adoptees live with a lessened sense of autonomy even as adults in many states.  We are treated as naughty children — can’t have your birth certificate and know who your own mother and father are because you might “bother them.”  They are given all the rights, we are given none of the rights.  As children something traumatic happened to us and we couldn’t do anything about it. We often can’t even get others to listen to that pain.

Relatedness – working on shared goals.  Hmmmm, my goal would have been to be with my own flesh and blood, as all babies want to be.  Everyone in my life worked against that goal. We also are often not like our adoptive families in temperament, gifts, etc.  The artistic family with the scientist kid is just not going to gel the same way.   And our sense of NONrelatedness is quite in-your-face…we are truly “not related” to those we live with.

Fairness – I did not know humans demand a sense of fairness as he states above (“so strong it’s related to health outcomes.”)  But I believe it, because I feel it. I thought it was just me.   Adoption is very unfair as seen through the eyes of the small child. Why didn’t I get kept like my friends did? Why don’t I get my birth certificate?   Losing your mother is like a million times more “unfair” than getting a smaller piece of cake for dessert, which is enough to send a child into a fit of jealousy…so I’ll let you take that to its logical conclusion.   At least I was so damaged (or “matured”) by that that I didn’t really care too much about the little things.   Kinda sad, though, that I was not allowed to be a kid who got upset at cake like all the other little kids.

And it goes without saying that adding ANY sort of mental health issues to adoptive parents and you add gasoline to this fire.  I’m learning that narcissistic tendencies are quite common in adoptive parents, at least from the adult adoptees I have contact with (including myself).  An adoptee having narcissistic parents is particularly damaging.

So we have all five important domains damaged severely by adoption. I’m still trying to make sense of that and build a healthy human spirit at 47 years old.

 

Sympathy seeking vs. empathy seeking

I think people tend to get fed up with adoptees in general because they know some adoptees that are so mired in shame that they tend to sympathy seek (which drives others away) vs. empathy seek.

What is the difference? Sympathy seeking says that you think you are unique – you have it harder than anyone else and no one can possibly understand you.  It simultaneously says “Help me! Understand me!” and “You can’t possibly understand me because this is the worst thing ever and no one will ever get me.”  It’s an impossible paradox to help, and it drives people away.  It makes people feel manipulated and controlled. People who are sympathy seeking don’t *want* empathy, they want to be validated as unique.

A person can get stuck in sympathy seeking mode due to their deep shame, and also because they probably DID try to empathy seek in the beginning, and were constantly brushed off.  “You think YOU have it bad? You should feel lucky.  All these people have it worse. *I* have it worse.”    Or, “At least you weren’t (fill in the blank: raised by an addicted mother/ aborted/ raised in poverty/ killed in a tidal wave/ eaten by a shark/ whatever”)   None of these responses is the empathy and connection the growing adoptee needs, and they may shut down. Years of this forced shut down, this non-listening by family, friends, and society,  breeds shame, which breeds sympathy seeking.

Empathy seeking, on the other hand, is requesting connection – hoping that someone will at least try to understand, listen, and help if necessary.  Empathy helps heal shame, sympathy makes shame worse.

Many of us adoptees *are* seeking empathy — and given sympathy, which is insulting and separating, when we are looking for connection. Quoting Brene Brown: “Like all sympathy it [says], “I’m over here and you’re over there. I’m sorry for you and I’m sad for you. AND, while I’m sorry that happened to you, let’s be clear: I’m over here.” This is not compassion.” (As an example, she had lied to her child’s teacher to get out of an embarrasing situation. A “friend” said, “Oh my God, that’s so horrible. I can’t imagine doing that. I’m so sorry.”)  It is very judgmental.

People that give adoptees sympathy do not want to “reach into our world” to see how we might be feeling. They want to stay separated. Above that. Perhaps it is just way too scary to contemplate, being separated from absolutely everything that you know and love and being thrown into an unknown world. (This should give you pause… if it is too scary to think about, to enter into in order to connect, imagine how it feels for the adoptee. Living it every day for the rest of their lives. Now do you believe it’s trauma?)

Adoptees, however, need more than anything to feel connected, that people are at least attempting to be in our world and understanding us, because the nature of adoption is so separating.

It’s easy to mix these up at first glance, sympathy and empathy, especially if you have been burned by a sympathy seeker who just couldn’t be helped by any amount of empathy you tried to give.  The next adoptee that comes along who talks about her pain gets lumped in with the sympathy seeker, even though she was seeking connection and hoped to gain some understanding of you and herself and your relationship with each other.

More from Brene Brown

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.”

 

Shame

From Brene Brown’s I Thought it Was Just Me (But it Isn’t):

Her writing is in black. I’m going to comment as it goes along {in red}. Showing how shame and fear are part and parcel of even a so-called “good” adoption experience.

“Shame is all about fear.  As I wrote in the introduction, we are biologically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively wired for connection. For many, there is also a deep need for spiritual connection. Shame is about the fear of disconnection. {which is already inherent in adoption. We’ve been disconnected from *everything* we had. It’s a fact.} When we are experiencing shame, we are steeped in the fear of being ridiculed, diminished or seen as flawed. {these stereotypes are still very common in adoption, even today. We don’t have the rights of “normal people” (e.g. our own birth certificates or to know who our parents are).  We are the “illegitimate.” The mistakes. The ones who should just stop talking and be grateful that someone “rescued us” from abortion or poverty.}  We are afraid that we’ve exposed or revealed a part of us that jeopardizes our connection and our worthiness or acceptance. {Just being adopted reveals this.  The people pleasing adoptees, of which I am a card-carrying member, also turn this into an every day, every moment cross to bear. “I’ve got to be good, got to be perfect, no mistakes allowed…or I’m going to die.” Add into this any sort of poor parenting on the adoptive parent’s part, *especially* one that increases shame, punishes for mistakes, withdraws love in any way, and you have a very difficult time, indeed.}

This fear is fueled by the sense that we are somehow trapped in our shame. {We are/were trapped! We were babies and children! There was nothing we could do at that age to escape it. And we are still adopted even into our 50’s, 60’s, 70’s…you cannot “escape” being adopted and all that entails.}  This fear of being trapped relates to the way in which the shame web is baited with an impossible ratio of  expectations and options. First, we have an unreasonable amount of expectations put upon us, many of which are not even attainable or realistic. {We are expected to be “as if born to.” Impossible. We are supposed to fill a role of the child they really wanted (their own flesh and blood). Impossible. And this one may be self imposed, but no less real to us…We need to be perfect or we’ll be sent away. Impossible. We were children for **** sake!}   Second, we have a very limited number of options in terms of how we can meet those expectations.  (…then she starts talking about body image….) {We had NO options. Our job was impossible. We were children! We couldn’t just “leave” or have an informed discussion on our plight.  Most of us couldn’t even figure out why we felt like crap all the time.  “I must just be doing this adoptee thing wrong. It must be me.”  It’s not like body image, where *maybe* if you ate or exercised a certain way there was some slim chance you could look like the models you see.  There was NO WAY to be their real kid. There was NO WAY to make your first parents keep you. There was NO WAY to be perfect. None.  We had NO options.}

As you can see in the web illustration [in the book], partners, family, friends, and self are all drawn closest to the center of the web. We most fear disconnection from the people closest to us. {As I said above, this is inherent in being adopted. It is what adoption is about! And as kids and even adults we now cling to the new family we’ve been given, good or bad, already steeped in shame.}  In other words, shame is the most powerful when we enforce the expectation ourselves, or when it’s enforced by those closest to us…” {Natch.}

She then goes on to say how if we were raised in a family that highly valued the unattainable expectation (her example was a body type), we might continue to impose that expectation on ourselves even when we have others in our life who think we are going overboard. Then that brings up the problem of trying to please two opposing groups at once…impossible. Crazymaking. Well, of course we were raised in a family that highly valued the unattainable expectation – we were adopted! They wanted us adopted because they wanted us.

“When it comes to the outer layers of the web, we may feel shamed by doctors, colleagues, or fellow group members. And beyond those groups, there are even larger, more insidious systemic issues that we have to confront. {like society at large that demands we be thankful for this hell. Like the multi-billion dollar adoption industry that goes to great lengths to keep us in our place as quiet, happy adoptees. *gag*}

********************

This was just one tiny part of her book. I’m going to stop here, because I think I will have a lot more to say. Too much for one blog post! 🙂

 

 

Shame

I  just finished reading an old article about the now deceased Scott Weiland (musician).  He’d had a long history with drugs and alcohol. He said:

I have this dark place. It’s a place of loneliness. It’s a place of complete shame and self-hatred, where I deserve to feel all alone because I’m the one who has caused me to feel the pain that I feel, the loneliness and the sorrow that I feel. And I feel like I deserve to feel that way.

I know where it comes from. It comes from my parents divorcing, you know, abandonment and all that. And it also comes from a lot of guilt and shame. And I guess feeling that you caused that feeling yourself becomes its own self-perpetuating thing; it takes on a life of its own.

You know, abandonment and all that.

It made me realize, that even with some “advances” in people understanding that adoption is traumatic, I don’t think there is enough realization of this…this shame. This belief that something inherent within me (because it couldn’t be something I *did* – I was too young) is so awful that it caused an entire clan of people, and all their support systems, to recoil from me and run away.

You can tell me until I’m blue in the face that that isn’t true, and I can shake my head and nod that that makes logical sense.  I can even say it out loud, and tell that to others in their situations. I know it’s not *their* fault.

But deep down, deep deep down, I will never believe you. I KNOW it’s something inside me.

I hope more advances can be made in this area.  Not just telling someone it’s not their fault, but convincing them beyond a shadow of a doubt.

;