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Q & A Today: Adoptee Struggles With Forming Lasting Relationships

Updated: Jan 20, 2022

By Eileen S. Lenson, MSW, ACSW, BCC

Posted on September 20, 2020

Welcome to Q&A Today, a column designed to answer your questions regarding challenges and concerns in everyday life, from family to coping with current events. A popular topic today revolves around the coronavirus. All questions are fair game. Just send me an email with your questions or concerns, and watch for the answer in upcoming editions of the Tasmanian Times. Q&A Today is published on the first and third Sundays of the month. If your question is printed, only your first name will appear in this column.

Q: Dear Eileen, I was adopted when two days old. My birth mother delivered me in the hospital and a few hours later my adoptive parents took me home. I’ve never wanted to search for my birth mother, and I’ve always told people how fortunate I am to have been adopted by such wonderful parents. And while that’s true, I find that some element of happiness eludes me. I can’t shake the feeling of being abandoned and undesired by my birth mother. I half expect others to eventually leave me as well, which may be why I am now 32 years old and have broken off two engagements. Is this a common experience for grown adoptees? I’ll look forward to your comments and help. – Edward

A: Hi Edward, You’re very insightful to see a connection between being adopted and the confusing, even disturbing, feelings that are undermining your overall happiness in life.

When we think about adoption we typically visualise a joyous family; young parents beaming with joy while engaging lovingly with their new baby. Yet for the child, emotions related to the loss of one’s birth parents can be complex and challenging to understand.

Being adopted is often accompanied with nagging questions that may be difficult to ask, can impact one’s self-esteem and identity, and remain forever unanswered. While the vast majority of adopted children grow up feeling well adjusted, there are genuine obstacles that many adoptees experience, similar to those of which you speak.

Being placed for adoption, regardless of the reason, can challenge a child’s basic need to feel lovable. Very young children are egocentric, and tend to think the world revolves around them. When bad things happen, they often feel responsible. Thus, they may believe they did something to cause their birth parents to want to give them away, and therefore they must be undeserving of love and attachment from others.

Those early childhood erroneous beliefs get embedded in the foundation of the adoptees’ self-esteem. To think that one is unlovable is so significant that it can cultivate an accompanying sense of unworthiness, inadequacy and/or shame. Deep-rooted feelings of distrust in themselves and others are created. Instead of confidently establishing intimacy with others, they may avoid risking rejection and instead remain in a protective cocoon of emotional detachment.

So how does one move forward? Although it can be difficult to break the pattern of feeling flawed or unworthy, Edward, I encourage you to do so by beginning with spending five or 10 minutes each day allowing yourself to reflect on your thoughts related to being adopted.

Allow your thoughts to wander down paths you may or may not have previously considered. Honour any negative or hurtful feelings that arise by welcoming them and allow yourself to experience them. You know how a child will cry deep and loud when they are upset? They don’t hold back. They allow themselves to feel the hurt deeply, and then they can begin the healing process of moving forward.

Allowing yourself to deeply feel the emotional pain associated with your loss will enable you to start the process of letting it go and moving forward. You can then begin to broaden your perspective regarding the beliefs you developed about yourself and others as a child. Consider how your negative feelings about being rejected at birth are contributing to your self-identity.

Also, think about how your adoptive parents have never abandoned you, despite the many times you were imperfect as a child. Reflect on how dwelling on the past beliefs, as opposed to facts, has contributed to a loss of self-confidence. Pull back the veil and examine how these thoughts can be re-scripted by you and can help you revisit and overcome your fear of rejection.

Spend some time thinking about the many beautiful ways in which your life has unfolded. What was the excitement and joy experienced by your parents at being able to have you as their child? What has your existence meant for you, relatives, and other people in your life?

Research has shown that peoples’ greatest regrets at the end of their lives usually involves not career or money, but rather, relationships. You’re still at a great age to get invested in meaningful, intimate relationships. Don’t let this evade you.

Realise that the only connection between being placed for adoption and developing a lasting loving relationship is that it involves personal choices. Your life experiences with trust and closeness with others need not be in shackles. Choose to discard the theme of not being good enough and instead allow yourself to develop the lifelong rewards of closeness to others.

Wishing you well,


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